Sheffield TUC Press Release 27 January 2021


A Grim Milestone

World’s Worst Death Rate

Not an Accident -Not Inevitable – Not Bad Luck


Yesterday’s grim news that Britain’s total COVID death rate has surpassed the 100,000 mark means we have the worst death rate per head of population than any other country in the world – worse than USA, Italy and Brazil. This is not an accident. This was not inevitable. Nor is it simply just bad luck.

“Right from the start of this pandemic, the trade unions have been challenging the Government’s claim that they were ‘doing the right thing at the right time’ to beat the virus” said Martin Mayer, Secretary Sheffield TUC. “The truth is they were always acting too little and too late, and took huge risks to open up the economy before it was safe. They failed to provide PPE, they failed to protect Care Homes, they failed to close our borders and crucially they failed to put in place an effective local Track, Trace and Support scheme rooted in our local Public Health departments.”

Trades Councils have expressed constructive criticism of the Government’s appalling handling of the pandemic right from the start, and put forward the alternatives:

  1. The Government was too late with the Lockdown in March because it was toying with the dangerous idea of “herd immunity” – which would have cost half a million deaths. It was too late with the lockdown this month and waited till a day after the schools went back, ignoring all the evidence that school transmission rates into community were alarmingly high.
  2. The Government had not prepared for a pandemic. Stocks of PPE and other important equipment had been run down and not replaced. Our NHS was seriously over-stretched and underfunded even before the pandemic thanks to years of austerity cuts
  3. The Government could not provide PPE when it was needed – and failed to give out contracts to local businesses who offered to make it. Why? The dangerous failure of the fragmented and privatised NHS procurement and distribution system was to blame. Rather than give contracts to firms with expertise in making such items, they instead gave contracts to businesses that had no experience of making PPE, or that provided sub-standard PPE. Remember the long-delayed planeload of PPEE from Turkey that was sub-standard and couldn’t be used?
  4. Care Homes were recklessly abandoned and suffered the worst of the initial outbreak. It wasn’t just that adequate PPE was not available to care workers. Elderly patients with COVID were discharged from hospitals to care homes which simply did not have the ability to care for them safely. There should have been a “ring of steel” around Care Homes and the Care Sector.
  5. The Government rushed to reopen the economy without putting enough safety measures in place first – and now we are paying the price. They failed to listen to the teaching unions who said they need extra space and more staff – and the funding to pay for it – to make schools COVID secure. They failed to listen to the TUC who said employers must be required to carry out and publish a risk assessment, and called for extra funding to the HSE to carry out inspections.
  6. The Government failed to support the lowest paid and many vulnerable workers fell through the net. We congratulate the TUC for persuading Rishi Sunak to introduce a furlough scheme and save millions of jobs. But those on the Minimum Wage should have been better protected, and zero hours workers and many on bogus self-employment got nothing
  7. The Government ignored our plea to increase SSP (at just £95 per week) to at least the Minimum Wage and pay a no-quibble £500 to low paid workers forced to self-isolate. The result was low paid workers had no choice but to carry on working, even with COVID symptoms, spreading the virus to their workmates
  8. BAME communities have been badly let down even though from very early on it was clear Black and Asian families were more than 4 times more likely to catch the disease. NHS and Care workers from BAME communities suffered disproportional levels of deaths, yet nothing was done to protect them.
  9. Testing has been a total disaster and promises made have never been kept. Providing an efficient, accessible testing service is vital but beyond the capability of a Government that is more obsessed with outsourcing contracts than delivering a decent service.
  10. One of the Government’s most serious failings was on Track and Trace. It is a scandal that they abandoned it altogether in March which lost us valuable time. When they relented and started a new Track and Trace in May, it was contracted out to privateer SERCO with no experience of this type of work. It should have been rooted in our local communities under our Public Health departments that have knowledge and experience of countering infectious diseases. SERCO has failed to reach up to 50% of contacts and some have only been reached 14 days later when the self-isolation period has expired! Another example of the costly failures of privatisation!

So, was it inevitable the UK would suffer worse deaths than any other county? Around the world there are several countries that rigorously pursued a Zero COVID strategy and now have almost no deaths and their economies are safely reopening:

  • New Zealand       25 deaths
  • South Korea 1,378 deaths
  • Vietnam                         35 deaths
  • China 4,636 deaths
  • Taiwan        7 deaths
  • Australia    909 deaths
  • Cuba    200 deaths

“This Government cannot shirk the blame any longer for this shameful record” concluded Martin Mayer


“The message to all low paid workers is clear” said Martin Mayer “join a trade union!” Any workers who want to discuss how to do this and get help organising should get in touch with Sheffield TUC in the first instance by emailing or sending a message on our Sheffield TUC Facebook Page


For more information, please contact Martin Mayer Secretary on 0776 1078482