Health News Gender Race The World Policy

Gig and part-time workers have been left out of the healthcare conversation in the United States for far too long

It is no secret that the healthcare system within the United States is flawed. In large contrast to other countries, there is no universal healthcare. As such, the U.S. government does not provide healthcare for most of its citizens. Instead, healthcare is provided by multiple distinct organizations. These include insurance companies, healthcare providers, hospital systems, and independent providers. Such healthcare facilities are widely owned and operated by private businesses. 

Millions of people are left vulnerable to falling through the cracks as public and private insurers set their own rates, benefit packages, and cost-sharing structures within the bounds of federal and state regulations. 

Employer-sponsored health insurance was first introduced in the United States in the 1920’s. This method indicates that employers might contract with private health plans and administer benefits for their full-time employees as well as their dependents. By 1965 public insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid were introduced as a means to compensate for some, but certainly not all, of the already existing flaws. 

Medicare ensures a right to hospital and medical care for all persons aged 65 and older, and later those under 65 with extreme long term disabilities or end-stage renal disease. On the other hand Medicaid, which covers around 17.9% of the American population, is state-administered and is meant to provide health care services to low-income families, the blind, low-income pregnant women and infants, and individuals with disabilities. Eligibility for Medicaid is largely dependent on criteria which vary by state. Individuals need to apply for medicaid coverage and to re-enroll annually. 

As of 2021, the U.S. ranks 22nd globally in terms of quality healthcare with countries like Finland, Japan, and Canada placing above it. In 2018, nearly 92% of the country was estimated to have health coverage, either through their employer or based upon other factors. That statistic leaves roughly 27.5 million people, or 8.5% of the population, uninsured. 

Those flaws intensify dramatically when it comes to the gig or part-time workforce. For one, it is no coincidence that struggles in regards to access to affordable healthcare also run along the lines of race, gender, and income in this country, just as it does with the countless other social issues which persist here. 

For one, those who work within a gig or part-time capacity are often not offered an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Not to mention that they are also not salaried, so their income is often limited or unreliable, leaving these workers with little opportunity or access to the healthcare system that is in place. Such workers are either required to purchase their own health insurance or apply for Medicaid. Now, while Medicaid eligibility varies between each state, many people who are classified as low-income wind up making too much money to actually be an eligible candidate for the narrow assistance program. At the same time, however, many of the private health insurance plans are extremely expensive, leaving workers stretched thin financially or in danger medically.

This dynamic effectively allows for inequality to flourish. This is no surprise considering that the gig and part-time economy is mostly made up of minority groups, thus being complicit in the racially skewed power structures which exploit people based on their race, religion, gender, sexuality or socioecomic status. That includes single mothers, previously incarcerated people, immigrants and Indigenous, Latinx or Black adults to name a few. In fact, nearly a third or 31% of Latinx adults aged 18 or over earn money through the gig economy. This is compared to 27% of Black Americans and 21% of white adults.  

Workers rights groups in the gig and part-time sphere have been advocating in the name of things like workers compensation for various minutia including maintenance of drivers vehicles, the right to organize, access to 401K, paid family leave and proper employment classification, among other things. This is especially important when you consider that, contrary to popular belief, most people are not using their gig or part-time job as a “side hustle” to compliment their salaried and health-insurance sponsoring full-time position. Instead, this is likely their primary source of income, along with perhaps a second or even third job doing something similar. They are doing as much as they can to make ends meet and survive within a world and system which layers on barriers to their success and sustainability. One that fails to acknowledge their exhaustion and that remains complicit in their vulnerability. 

At the root of what workers are demanding is dignity on the job. 

Workers are fighting to dismantle the system of exploitation that has further isolated and damaged vulnerable communities across the country. To put this better into perspective: there is an unprecedented number of care deserts in the United States. Medical care deserts are best defined as a region which is more than 60 minutes away from the closest hospital. Nearly 1 in 5 residential areas in America, or around 640 entire counties, fall under this definition. 

Also affecting access to healthcare and employment status substantially are child care deserts. Child care deserts are areas in which there are little to no licensed child care providers. An estimated 51% of all residents in the United States live in a child care desert. Plus, child care is especially limited among particular populations such as for low-income families, rural families, and Latinx or Hispanic families. 

Each and every person is deserving of the right to proper healthcare, especially that which is free of the leaps and bounds of a system that oppresses and makes it extraordinarily difficult to access or afford. 

That said, the COVID-19 pandemic without a doubt boosted the telemedicine industry dramatically, putting more accessible and affordable healthcare on the map. A rainbow behind storm clouds, telemedicine has the potential to help people in many ways beyond what we saw over the past year. 

For one, people don’t have to worry as much about transportation, making virtual appointments not only cheaper but also less time consuming. Similarly, because such appointments can take place right from your home, the patient is offered a lot more flexibility to accommodate their work schedules and things like child care. Not to mention stressors in regards to scheduling, the possibility of domestic violence or even religion that can make traditional medical care difficult.  Therefore, due to its asynchronous nature, this intrusive care modality can be much less anxiety-inducing for patients. 

One telemedicine option, Alpha, has been offering such services for much longer than those which were forced into it by the pandemic. Alpha is a growing platform that allows for patients to receive primary care or talk therapy from home. It specializes in holistic treatments for women ranging from regular checkups to ongoing mental health appointments, nutrition and reproductive care – including postpartum depression – acknowledging that women often carry the burden of handling healthcare for their entire families (spouses, children, elderly parents, siblings, etc.) while also working. In this way, Alpha’s services are entirely patient led and personalized. 

Women’s health in particular is ignored, invalidated, and not taken seriously within the medical industry of the United States. Through the asynchronous telemedicine that Alpha offers, patients have a direct line of written conversation with their physician to ask questions or address concerns, unlike an in-person setting where phone calls are screened or a patient might see a different doctor each time they visit. This way, visits are much more private, personal, and accessible. 

Additionally, by allowing patients to pay with cash or in an a-la-carte fashion, the company stands by its mission to meet patients where they are. According to its website, Alpha has a few external/local partnerships in 43 states in the case that a patient needs a procedure done or to go to a lab to receive a test which cannot be completed from an at-home kit – remaining dedicated to combatting the issue of care deserts across the country. 

Alpha’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacobsen, highlighted a mission of the platform. “We educate patients on their medical condition. We are always involved with the patient because involving the patient in their care, making an informed and fair treatment plan and decisions about prescription medications is going to increase adherence to the plan by the patient.” 

 “And obviously,” Jacobsen continued, “support the relationship between the patient and the provider. We know that a good relationship with the provider actually shows better patient outcomes.” 

Alpha encourages all employers to consider health plans which include telemedicine, citing its inherent ability to provide a less stigmatized experience for patients. More specifically, much of the patient demographic using Alpha are people either without insurance or moving in and out of insurance.

“It is a great fit for gig workers and very convenient, given the fact that you don’t have to take time out of business hours.” Gloria Lao, co-founder and CEO, added, “you can solve your medical issues at midnight on your couch and still get cared for.” 

It is surely going to be difficult to return to fully in-person treatments after the pandemic considering the cutting-edge programs which have emerged and its potential to drive affordability. Perhaps, with a more urgent shift toward progressive politics in the United States and as the unions formed by workers across the country begin to catch fire, we can expect to see more attention focused on finally making healthcare accessible, affordable, and non-discriminatory.


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Health Care Health News Health Gender Wellness

We need to talk about prostate cancer

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prostate cancer is the second most common malignant tumor. It is a non­dermatological tumor diagnosed in patients beyond the age of 50, which is also the second leading cause of cancer-related mortality across the globe after skin cancer. The lifetime risk of developing a microscopic, clinical disease and prostate cancer-related death is 30% in developing countries.

The prostate is a small walnut-shaped gland that sits below the bladder near the rectum, surrounding the urethra, the passage in the penis through which urine and semen pass. Most people are not sure what the prostate is, what it does or when to call a doctor if they think they might have a problem.

I reached out to medical experts and doctors in Pakistan to find out more about the disease. The overall elderly population of Pakistan currently stands at 10 million, half of which live in rural settings where health facilities are not as upgraded as they are in cities, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), 2017.

Dr. Shahzad Ali, an oncology consultant, said that prostatic cancer does not show early signs of physical harm unlike other forms of cancer.

“As cancer progresses, it spreads to the bones causing intense pain in the back, hips, and the pelvis,” he said, adding that there is still no robust medical arrangement that could detect the malignancy at its earliest.

“The cancer detection rate using prostate-specific antigen (PSA) measurements is between 2 to 4%.”

He further added that about 20% of men with prostate cancer will have PSA levels within the normal range. Therefore, PSA alone as a screening test is controversial.

“If digital rectal examination reveals a prostate that is hard and nodular accompanied with high PSA levels, then trans-rectal ultrasound scan (TRUS) and biopsy are indicated. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and TRUS are for staging the local disease. While x-ray of chest and liver function tests are carried out for metastatic spread of the disease,” explained Dr. Ali.

Sohail Rauf, 61, was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year. To further understand the impact and toll it takes to battle this disease, I reached out to him.

“I am a diabetic patient and last year I was facing excessive urinary problems. I thought it was due to high diabetes so I went to a doctor only to find out that I was suffering from prostate cancer,” he said.

Rauf went through a physical examination, followed by a biopsy. A biopsy is the only way a firm diagnosis of prostate cancer can be made. “The doctor removed small samples of tissue from the prostate, using very thin, hollow needles guided by an ultrasound,” he said.

Rauf faces no hurdles in his day-to-day life after going through prostate surgery.

“I was asked to limit my consumption of red meat, including beef, lamb, and goat, and was advised to stop smoking and drinking alcohol.”

The doctor suggested he consume healthier sources of protein such as fish, skinless poultry, beans, and eggs.

Apart from these precautionary measures, Rauf is supposed to visit his consultant for the rest of his life for regular check-ups every six months.

In response to a question about delay in seeking medical care, Dr. Masood A. Sheikh, a urologist said, “Men with urinary symptoms are hesitant to discuss the problem, perhaps, because of embarrassment, believing that all of it is part of ageing or due to the fear of treatments such as surgery.”

The findings of the study on clinicopathological characteristics of prostate cancer suggest that there is also a need to improve public attitude regarding urinary symptoms in older age men and knowledge about prostate cancer in Pakistan.

The Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride (DGR) is a unique event that helps raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer in Pakistan since 2015.

“It is a themed ride for café racers, scooter riders, bobbers, choppers, and scramblers,” said Faisal Malik, the official spokesman for DGR in Karachi.

“DGR takes place on the last Sunday of September. The event’s main aim is to spread awareness and raise funds for prostate cancer research and other health issues that men face in Pakistan,” said Nabil Hasan, media executive of DGR.

Talking about the event, Hasan said it takes place in over 400 cities, across all five continents, with more than 15,000 participants that ride their classic motorcycles, dressed up in their finest attire, taking the cause to the streets of Karachi.

One thing that sets DGR apart from other cancer-related campaigns is its future-oriented approach.

Prostate cancer is a risk for people as they age, but if it is caught and treated early, the outlook is generally good. So, as you or someone you know gets older, be sure to have open conversations with your doctor about your risk.

If you have any symptoms you think might be prostate cancer, talk to your doctor right away. And even if you do not have symptoms, consider adopting a healthy lifestyle to decrease your risk.

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Coronavirus Africa The World

How modernization might be slowing down South Africa’s vaccine rollout

On the 2nd of January 2021, South Africa’s Health Minister announced an ambitious vaccine rollout strategy. Vaccination is supposed to occur in three phases: starting with health care workers and ending with people over 18. According to this plan, 67% of the population will be vaccinated by the end of the year – thereby achieving herd immunity. 

The goal was to vaccinate one and a half million healthcare workers by the end of Phase One. However, to date, the country is on Phase Two, and only 642, 946 people have been vaccinated. The first phase was a profound disappointment, as only half a million healthcare workers were vaccinated. While there are valid reasons for why the rollout was delayed, e.g., the emergence of a South African variant and the doubts surrounding the J & J vaccine, the vaccine rollout strategy leaves a lot to be desired. South Africa is undoubtedly one of Africa’s wealthiest and most developed countries, but the procurement of vaccines has been a long and complex process, and it has also been affected by the COVID-19 patent divide

According to data from Media Hack Collective, at the current rate it will take South Africa 15 years, ten months, and eight days to vaccinate 67% of the population. These statistics are disappointing, to say the least. With a looming 3rd wave and the emergence of the Indian variant (which could lead to a rise in hospitalizations), South Africans don’t have that kind of time. 

The government has also made some costly mistakes. For example, they quickly sold the initial AstraZeneca doses to the African Union after doubts about the amount of protection it offered arose, and yet other African countries are now using those very same does to further their own vaccination programs. Secondly, and more importantly, the registration process is exclusionary. People aged 60 and under have to register on the government’s portal to receive the vaccine. They can do it online, by SMS, or via WhatsApp. For someone who is as young and tech-savvy as me, the registration only takes a few minutes. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for everyone, especially those over 60 years old. There are also major class implications, since only 9.5% of the population has household internet access and only 2% of rural homesteads are connected to the internet, which makes South Africa’s digital divide rather apparent.

It’s easy for me to use a smartphone because I have grown up around phones, and I live in an urban area where I’m guaranteed mobile connections. I can’t help but worry about older people, such as my grandmother, who still need to be explained the basics. I wonder if they have anyone assisting them or whether they even have access to information about where and when to get vaccinated. I’m worried that modernization has left them behind, and therefore denying them their right to healthcare. 

I believe that the trick to improving the rollout speed is to go back to basics and make things simpler. For example, Zimbabwe’s vaccine rollout is successful because people are served on a first-come-first-serve basis, and registration is done onsite. A manual system would look similar to South Africa’s elections, as voter registration is conducted manually and electoral commission officers do day-to-day campaigns. If the right safety protocols are followed, this strategy might also work for the vaccination drive. Having volunteers physically go to remote and underdeveloped areas might make a substantial difference. 

Instead of focusing on the disappointing number of registrations thus far, we can look to the future. Modernization makes our lives easier, but it also leaves people behind. Looking to the future can also mean using methods of the past. After all, the most important thing is to save as many lives as possible and win the war against COVID-19. 


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Health News Coronavirus The World

How creativity and community encourage people to get vaccinated around the world

Do you know someone who is hesitating to take the Covid-19 vaccine? You are not alone. Many people, especially the elderly, are concerned about the efficiency of Covid-19 vaccines and the possible side effects. Governments, hospitals, and vaccination centers around the world are using creative campaigns to put fears to rest and to encourage everyone to get the shot

In Mexico City, Mexico, it was a common sight to see the elderly scared at vaccination centers. They were worried about getting sick after the shot or of being scammed and injected with air. The officials at the vaccination centers felt the need to put the seniors’ minds at ease. 

Cue the dancing! There are now wheelchair yoga classes, dance sessions, young men doing football tricks, and other performances intended to ‘inject’ (not at all sorry about the pun!) some fun into the proceedings. Wouldn’t you love to see Lucha Libre (professional Mexican freestyle) wrestlers dancing to celebrate your vaccination? Beatriz Esquivel, a vaccination site coordinator in Mexico City, told the New York Times that although it is not clear if the performances are encouraging more people to take the vaccine, they do comfort those who have already come to get their shots. 

Over in Singapore, the government has decided to use the powerful combination of comedy and disco to get its message across. In a public health video, comedian Gurmit Singh, playing one of his famous characters Phua Chu Kang, raps about how it is safe to take the vaccine, and perhaps more importantly, how dangerous it could be to stay complacent. This last point is significant because Singapore was recently declared the best place to be during the pandemic. The number of cases is very low and experts are worried that Singaporeans will try to delay taking the shot. The song also dispels rumors about the vaccine being unsafe for senior citizens or people with certain medical conditions. “Get your shot, steady pom pi pi,” is the catchy refrain in Singlish, pom pi pi meaning “be calm”. The use of Singlish is an effective way to appeal to the nation’s sense of community. 

Another country has followed this principle. This country has been declared the second-best place to be during the pandemic – New Zealand. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health released a video called ‘Ka Kite, Covid’, which essentially means ‘See you later, Covid’ in Maori. It features regular New Zealanders excited to get back to life and make plans after getting vaccinated. I personally loved the shot where a healthcare worker says he’s opening the door to the future, and then opens a door to a vaccination center.


Although getting vaccinated in no way means that things will magically go back to what they were pre-pandemic, it is a step forward. We’ve been isolated from each other for a long time, but it’s stories like these that remind me how important a sense of community is, and how it can go a long way in helping people feel safe and protected. As the last screen of ‘Ka Kite, Covid’ reads, “Do it for each other.”


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Health News Coronavirus The World

The Covid-19 vaccine patent divide is yet another example of hinderance from the Global North countries

If there’s any word to describe COVID-19, it’s “unpredictable.”

It’s like a hydra; cut off one head and two more grow back. Every time researchers think they’ve got it figured out, we get new variants each with their own symptoms and varying severity. 

With the multiple vaccines having been created by different countries, there’s a small glimmer of hope for the world to break free from the hold this virus has on us, physically and mentally. 

Research indicates that the vaccines are 90% effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and one dose of a vaccine can halve transmission among people. While it’s easy to be hyper focused on the 10% chance that you could still fall sick, it’s quite literally the best shot at staying safe.

India is currently going through a horrible second wave of COVID-19, where the last recorded tally was 403,405 cases on the 8th of May. Various cities are experiencing a severe shortage of oxygen supplies and hospital beds, showing a harrowing picture of patients collapsing and even dying in the streets with their loved ones are helplessly looking for anything that could save them.

However, despite knowing the extent of what is happening in India and having the means to help, the US has placed a ban on the export of materials that could help Indian pharmaceuticals to create their own supply of vaccines. Denying India’s request to lift the ban, spokesperson Ned Price said that the “needs of the Americans should be looked at first.

So much for celebrating having a vice president with South Asian roots.

Maya Rudolph's Best Kamala Harris Sketches On SNL
[Image Description: a gif of Maya Rudolph playing Kamala Harris sipping on a drink while wearing sunglasses] Source: Buzzfeed
The ban and the US’ refusal to lift it had several people pointing out the disparaging patent divide for COVID-19 vaccine materials among countries all around the world, with particular reference to this map:

How the US can solve the global vaccine shortfall – Progressive Policy Institute
[Image Description: a world map that shows which countries support (coloured yellow), oppose (coloured pink), and are undecided (coloured blue) on the patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccine materials] Source: Progressive Policy Institute
Having the patent would allow the countries’ local drugmakers to manufacture vaccines for themselves, provided they have the materials. As you can see in this map, the countries that oppose the patent waiver are those who are part of the Global North (the richest and most industrialised countries in the world), including the US, Japan, Australia, and Europe. 

The countries that support the patent waiver are mostly countries in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and parts of South America. Countries that are generally part of the Global South (normally known as the Third World countries).

What Is The Global South? - WorldAtlas
[Image Description: a graphic showing the Global North countries as a happy figure standing upright, and the Global South countries as a distressed figure hanging on] Source: World Atlas
Even China, which has developed its own vaccine Sinopharm, stands in support of the patent waver. The country has even stepped in to provide its vaccine rollout to India in its time of need.

Several people took to social media to point out this disparity between the privileged and the under-privileged.

This isn’t the first time the Global South has had to suffer the worst of an ongoing situation; the North has been known to continuously profit off of resources that the South has, while preventing any form of economic development to happen in the latter. In what is known as Dependency, the North keeps the South dependent on its finances and economic prowess while at the same time, keeping them from their own personal development. 

The scales will always be tipped in the North’s favour without ever achieving balance, and has been so long after the South was decolonised.

By obstructing the patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccine materials and banning their export, countries like the US are preventing countries like India from developing their own vaccines that would enable them to break free from their respective waves of the pandemic. 

Big Pharma has stated that they are doing this to prevent China and Russia (US’ global rivals) from exploiting platforms that could be used for other vaccines.

So basically, they’re saying lifting the ban could lead to more lives being saved. Mass recovery would mean the countries would no longer need US’ and other Global North countries’ support to get by. The US wouldn’t want that now, would it.

With the US, Japan, Australia and European countries moving up with their respective vaccine rollouts and gradually easing their lockdown restrictions, India and other countries in the global South are left in turmoil. At this rate, COVID-19 could become another disease that is ravaging Third World countries while the rest stay safe and vaccinated against it.

Disappointed but not surprised to see that hierarchy and profit triumph humanity when it comes to global health.


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Immigration Coronavirus The World Inequality

The fight for labor rights is far from over this International Workers’ Day

Another International Workers’ Day may be upon us, but I’m not sure global migrant workers will feel like celebrating this year. Despite migrant communities’ key role in many economies, laborers around the world continue to endure unsafe working conditions that make many vulnerable to exploitation. In addition, the global pandemic hit migrant workers harder than most, with COVID-19 exacerbating safety issues while also disrupting key labor markets and population mobility.

Migrant workers make up a majority of temporary, seasonal, or informal employment opportunities that are crucial to global industries like agriculture, construction, shipping, in-home care, and more. Many of these jobs are considered “unskilled” labor, a term that has been used to keep pay low and underscore the importance of these jobs.

The global pandemic forced many countries to reexamine which jobs are necessary to the functioning of society and the economy. The jobs migrant workers fulfill were predominantly deemed essential, and yet conditions remain inadequate for migrant communities around the world.

In Europe, migrant workers were acknowledged as essential to farming and the food industry. This allowed some laborers to cross borders closed to most. However, their status did not inspire employers to improve working conditions. Instead, many laborers continued to face inhumane working conditions, low wages, and overcrowded living corridors.

In 2020, migrant workers accounted for 93% of Singapore’s 58,000 COVID cases. Predominantly South Asian laborers live in cramped dormitories that house tens of thousands of people throughout the country, which has accelerated the spread amongst the country’s migrant workers and even taken a toll on their mental health.

Canada and the United States also have robust migrant worker populations. In 2020, much of these populations endured severe risk of contagion, wage theft, inadequate housing and food, lack of PPE, unsafe work conditions, and racism and xenophobia. In California, an agriculture and farming hub in the U.S., workers had to contend with COVID outbreaks and a grueling wildfire season made worse by climate change.

Some communities have used social media to draw attention to their plight. In the Gulf, domestic workers, a majority of whom have migrated from Africa and Asia, are calling their employers out via TikTok videos that detail how they are overworked, sexually harassed, and discriminated against. Some in-home care workers are also unable to leave their job or the country without permission from their employers, which can make workers more vulnerable to abuse. In fact, there are 24.9 million people around the world trapped in forced labor, including 16 million people in private sectors like domestic work, construction, or agriculture.

Activists, global nonprofits, and other advocacy groups are calling upon governments to make lasting changes. Some experts have demanded more legislature around legal systems of migration. This includes work visa programs that actually protect migrant workers from employer retaliation, deportation, and workplace abuses. Work visa programs are also ways to implement wage, housing, and healthcare reform so that laborers are compensated fairly. And, of course, the application process for any visas should be made more accessible to workers.

In the U.S., President Biden did not renew a ban on H-1B and other temporary work-based visas put in place by the Trump administration to prevent migrant workers from entering the country. In addition, Biden increased the number of seasonal guest-worker visas available this year by 22,000. Typically, there are 66,000 H-2B visas available to workers. These efforts join Biden’s ambitious immigration overhaul, which includes the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to increase legal immigration and allow all undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship, amongst other initiatives. However, this legislation hasn’t passed yet.

Despite the pivotal role migrant laborers play in global economies, many communities continue to face exorbitant abuse in working, housing, and living conditions. It seems obvious that radical reform and changes need to be made in order to ensure migrant workers receive basic human respect. With how far the labor movement has come to protect the rights of workers, there is still much to be done to protect the rights of all workers. And that is what International Workers’ Day reminds all of us this year.


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Editor's Picks World News Coronavirus Action Guide South Asia The World

India is gasping for breath as the second Covid-19 wave hits the country

On the eve of 14th April 2021, in a small town in India, a very close family member of mine tested positive for COVID-19. The events that followed left a devastating scar on our family. Aged 67, my mom’s aunt kept fighting for her life till her last breath. As soon as she was tested positive, she needed to be admitted into the hospital, but there were no beds available across the city. It took one whole day to find a hospital bed in a government hospital. It took another day to find a bed with ventilator support.

On the morning of 18th April 2021, she passed away. Her daughter, also tested positive, was admitted in a private hospital on the opposite side of the city, completely unaware of her mother’s death. In between, her distressed husband was desperately trying to procure a dose of Remdesivir injection while tending to the needs of his family who were fighting for their life.

This is the story of countless Indians who are experiencing the devastating second wave of COVID-19. As of 28th April 2021, India is recording the highest number (379,308) of daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases and the highest number (3645) of daily new confirmed COVID-19 deaths. There is a major shortage of oxygen supply and hospital beds. The healthcare system is coming to a collapse and the medical staff is being pushed to their limits. There is a sense of panic and extreme grief across India.

[Image description: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) get treatment at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India April 15, 2021. ] via REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
[Image description: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) get treatment at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India April 15, 2021. ] via REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
“I work in a private medical college and a 500 bed hospital. During the first wave, the hospital had allocated 250 beds (5 wards) to the COVID-19 patients. Now, the second wave has seen an influx of 300+ patients everyday. From 250 beds, our hospital has now dedicated all of the wards including 5 ICUs towards fighting COVID.” said Dr. Avijit Misra, a medical intern at Bharati Hospital and Medical College Pune when I spoke to him. “Government hospitals are also full. There is an increase in makeshift hospitals by the government which has helped a lot, but it is still not enough”, he added.

How did it become so bad?

The government of India had one year to prepare for a catastrophe like this. Ever since the start of the pandemic, the government was supposed to set up 150 oxygen plants but only started bidding for it after 8 months of delay. As of April, only 33 out of the 162 government-sanctioned oxygen plants are functioning.

Along with the shortage of oxygen supply, the transportation of the oxygen from the factories to the patients is a big hurdle that is contributing towards the crisis. India cannot ensure 24/7 road supply of oxygen due to the shortage of cryogenic oxygen tankers. The travel time for the transportation of the oxygen from the factories to the patients has increased from 3-5 business days to 6-8 business days, and the duration is much longer for the remote and rural parts of India.

This comes after a claim made by the National Executive of BJP (the ruling party) in February that the battle against Covid-19 has been triumphantly won. While praising the leadership, the party declared “with pride” that India has “not only defeated Covid-19 under the able, sensitive, committed and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, but also infused in all its citizens the confidence to build an ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat ‘(Self -reliant India)’.”

After the declaration, mass gatherings and crowd events became a normalcy. Events such as election rallies and religious events were sanctioned by the government. The rallies and the religious events were seen as an attempt by the ruling party to please and secure its vote bank, as their policy has historically reflected Hindu nationalist positions. The government led by PM Narendra Modi, has also been constantly downplaying the extent of the crisis and shutting down voices which have been instrumental in raising awareness and providing help to those affected.

[Image description: Amit Shah at an election rally] via Arun Sankar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
[Image description: Amit Shah at an election rally] via via Arun Sankar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The price is being paid by the common man

While patients are affected on one side, helpless relatives running around in search of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and medications are also being forced to put themselves at risk. Families are being admitted to the hospital together but not all of them are going back home healthy and recovered.

The medical costs are only increasing. A middle-class person cannot afford a bed in a private hospital. Those who can, are being charged Rs. 15 thousand – Rs. 20 thousand ($2011 – $2682) just for the bed. The injections, oxygen cylinders and medication prescribed by the doctors are also in short supply and are being sold at 10 times the price in black markets.

[Image description: Table showing the comparison of prices of COVID-19 medications and oxygen cylinders in India] via BBC
[Image description: Table showing the comparison of prices of COVID-19 medications and oxygen cylinders in India] via BBC
People coming from rural parts of India to bigger cities to get help are being turned back. Families are fighting in the hospitals for bed space. “Phrases such as ‘my patient is younger than yours. At least, give them a chance to live’ can be heard across India,” said Dr. Misra.

In the midst of this tragedy, it is easy to feel helpless right now, but there are ways in which we can help:

1. Amplify

The best thing you can do right now is to use your influence to amplify and share the SOS alerts from those in need on your socials. One share can help save a life.

Instagram accounts to follow that are spreading awareness and amplifying SOS alerts:


Websites & Google Docs:

2. Donate

There are a number of organizations that have come forward and directly purchased resources for the front-line workers, donated supplies, or helped amplify the needs of vulnerable patients. Here are a few:

Local Agencies:

  • Ketto (Mission Oxygen- Helping Hospitals Save Lives) – You can donate to their efforts directly on their website
  • Hemkunt Foundation – Oxygen Suppliers. Donate here 
  • Khalsa Aid – Donate here
  • Milaap – Individual crowdfunding website. Donate here
  • Youth Feed India x Helping Hands Charitable Trust – Food Packages. Donate here
  • Care India – PPE Kits. Donate here

International Agencies:

  • United Nations agencies (UNICEF and WHO). Donate here
  • American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin – Oxygen Machines. Donate here
  • Care India – PPE Kits. Donate here
  • The Association for India’s Development – Protective equipment and food packages. Donate here

As I look back, I think that my family members were among the luckier ones to have at least gotten a hospital bed and oxygen support. We don’t know when this calamity will end. The road to the finish line looks too far ahead. The battle against COVID-19 continues with our healthcare workers on the front line. We cannot be spectators anymore. We need to step in and help those in need. 

In retrospect, the second wave of COVID-19 did push India to become Atma Nirbhar

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Are British tabloids using nationalism to encourage Covid-19 vaccinations?

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

Before Brexit, I never saw the UK as patriotic. We were proud to be British, yes, in terms of our impact on global culture – British music, British telly, British icons, even our internet meme culture was quintessentially ours – but proud of what our country did in the past and how we’ve made an effort to build on from that in the present? Never. I’ve always been too aware of our role in the empire and how we treated those that arrived on our shores afterwards, to feel anything remotely patriotic. 

But when 52% of my country voted to leave the European Union based on a campaign that fiercely promised to ‘take back control of Britain’ and liberate it from the oppressive chicken coop prison” of the EU, I realized people in the UK were a lot more patriotic than I originally thought.

Along with racially fuelled anti-migrant propaganda, some groups from the Vote Leave campaign ran the rhetoric of ‘Make Britain Great Again’ – an inflammatory slogan that mirrored Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign; a crusade similarly based on bigotry and nationalism.

‘Make Britain Great Again’ wanted to take Britain back to its supposed post-war “glory days”; the time shortly after we had won the war, but also the time when being gay was illegal, there was no anti-discrimination legislation to prevent landlords from refusing to accept tenants of color, and despite all the work by those fighting for women’s suffrage in the war, women were once again being shoehorned into the feminine ideal of the “the perfect mother and housewife”. Ah yes, the good old days.

And a large part of the Vote Leave campaign was run through British tabloids. Popular newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail, openly backed the decision to leave the EU, running so-called patriotic front-page news stories that encouraged readers to leave the ‘increasingly greedy, wasteful, bullying, and breathtakingly incompetent’ European Union, and vote leave for ‘our chance to make Britain even greater.’

And it worked. Statistics show that the newspapers with the highest proportion of leave voters were right-wing British tabloids; by these British tabloids openly backing the Vote Leave campaign – and endorsing the idea that Britain was better at a time when minorities had fewer rights – they allowed this harmful way of thinking to become acceptable once again.

If the 2016 Brexit referendum shattered the glass of an already cracked Britain, the British tabloids were the rocks that finally smashed it into pieces. They showed many bigoted Brits, who claim to have felt silenced in the past, that if the country’s press could openly racially discriminate, so could they. And then in 2020, the pandemic hit. And later on in the year, Covid-19 vaccinations came – along with anti-vaccination rhetoric. 

If the 2016 Brexit referendum shattered the glass of an already cracked Britain, the British tabloids were the rocks that finally smashed it into pieces.

I can’t generalize for all readers of the British tabloids – nor would I want to – but many would say that there is perhaps a correlation between those that had their views on the reasons to leave the EU swayed by these papers and those that began to engage with the idea that Covid-19 vaccinations were unsafe. I’ve read enough tabloid newspapers to know that they are perfectly okay with twisting the truth, but when the government backs the science, it’s a lot more difficult to twist hard facts.

So instead, these tabloids are repackaging the Leave campaign’s vision of Britain’s so-called post-war “golden era,” to convince anti-vaxxers of the importance of Covid-19 vaccinations.

Indeed, The Sun’s ‘Jabs Army’ campaign – backed by prime-minister, Boris Johnson, himself – not only includes a heart-shaped logo complete with a union jack, but also makes use of war jargon such as ‘sign up’ and ‘vaccination volunteer force’; phrases that allude to the compulsory conscription and drafting in of soldiers, and the general post-war celebratory mood of the country coming together for the greater good.

And this isn’t the first time in the pandemic these tabloids have used Britain’s obsession with the war to tell their readers what to think; The Daily Mail devoted a whole column to Captain Tom Moore, the late army veteran who raised almost £33 million for the NHS by walking 100 laps around his garden before he turned 100.

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Of course, what Captain Tom did was great, but the tabloids spent longer writing about the fact that it was a war veteran funding the NHS, and not that our shambles of a government had left our National Health Service in such a state that it even needed this funding in the first place.

While I’ve got my own issues with British tabloids, I am definitely not against them running a pro-vaccination campaign – if it means the country is able to get immunized quicker, then I certainly don’t see it as an issue.

But I do worry that by these tabloids using the Brexit utopian dream of a post-war “glory days” Britain as a means to an end for vaccinations, it could quickly become the much more permanent end vision of Britain, that these readers have long been hoping for.  

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Want to protest against the new police bill in the UK? Here’s everything you can do to help

Around the UK, thousands have taken to the streets to protest against the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.’ There have been seven demonstrations in Bristol so far, with protestors also gathering in central London, Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool, and many more cities across the country.

What is the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’?

The ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ is a new piece of legislation our government is trying to bring in to change the way we protest and give the police more power over controlling these demonstrations. 

The new bill would allow police to:

• Impose start and finish times on protests
Set noise limits on demonstrations
Criminalize protests they deem a ‘public nuisance’ or a ‘serious annoyance’
Add measures to the routes of demonstrations
Apply these rules to a demonstration by just one person
Increase the maximum penalty for damaging a memorial to 10 years in prison

Why is the new bill bad?

The police bill gives police significantly more power over the way we protest – something we have a right to do in a democratic state. Without protests, it’s likely that women would still not have the vote, and only rich white men would be able to have their say in elections.

Protestors at a 'Kill the Bill' demonstration holding a placard that says, 'Priti Patel, women protested so you could have this job.'
[Image description: Protestors at a ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstration holding a placard that says, ‘Priti Patel, women protested so you could have this job.’] Via Tom Woollard on Instagram

At the moment, police officers have to show the demonstration could result in ‘serious public disorder’ before placing restrictions, as well as prove protestors knew they had been told to move on before they can say they’ve broken the law.  

With this new bill, police can easily shut down demonstrations they deem a ‘public nuisance’ – a vague term that could easily be applied to any and all protests – even those made up of just one person holding a placard and shouting into a speaker. 

The new bill will also make it a crime if protestors failed to follow restrictions they ‘ought’ to have known about, even if they have not received a direct order from an officer. This means that you can face criminal action if you breach conditions – without even realizing it.

Under the proposed law, you could face up to 10 years in prison for damaging a statue or memorial. To put this into context, this is a longer sentence than that given for violent crimes against living people. If this bill got through parliament then, there would be harsher penalties for damaging a statue, than for attacking a woman.

Two women at the Kill the Bill protest in Leeds holding placards.
[Image description: Two women at the Kill the Bill protest in Leeds holding placards.] Via Tom Woollard on Instagram

The new bill is in danger of violating international human rights laws, namely Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to freedom of assembly and association. And even former Prime Minister, Theresa May, has condemned the bill, urging the Conservative party to rethink as ‘our freedoms depend on it.’

How can I fight against the new bill? 

There are lots of ways to make your voice heard against this new bill. If you don’t feel comfortable going out and protesting, you can sign Netpol’s Protect Your Freedom To Protest petition, which opposes the proposed bill and calls on the National Police Chiefs Council to adopt a new Charter for Freedom of Assembly Rights. You can also sign this Stop the Policing Bill petition.

What’s more, you can write to your local MP to express your concerns. While writing your own email from scratch will have more of an impact, you can also write to your MP using this email template, created by Sara Motaghian and Anuradha Damale. (There’s also one in Welsh.)

Protestor at a Kill the Bill protest with a placard that says, 'No progress without protest.'
[Image description: Protestor at a Kill the Bill protest with a placard that says, ‘No progress without protest.’] Via Tom Woollard on Instagram

Joining a protest

If you do want to join a demonstration, here’s what you need to know about your rights as a protestor – with thanks to Black Protest Legal Support for providing this information.

Am I allowed to protest?

Your right to protest is a fundamental Human Right. It is protected by Article 10 (the right to freedom of speech) and Article 11 (the right to assembly and protest) of the European Convention of Human Rights – don’t worry, even though the UK has now officially left the European Union, this is a European treaty so it still applies to British citizens. 

Can I protest in the pandemic?

Since the pandemic began, rules and restrictions across the UK have constantly been changing. This has affected protests in a number of ways. At the time of writing this article, government regulations in England allow protests to go ahead – provided the organisers adhere to a certain set of conditions. 

If you are attending a demonstration, make sure to check out what measures the organiser has put in place to limit the risk of spreading Covid-19. You should also be sure to socially distance and wear a mask – both for your own safety and for the safety of other protesters.

Protestor at the Kill the Bill protest in Leeds with a placard on the back of their wheelchair that says, 'Yes, I am exercising. I am exercising my right to peaceful protest.'
[Image description: Protestor at the Kill the Bill protest in Leeds with a placard on the back of their wheelchair that says, ‘Yes, I am exercising. I am exercising my right to peaceful protest.’] Via Tom Woollard on Instagram

What powers do the police use at protests?

If you are thinking of attending a demonstration, you should be aware of some of the tactics the police use at protests, namely stop and searches and kettling – if you see the police line-up begin to form a kettle and you do not wish to be part of it, the safest thing to do for you and the people around you is to quietly leave.

If you are stopped by the police and asked for your name and what you are doing, you do not have to answer. You can just walk away – they cannot arrest you or search you just for refusing to answer. However, it is a criminal offense to give false information. If you’re not sure why the police are asking for your details, ask them “under what power.”

The police only have the power to ask for your name if they suspect you of anti-social behaviour, and it then becomes an offense if you refuse to provide it.

If you are arrested, say “no comment” to all questions, until you have legal advice from a specialist solicitor with knowledge about protests. Do not accept a duty solicitor.

Instead, contact one of the following solicitors across the UK that offer free 24-hour advice:

ITN Solicitors: 0203 909 8100

Hodge Jones Allen (HJA): 0844 848 0222

Commons: 020 3865 5403

Bindmans: 020 7305 5638

More useful links and information

Follow Black Protest Legal Support UK on Twitter and Instagram for updates and advice on protesting both against the new police bill, and other demonstrations across the UK.

Follow Sisters Uncut on Twitter for more ways you can protest against the bill as well as fight for women’s rights and freedoms.

Follow Liberty on Twitter for ways to fight against injustices in the UK and hold the government accountable for their actions. Equally, their advice hub has loads of good information on protesting and policing, as well as protesting in the pandemic.

The freedom to protest is our human right, and we’re not letting go of it that easily.

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USA Health News LGBTQIA+ The World Policy Inequality

Transgender youth in Arkansas can’t access gender-affirming health care

One week after the General Assembly of Arkansas proposed a bill that would outlaw gender-affirming health care for minors, Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed it. The decision, coming from a conservative Republican governor who has offended the LGBTQ+ community in the past, was viewed as one of their strides achieved in the past few years.

Historically a red state, Arkansas has ever been a friendly place for LGBTQ+ people. Hutchinson only made it less so when he approved other anti-trans bills which involve sports and other health care. For example, just last month he signed off on a bill that targets trans health care in a different way by permitting doctors and other medical workers to voluntarily deny LGBTQ+ people treatment based on morals or religion (as long as their needs are not an emergency). 

Doesn’t this violate the H.I.P.A.A oath? What morals keep doctors from treating their patients? People are patients first, regardless of gender identity.

So with all these battles in mind, when Hutchinson vetoed the anti-gender affirmation bill, Arkansas’ LGBTQ+ community almost saw victory in their grasp.

This triumph only lasted one day. 

The General Assembly overrode Hutchinson’s veto making Arkansas the first state in the country to make health care illegal based on gender identitySo much for making strides. 

The bill makes it a felony to provide gender affirmation procedures to transgender minors. This was too extreme for Hutchinson, who told NPR on April 6, “This puts a very vulnerable population in a more difficult position. It sends the wrong signal to them.”

Gender affirmation is more than just physicality; it’s mental health. The vulnerability that Hutchinson cited among the transgender community, particularly among minors, involves high rates of suicide and depression. Gender is an essential part of identity, and gender affirmation can allow transgender youth to express this. Members of the transgender community who struggle with identity can control how they view their world, as well as how others view them, with the certain surgical or hormonal procedures involved in gender-affirming health care.

Access to these procedures was already difficult to come by for much of the transgender youth in this country. Harassment, discrimination, outright denial, or the sheer lack of experienced professionals are some of the major obstacles that prevent trans people from obtaining their identities. In Arkansas, if some had the opportunity to take home reversible puberty blockers, it’s gone now. Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT and HIV Project, told NBC News that the bill is “the single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.”

Despite Governor Hutchinson recognizing the bill as lacking compassion toward Arkansas youth, he was never an ally. In an interview with “State of the Union” on CNN, he defended the recent bills that address another aspect of anti-trans life: sports.

“I did sign the protection for girls in sports which says biological males cannot compete on a girls team,” the governor told CNN. “To me, that’s a fundamental way of making sure girls’ sports can prosper.”

Much can be said about the latest bill’s steps to deny access to affirming gender. Right down to its very name, the law is problematic. HB-1570 is also known as Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE). How can gender-affirming health care, which decreases suicide rates among minors, be classified as “experimentation”?

The LGBTQ+ community is still fighting for their issues to be taken seriously. Beneath the layers of society, the bill, its terminology, and its harsh punishments, resides a lack of acceptance. It stretches beyond the borders of Arkansas. Recently, anti-transgender legislation (in regards to access to sports and health care) has been under consideration in 28 states, which exemplifies the way this is a problem society faces at large. Under the umbrella of sports-related issues alone, over 60 anti-transgender bills have been considered across the country. LGBTQ+ activists fear that anti-trans bills will harm athletes and limit their access to health care. 

The ACLU had condemned the bill as ostracizing transgender youth. “This has been a significant part of my work at the ACLU for the past six years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Chase Strangio told CNN in another interview. “There have never been this many bills targeting trans youth voted out of the committee and then making it to the floor.”

When political leaders abandon a vulnerable community, it is left within their hands alone to assert their rights, worth, and presence. As the LGBTQ+ community comes under attack once again with the recent legislation being pushed across the nation, it is important to remember this now more than ever and to consider how to align yourself as an ally for this community. 

Amidst the shame and ostracism transgender people in Arkansas endure because of this bill, groups like Northwest Arkansas Equality and the American Civil Liberties Union Arkansas showcase their resilience. Both groups advocate for LGBTQ+ rights within the community, provide health, wellness, and social resources, and create a space for people to feel safe and accepted. With Arkansas the first state to ban gender affirmation, the message of these organizations is more important than ever.


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Clapping has become the UK government’s new and absurd way to deal with national crisises

It’s no secret that the pandemic has been unprecedented. It has had an impact on every aspect of our lives and in some ways, completely changed the way we behave. Across the globe, governments have responded in extremely different ways. Islands like New Zealand and Australia immediately closed their borders. Countries in mainland Europe followed suit, however the long-term upkeep has been difficult.

As an island, I expected the UK to follow suit and close its borders. You cannot access the UK unless you sail or fly so it didn’t seem like an unreasonable response, however, the government is incompetent. And so, here we are one year on from the first cases detected in the UK and our NHS (National Health Service) is struggling, infection rates are rising, and we are in and out of lockdowns more than high schoolers in relationships.

The NHS was implemented after the Second World War to provide free healthcare to British and later EU citizens. To say it has been a lifesaver would not be giving it enough credit. So many of us in the UK would not be here without the NHS – and a future without it seems unimaginable.

So, how does the government deal with such a crucial institution during the time of a pandemic? Increase its funds? No. By clapping.

During the years before the pandemic, the Conservative government systematically cut funding to both the NHS and its workers. By the time the pandemic hit, the system was not in a place where it was able to cope with the increasing demand.

Junior doctors had been striking against increased hours without higher pay and the government refused to grant them better working conditions. Last March, both the NHS and the government put out the call asking for retired staff to come back to help- and they did en masse.

In appreciation, the government raised the salary of career politicians and began clapping weekly to show some gratitude to medical practitioners. The Covid cases, especially in the North of England, were rising steadily with well over 2,000,000 cases. The reproductive rate in the North of England had reached 1.5 – yet the government did not act.

It reached such a low point that a 100-year-old man, Sir Captain Tom Moore, an otherwise ordinary citizen who had fought in the Second World War, walked around his garden over the Summer as a means to raise money for the NHS. His goal was to raise £1000 by his 100th birthday, yet on the morning of his birthday, it was reported that he had raised well over £30 million. The NHS is not a charity, it does not depend on the donations of the public to keep going. The fact that a regular citizen felt compelled to raise money in this manner is awful. The work done by Sir Captain Tom Moore was amazing and he should be commended for it but it should not have been needed.

A few days ago, Sir Captain Tom Moore died from Covid-19; and in true British fashion, the government organized a national clap for him. Sir Tom was born prior to the creation of the NHS and had seen the suffering of a country without a national healthcare system firsthand. It is disrespectful to his memory that the UK government chose performative appreciation over actually helping the NHS in his memory.

The NHS is probably one of the only things Britain has to be proud of. The lack of care by the Government for the people who are the most vulnerable is pathetic. To suggest that the way to show appreciation is through clapping is insulting. So many frontline workers have put their lives on the line and haven’t received anything from the Government. The pandemic has near enough crippled the UK, at the time of writing, there were over 3,911,573 cases of COVID-19. With the 3rd lockdown in force, many self-employed and small business owners are struggling to provide for their families yet the Government are more interested in clapping than bringing an end to the pandemic.

The clapping needs to stop, and the Government needs to act.


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The current British Government cannot hide its contempt for the poor

Here’s some numbers that will give you an idea of how elitism is central to the British political sphere – 65% of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet were educated at fee-paying private schools, compared to 7% of the national population. The elite few are disproportionately representing British people who have had far less of a privileged life compared to those that hold power in government. The same elite few are completely out of touch and show little regard to the poor population of the country. 

In Britain, high levels of poverty have been caused by the policies enacted by the Conservative government under Johnson and his predecessors Theresa May and David Cameron. Policies include introducing a new welfare system, Universal Credit, which provides significantly less money, leaving many claimants worse off; and £36bn taken out of the benefits system since 2010, including cuts in disability benefits. 

The government’s agenda to raise employment figures through these policies has backfired and left the most vulnerable in Britain into further destitution. There’s now an increase in food banks in the country and 4.2 million children in poverty. Even a UN poverty expert who visited Britain compared Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses. British people who were already below the poverty line have been hit further by the Covid-19 pandemic, and 2020 exposed how the government has tried to get away with as little as possible when it came to helping families and children in need.

This led to UNICEF feeding hungry children in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, for the first time in its 70-year history. The UN agency donated £25,000 to the community project School Food Matters to supply 18,000 breakfasts to 25 schools over the recent two-week Christmas holidays and upcoming February half-term, supporting 1,800 families in Southwark, South London, who have been severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic – declared by UNICEF to be the most urgent crisis affecting children since the second world war.

So how did the British government respond to this news? When the question of UNICEF’s support was raised in the House of Commons by opposition Labour MP Zarah Sultana to Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, he claimed UNICEF should be “ashamed of itself”. He further stated that he thinks “it’s a real scandal that UNICEF should be playing politics in this way when it is meant to be looking after people in the poorest, the most deprived countries in the world, where people are starving, where there are famines and there are civil wars. And they make cheap political points of this kind, giving, I think, £25,000 to one council. It is a political stunt of the lowest order.”

His shocking comments were immediately met with backlash on social media. When confronted by the realities of what is happening on his doorstep, Rees-Mogg’s response was to deflect blame towards the international humanitarian agency for daring to grant funds to a UK charity. Privilege, wealth, and political power are fundamental forces in British politics – Rees-Mogg and the government show unwillingness to help those in poverty but are willing to treat other people and organizations that question their position as inferior.

Last year, footballer Marcus Rashford prompted the government to U-turn on their policies not once, but twice on the matter of financial support for poor children and their families. Back in June last year, 1.3 million children in England were able to claim free school meal vouchers in the summer holidays following the successful campaign led by Rashford – but his campaign was met with derision by a member of the cabinet, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey. Rashford had asked his followers on Twitter to think about struggling parents who have had their “water turned off”, and whose children have gone hungry. Coffey’s single reply to his Twitter thread on free school meals was “water cannot be disconnected”. Rashford remarked how he was concerned this is the only tweet of his that Coffey acknowledged.

Coffey’s deliberate disregard of the difficulties facing parents and children across the country exposes the deep-held belief by government ministers that the poorer in our society just have to find a way to cope without government support. In November, a second campaign by Rashford led the government to take another U-turn and agree to spend more than £400m as part of a winter grant scheme to support poor children and their families in England. The November U-turn was on the back of Rashford calling for free meals to be provided over the October half-term, as the government agreed to during the summer period. The government refused, claiming the benefits system will be enough to support families. When the Labour party raised a motion in the House of Commons in October to call for an extension of free meals for school children over the October half-term and Christmas holidays, 320 Conservative MPs voted against the motion – the government was prepared for children to go hungry for the sake of the government holding their purses tight against their chest.

As soon as the government was met with criticism, politicians who voted against the extension made an effort to defend how they voted. Conservative MP Ben Bradley claimed that free school meals “increases dependency”. He continued directing his condescending remarks to Rashford, “Gov has lots of responsibilities: supporting the vulnerable, helping people to help themselves, balancing the books. Not as simple as you to make out Marcus.”

Rashford’s response was, “families have suffered a drop in income. Nearly 1 million have fallen off the payroll. This is not dependency, this a cry for help.” Finally, after facing criticism from Rashford, the media, and the public, the government had no choice but to agree to the winter grant scheme a month after the vote in the Commons.

Why does it take a high-profile figure like Rashford to raise awareness of how much poorer families are struggling across the country when the government can see for themselves what is happening before them? Rashford’s campaign made the public more aware of the government’s lack of empathy for the poor. Their contempt for the poor was out in the open for the country to see. The government was shamed into taking action, they didn’t take action of their own volition.

There’s an underlying sentiment held by government ministers who feel entitled to be at the top due to their elite status. The elite are drawn to politics and power not out of any sense of purpose or duty, but a dull and common belief that such things are what people like them do. This sentiment, which is present at the heart of government, has led the elite to deny the levels of poverty and show complete contempt for the poor in Britain.


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