BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS

Britain's COVID-19 and new respect for frontline workers.

May 08, 2020 Dana Lewis Season 1 Episode 1
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
Britain's COVID-19 and new respect for frontline workers.
Show Notes Transcript

In The first edition of Back Story award winning news correspondent Dana Lewis investigates what went wrong - to make Britain suffer the 2nd largest numbers of Covid19 deaths?  And an in depth conversation about how we see people differently, not based on how much they earn,  but how much they give to society. 

Speaker 1:

Hi everyone. I'm Dana Lewis and welcome to backstory,

Speaker 2:

mr speaker, when the prime minister return to work, he said that many people were looking at the apparent success of the government's approach. But yesterday we learned tragically that at least 29,427 people in the UK have now lost their lives to this dreadful virus that's now the highest number in Europe. It's the second highest in the world that's not success or apparent success. So can the prime minister tell us how on earth did it come to this? I mean , every day is a tragedy and he's right to draw attention to the , uh , appalling statistics .

Speaker 1:

Oh , our first edition comes to you under covert 19 lockdown. I'm in London, which is we speak is second only to the United States with the highest numbers of deaths in the world. In early March, we were all wondering why isn't the government doing anything here? Italy, Spain, around the world, businesses were shuttering, death tolls , rising, and the UK was running hot, keeping the subways and buses jammed with millions of people as the virus got deadly traction. In this first edition of backstory, we reflect on how we got here and later who are the unsung heroes who deserve more of our respect. Joining me on backstory, sir, ed Davey , the acting leader of the liberal Democrats, they are the opposition in the United Kingdom, one of the opposition parties. And I have to say it is one of the most sensible, sincere politicians I've met here. And you have a son with a compromised immune system, if I can characterize it as that, I mean anxious moments for everybody but including your family.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it's been really tricky for everybody. Um, my constituents have been in contact in huge numbers with lots of problems, health problems with financial problems, people being stranded, rural people not accessing food. And I think those people who've got loved ones who are particularly vulnerable , uh, are being extremely anxious. Uh, the good news is my son's very well and we're fine . Thank you very much.

Speaker 1:

That's great news. I mean , you were called by number 10 Downing, I think early in March, I believe. For a background briefing.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, we had about three background briefings from number 10. I can't tell you they really told us anything particularly new or surprising. Um , and I actually think that government shouldn't be involving opposition parties far more. Uh, and I've certainly called for that. I think , uh, they're making mistake in not being more open and transparent.

Speaker 1:

Well, I mean, were they kind of warning you at the same time? Don't or panic

Speaker 3:

the public cause we could have looting or public disorder or worse? No, they weren't asking for that. To be fair, we were doing that ourselves. We were deliberately being supportive of the government while they appeared to be following the advice of the chief medical officer and the chief scientific advisor, the Democrats , uh , pride ourselves in believing the experts have a role. And if the experts are giving you advice that you should listen to it and follow it, unless there's a very good reason not to. And while experts of course can disagree and sometimes the politician has to sort of just between different experts, I think the experts were going very clear direction. So we were some being supportive. Um, however, it's got increasingly difficult as this crisis has gone on because frankly there's been such a shambles in so many areas. I'm puzzled by that because my kids were still in school in early March. Italy was locked down, Spain was locked down. I started to take my kids out of school anyway, despite the fact that there were , there wasn't a government order at that time and sorted a lot of different parents. You could see the train coming down the tracks and here we are, the UK with the largest number of bests in Europe. How did it happen? Well, I think there's a number of reasons. I've actually called for a public inquiry, an independent judge led public inquiry because what would that tell essential that we do get to the truth? Well, I think it should be set up now, although probably start work after the crisis is back under control and that needs to ask three questions. What did actually happen, get to the truth. He should then say, well what are the lessons to be learned? Because it could be another pandemic wave of wave of creative ice and another different virus , uh, in the not too distant future. So we must learn lessons and of course it should hold people to account. And the only reason I say that in response to your question about what went wrong is that I do believe we'll lead a very considered approach to that. I have my own views, I'm happy to share them with you now, but I do think ultimately we'll need a proper inquiry because this is such a devastating, devastating disease. So the government always says they we're following the science. And that to me somehow sounds a bit hollow because while there was scientific advice, the scientist surely weren't telling them not to do testing and not to bother getting PPE protective gear out to nursing homes or to frontline workers in hospitals. So they were doing a lot less than following the signs . Well that's right. I mean I think ultimately they prepared badly. They ignored recommendations from previous reports . So giving example, there was a simulation exercise done four years ago called the Cygnus exercise, and that looked at what would happen if there was a pandemic , was Britain ready for it? And although they've not been transparent and published all the conclusions, we've heard some of them from people who are involved in that and they've said that they needed more ventilators, that there wasn't sufficient PPE, that we would need to have more critical care beds, etc . Etc . And the government did not implement those recommendations. And as we got through to early this year, they then acted very, very slowly despite having been told previously that they weren't well-prepared. You would have thought having got a report saying you're not well prepared, they would have acted far more quickly, but they didn't.

Speaker 1:

Will you give me an opinion? Did they act slowly? Did they not react to warnings? Did they not react even to some intelligence it was given to them because they're incompetent or because they simply

Speaker 3:

took a strategy

Speaker 1:

of some kind of herd immunity and they thought they just wouldn't be able to deal with this any other way?

Speaker 3:

Well, I generally don't know why they didn't move more fast, but pretty clear that the lockdown came too slowly, that they pushed forward on testing capacity far too slowly that they were absolutely laps a day sickle and slow on sorting out the protective personal equipment for frontline NHS and care workers. I think they'd been slow on looking at the care homes, their focus on the NHS. Well that's fine, but they forgot the care home sector , uh , and uh, until it was way too late. So they've been slow in so many areas. I'm pretty confident that public inquire would come to that conclusion.

Speaker 1:

Matt Hancock, the health secretary seems to have lied about testing numbers, pretending that they hit a hundred thousand a day. Then they admit that a lot of those were just out tests that hadn't been returned. They're probably around 75,000 as we do this interview. I mean, do you feel that he's misled the public

Speaker 3:

well, whether you call it misleading or grotesque spinning of the facts, I don't think it's very impressive. And I think this government knows it's made huge mistakes and it's just trying to distract people's attention from the disaster that's unfolding in this country. And it is absolutely too early to make definitive conclusions, but it does look like we've got the highest death rate in Europe, the second highest death rates in the world, and that unlike some countries who've had high death rates who are now coming out of the crisis, we're still in the middle of it. So you know , you have to ask why and it does look like our government has handled this badly.

Speaker 1:

Is there any doubt in your mind that if you don't test, you can't isolate problem people and you can't exit from the buyers ?

Speaker 3:

Testing? Testing is fundamental both. How do you manage the peak , how you stop it spreading and as we come out of lockdown, how you do that safely. So the testing capacity is critical. Making it easy to access is really important. Even people confidence in it. And then you're going to have to back that up with really good tracing infrastructure. I'm slightly where the government's putting far too much emphasis on clever technology, important that that will be and not enough on ordinary people in their communities working with each other, using local knowledge to be part of that tracing a system and even in the most technique , technological savvy countries, they're using a lot of human power and human time as part of the tracing when someone has tested positively, not just about the testing side of it in the UK, but I don't think, sorry,

Speaker 1:

sorry, I don't mean to jump in. Go ahead and finish.

Speaker 3:

So I think the government seriously needs to up its level and the strategy on tracing and isolation as well.

Speaker 1:

The furlough scheme is, it's called, this is the, you know where the government pays 80% of a worker salary to stay home. They look like they want to scale it back in in July. How can they do that in Britain if we're not over this?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Well, first of all I should say the first scheme is one of the best things the government's done because it's certainly has projected a lot of jobs and businesses and kept the economy going and uh , uh , being important. And the question now is what happens next? The scheme is due to finish on June the 30th and I think if the government don't say very, very soon what's going to happen then we'll see lots of redundancy processes starting up and that will be usually damaging for confidence. So it goes , go make a decision quickly. I think if lockdown continues, they're going to have to continue with the scheme. And even when lockdown is raised, they're going to have to taper the scheme away. They can't be uplifted . We can't suddenly go into support one day and nothing the next, even as workers go back, because firms don't have any cash in the bank, they won't be able to pay the salaries until they call me, picks up and gradually things get going again. So there has to be a phase out and liberal Democrats have called for a taper scheme, which I have been working on with a lot of business people, a lot of the economists to get right so that we can phase the economy back to recovery.

Speaker 1:

Had the liberal Democrats have also talked about kind of putting in place a military style active duty bonus for frontline NHS hospital staff. What's the idea?

Speaker 3:

Well , I publish something. I called the LHS and care staff package and the idea was to say to all NHS workers, healthcare workers and care workers on the frontline that we really value you. And just as you wouldn't put troops on the frontline without boots and helmets and flat jackets and song , and just as you look after them and just as you , we actually in the UK pay them an operational allowance for every day the troops are on the front line. The Democrats were arguing, we need to treat our health care workers , our care workers in the same way. So given the practice active equipment, look after them properly, whether it's on food, accommodation, transport, John care , et cetera, et cetera. And also recognize that every day they go into work. At the moment they're putting their lives on the line. So we think there is a real parallel there . And um , it's really been well received by the professions and by the wider public.

Speaker 1:

I couldn't do an interview with you without asking you about the environment because I know it's something that you're, you're well-schooled on and progressive and um, it's green. You know, I go and walk my dog. The air is breathable in London at night, birds are singing. It's actually in a way pleasant to walk uncrowded streets. Um , is there an opportunity here for a new green, a new normal?

Speaker 3:

I very much hope so. We absolutely needed, let's remember that we've just gone through a global crisis with the pandemic, but there's another global current system. She's already here, the climate emergency. And I'm just hoping that when we seen a carbon dioxide emissions tumble during this period, when we see an air quality improved dramatically when we've been seeing people more aware of nature, but that's a political moment for the politicians and our societies to seize and we're going to have to rebuild our economies . We're going to have to rebuild society. Why not do that in a way that's sustainable that actually takes the environment, realize that that's critical, particularly in the climate change piece and make sure we're building the renewable energy renewable industries, make sure we're looking at new ways to work so we can stay at home and do things like zoom and all the other video conferencing techniques don't have to fly around the world the whole time polluting our planet. So there is a moment here and I think people are more up for it than they've ever been and we just got to stand up against those countries and governments and those industries which are just want to go back to business as usual. We must not, this is a chance for some radical shifts on environment policy. And certainly little Democrats will be arguing that day in, day out here in the UK.

Speaker 1:

Last question to you and that is a lot of people are talking about let's reopen everything from, from America to Spain to Italy. Uh , what, what's your fear , uh , obviously that we would reopen too quickly, but do you think we're out of this or do you think some very tough months are coming our way and maybe a second wave of this?

Speaker 3:

Well, I think each country just has to look at the facts on the ground. When I looked at the facts on the ground here in the UK, we're not out of it yet. I saw and , uh , while I very much wish we could and this lockdown and I'm a liberal, I like seeing my restricted. I want to get back to, well , I'm working actually, but I want everyone else did we get back to work. Um, but we've got to do that safely. And you know, if we don't do it safely with a degree of caution, the economic impact will be worse if we have to lock down a second time, I think that will be very damaging for people's morale and their mental wellbeing. So I think it's really important that we think really carefully, both when we do it and how we do it, and we've got to have the best scientific advice and we've got the bet , follow the best science. And maybe there are some people who will be able to unlock more quickly than others, but fundamentally we do have to have a testing in place. The tracing in place, the possibility of helping people go to isolation if they are contagious, and if we have that proper safety infrastructure, then we might be able to release when the infection dies down six months away from that or more. I have not. I hope there's a lot sooner, but you know, I come back to believe in evidence. I want to see the evidence and I want to test that evidence and to kick the tires of the evidence before we risk our nation's health.

Speaker 1:

It . Davie the acting leader of the liberal Democrats. Great to talk to you. Thanks so much. You're listening to backstory with Dana Lewis. In our second half of this edition, I don't know about you, but in the last few weeks under lockdown, I've seen frontline workers in a new light. People like the woman who does the checkout at my grocery store, the postman , my local street cleaner, for example, upwards of 100 healthcare workers have died in the United Kingdom. There's a lot more in the United States. At least 28 bus drivers have passed away in London after being diagnosed with Colvin 19 we are living in extraordinary times and now for a different take. Let's join our two guests now. Joe Phillips, who is a writer, broadcaster and political commentator and Dr. Todd may is head of philosophy at the university of Kent and researchers in the philosophy of work and economics and Joseph's , we're talking about work and economics. I want to ask you about your gardening because you've been out helping elderly people where you live in England and couldn't they not go outside on their own because of COBIT 19?

Speaker 4:

Um , well they can, but a lot of them are elderly so they're there are unable to do this sort of heavy stuff like mowing and things. So since the lockdown, I have taken up full time gardening, which is a great hobby of mine, but I'm , I'm doing it as a bit of a social service now.

Speaker 1:

That would be great for you to be outside and helping those people. It's a good distraction .

Speaker 4:

It's lovely. And it's um, it's worthwhile work.

Speaker 1:

No , and it's a great thing to do for them. Todd, you're the philosophers. So I was reading Aristotle and he says, you will never anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind . Next to honor. It seems like we need a lot of courage just now, doesn't it?

Speaker 5:

Yes. Aerosol is quite interesting on virtues and I'm , one of the most important virtues is justice. And alongside that is courage. And one of the reasons why ourselves says that is because we can think about things quite a bit. We can reason things out and even determine what matters and what to do. But if we don't have the courage to actually undertake it, then we fall short and we live more or less an incomplete life and we fall short of the good life. So in these kinds of conditions during the pandemic, there are quite a few situations with present themselves. Not only the threat of the virus, but a lot of other things that we find cropping up as a result of our , our entire lifestyle changing. And so it does require resilience. It requires community, it requires solidarity for better, for worse, to try and push through these things and hopefully emerge out the other side of the pandemic.

Speaker 1:

If I could just, you know , come off the back of that and say, are we experiencing now kind of a wave of revisionist thought philosophically as to who is important in our society today?

Speaker 5:

Yes. I think it's happening at all levels, from the highest level in terms of um, kind of the banking that goes on. The larger the kind of corporations that deal with larger economic infrastructure and systems and so forth to , to the, as it were, the ground level where , um , a lot of the press at the beginning of the pandemic had to do and still does have to do with medical staff, how hard they're working, how they're putting their lives on a frontline to help others, but also in the running of the day to day life of everyone in society, especially during the episode when panicked by and became quite a bit of an issue. And now today when it's more so in the States when you have certain employees trying to uphold social distancing and people resisting that and acting aggressively towards that, we find that the day to day people we encounter in shops or in community areas, they're the ones that , uh , are , we're finding to be important , uh, meaningful to our daily lives. Absolutely necessary to keeping things up in order for us so that we can, we can go about and live living our lives and hopefully , uh , pushing through the pandemic as I've said.

Speaker 4:

Sorry. Can I ask you, do you think we're going to see a recalibration of valuing low paid work because the people that you've talked about, you know, the health workers, the supermarket workers, the delivery drivers, the care workers, those are generally people on very low salaries. Um , and we've had a tendency in this country to equate lone pay with the low skill. And I wonder whether as a result of this pandemic that we're actually going to have a bit more respect for people who do less well paid but incredibly useful jobs.

Speaker 5:

That's a great question. I would hope that would be the case. My worry is that once the conditions of the pandemic ease off, we might slip back into old ways. And the reason for that is , um, for lack of a better term, the economic memory of , uh , people in society sends me rather short. And that's one of the reasons why we have recessions recurring , uh , throughout the, throughout a decade or so. Um, but the worry is that once things seem to be getting better, that we can go about our daily lives and assume the kinds of relationships that we had where we , we emphasize other things that are alive besides the people that are helping us on a day to day basis. I think what's so interesting about pandemic is to go back to courage. The idea of courage is that because to go outside and just to go shopping is putting into one one's life at risk as well as the employees that are helping customers. There is something in there about paying attention or a duty of care to other people as you're going about your daily business. And if you remove that kind of awareness that , that catalyst for courage, then you might slip back into, well, I'm just going to the shop , uh , the employee, the clerk is there to help me. I have my needs. And they're just the instrument to

Speaker 1:

absolutely. I mean, I personally have to say, I look at, you know , people with renewed respect. I mean I always have respected healthcare workers and doctors and policemen. Um , but I bought coffees for two ambulance and paramedics in line with me behind a a coffee shop on Gloucester road in London the other day. You might see bill attempt to say thank you, but you know, the , the, the guys and the gals at the coffee shop, the man who cleans the streets here in my neighborhood who I know, and I always say hello to. Um , it affects me just looking at their faces and I don't know if you feel the same way when you go out, but I imagine they seem very stressed and a lot of them just unhappy to be at work right now.

Speaker 4:

I think there's a, there's a whole , um, there's a whole conversation to be had about the clap for carers on a Thursday. I mean, my eldest son is a paramedic , um, in London, London ambulance service. Um, and I have not been taking part in the club for carers because I feel it's fine. It's nice. People feel it's good to do, but I would rather they had decent PPE and that they were safe and, and being looked after properly. And I worry that these sort of gestures, however well meaning actually replace real sensible policy about working people.

Speaker 1:

Well, there is something in that isn't it ? Especially when it comes to the government that gets out and cheerleads some of this effort and at the same time behind the scenes, highly criticized Todd and you can take a run at this. I mean, highly criticized for not dealing with people who are working in , in elderly care homes or dealing with people on the frontline in hospitals. So there's lots of, there's lots of show and sometimes no go in terms of actually protecting these people. Yeah . It sort

Speaker 5:

of makes you think maybe we're a part of one of these , um, political dramas , uh, where , uh, the government spins things, so , Oh, it's great. So the community's now really focusing, they're coming together. The issue of healthcare workers, let's use that. And what's the term they use? It's going to create some great optics and it does conceal. It hides other things that are going on. And that's the worry that I have with , uh , appreciating the people who are working in supermarkets and in the shops that we go to is that when we speak about them in terms of heroes and the sacrifices they're making him , and I'm not saying we don't praise him , I think we should be very careful about what that's doing because we don't know. It makes it seem that working in that job is okay. It makes it seem that it's okay for them to be putting their lives on the line while getting the pay. And it's not really looking into the reasons why they might had to take that job in the first place. It could have been purely economic constraint or compulsion. They had to get a wage just to live or there might be larger issues about the lack of real opportunities for them. So they may have grown up in a family or a community where they just didn't think there was anything for them except working in the local market. And so they lose out on opportunities that might've spoke to some kind of natural talent that they had .

Speaker 1:

So how do you make this long lasting? How do you translate renewed respect, which we often associate with monetary compensation on our society for say the grocery checkout person , uh, who has has to endure a hundreds of people who could be yelling and infectious. Dave ,

Speaker 5:

I guess my thoughts on that are, it's a very big question and there might be two ways of approaching it. And as an academic and as a philosophy of work in this area and thinking about some of my colleagues who do some of the same research, it's about getting involved with a lot of businesses at different levels of local level as well as at the international level and trying to get them to engage with this idea of what we call meaningful work. That meaningful work involves a lot of different things. Not just getting a decent wage, but also things like the freedom to choose and decide within certain constraints about what they're doing. The idea that the job is making them feel as if they're contributing to the greater good or making their life go well at the individual level. I think , um, I don't have a knockdown answer as it were, but for me, the kind of ethics I'm interested in, which goes back to Aristotle and virtue ethics , um , is if in the absence of the pandemic when things might revert back to normal, my take is that if we can find a way to think about certain virtues that are essential to individuals and to a community, then we might be able to change those kinds of habits, those economic habits where we just slip into seeing people as means towards our ends. So one of the, one of the virtues that is talked about quite a bit and a lot of different ancient cultures is this notion of hospitality and the recognition that somehow triggering the recognition that despite the role that a person might be in, that you encounter on a daily basis, that they deserve some kind of duty of care, respect, and that their role in society serving other people's needs isn't what's primary. There's something else to it.

Speaker 1:

Joe, how do you, how do you take those great ideas of Todd's and how do we cement them somehow? So that

Speaker 4:

I think, I think it's about what has happened. I think it has forced us all to look at the people around us, the people who are keeping us safe, keeping us healthy and who are doing jobs that, you know , none of the three of us would do. I'll tell you a very short story about my gardening experience and it's not to do with gardening, Dana, don't worry. But I was doing this job cause I do it part time for fun. Um , last summer and I was working , um, Todd and I live in the same town , um, and it was in a house where there were some people staying . It was an Airbnb. That's a whole different topic we could get onto. And this woman was there with her family. They wouldn't , uh, they were a bit sort of dubious about letting the Gardener's there . And even though it wasn't their house, they were going out for the day. I said, where are you going? She said, blah. I said, Oh, well, if you're wanting to go down and do something else, go to this place, you can find a Gabrielle or is that is a grave and a burn Jones window and bladdy bladdy block . And this woman said, good Lord and educated Gardner who thought it. And I think, you know, to me that sums up somebody who sees you doing a job doesn't see you as a person. If she'd seen me in my other life, you know , on the tele , on the radio or whatever, she would have had a completely different take. And I think it's about seeing people as valuable individuals who contribute to as toxic community society. And without them we can't function.

Speaker 1:

So are these things like this, at least conversations like this maybe get people to stop and look and think twice about who they're engaging with

Speaker 4:

and how

Speaker 1:

Todd, do you want to wrap it up?

Speaker 5:

Yeah, well I just thinking maybe , um, there can be some work done with social cues. Just learning how to ask certain questions. Um, so instead of asking what you do and S some kind of social context and then figured out some kind of question that relates to who the person is as opposed to what they do. And from there we can build up and then maybe we can talk about different kinds of virtues in the community that are coming forth both within the everyday operation of the community when you walk out in the street. But I really think a lot of change and a lot of good change can happen with businesses thinking about the way in which their cultures work because some people spend so much time at work that if you can change the culture there and make it a virtuous community, then it will have knock on effects , um , with within the community where people live and in their daily lives.

Speaker 1:

Well said. Joe Phillips and Dr. Todd may. Thank you both. Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible]

Speaker 1:

and that's a wrap on our very first,

Speaker 6:

I'm Dana Lewis. We hope you follow our podcast. We have a lot more coming soon.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible] .