Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
The cash-strapped NHS runs on goodwill and underpaid workers. It is high time we started appreciating them. But for the neediest in society, free food, accommodation and transport for NHS staff seem bittersweet.
The weekly round of applause for NHS workers has become a (rather cringy) show of appreciation for healthcare workers that the British public has oft-neglected to display, not least at the ballot box. Tired and underpaid NHS workers have been smothered with freebies, from questionable Céline Dion tribute concerts at a hospital in Dudley in the West Midlands, to perhaps more useful offerings of free meals, free accommodation, free transport, and even the chance to go on free short holidays.
I do not want to say that this is a bad thing, far from it. I wait in hope that the British public carries their newfound appreciation of the NHS forward to life after the COVID-19 pandemic and that they will see that their adoration for the sacred health service is political. After all, with better pay and working conditions, staff could more easily help themselves to food, travel and holidays. It must also feel great to finally be appreciated as an NHS worker, after all, things may be tougher due to current circumstances but hospital staff had been working hard to save lives for quite a while before the world descended into this madness.
However, when I see the outpouring of goodwill and money from both the public and large corporations, I cannot help but remember the 1.6 million people in the UK who use foodbanks each year, the estimated 320,000 people in Britain living without a home, and the increasing number of people facing job insecurity and unemployment. Of course, there is overlap between NHS workers and people in these vulnerable groups. It is unsurprising that women and young people are more likely to be carrying out precarious, underpaid jobs in the healthcare system. But there’s something slightly strange about watching overpriced chocolate seller Thorntons pop NHS staff a free easter egg… thanks guys. Perhaps even more uncomfortable is notorious minicab and food delivery giant Uber finding to the money to indiscriminately provide NHS workers with 100,000 free meals, while their own insecure workers go hungry.
I don’t know the solution. Companies paying their fair share of corporation tax would perhaps be a start. But when the food and shelter denied for so long to Britain’s most needy can appear out of thin air amidst a global crisis, we need to at least start asking some questions. NHS workers still deserve the world, and if they don’t mind, I’ll continue to applaud them at the polling station. You’ll buy your own posh easter egg yet!