by Kate Hudson
For some years, pandemics have been designated as tier one threats to our security. Successive National Security Risk Assessments have rightly identified such human health crises as worthy of the highest level of concern and planning. So why does Britain find itself signally unprepared for the coronavirus, with insufficient equipment, staff and infrastructure to serve its people? Why is our government opting for a Darwinian-style cull of older and more vulnerable citizens, rather than mobilising every resource to save lives and protect our communities?
This criminal and negligent approach is far from what we have been led to expect by government experts. In 2005, Tony Blair’s government published a National Security Strategy which proudly stated: ‘The World Health Organisation has recognised the United Kingdom as being in the vanguard in preparing for a pandemic and we will continue to improve our capacity to minimise the potential effects of a pandemic including ensuring that effective planning is in place at regional and local levels across the country’.
But it wasn’t just Blair’s government that had its sights on dealing with a potentially massive public health emergency. In 2010, the Coalition Government identified a natural hazard such as an influenza pandemic as a tier one risk to our security and in 2015 again the risk assessment included the tier one category ‘Public Health: Disease, particularly pandemic influenza, emerging infectious diseases and growing Antimicrobial Resistance…’
So successive governments of different political persuasions have all rightly identified the threat which pandemics pose. Yet it is clear that the necessary level of investment has not been put into preparing for this major risk. After a decade of austerity, we are all aware of the inadequate funding of our NHS; the situation is bad enough in ‘normal’ times but during the coronavirus crisis it has disastrous consequences.
But we don’t have to look far to see what has gone wrong when it comes to security policy and spending. The last two security strategies have designated the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and use as a tier two threat. Yet at the same time the governments that have produced these risk assessments have chosen to automatically pour – without question and consideration – £205 billion into a new nuclear weapons system to ‘meet’ this lower level threat, leaving the health system chronically underfunded and unable to meet the challenge of a pandemic. The same problem applies to the tier one threat ‘major natural hazards’ which includes severe flooding, the terrible impact of which we are seeing repeatedly. The government has abjectly failed to meet this threat too.
Once again our government is shown to have the wrong priorities. The pandemic threat was rightly identified, but our national resources have instead been squandered on weapons of mass destruction to bolster our shabby global image, instead of funding our health service to be fit for purpose. The consequences could not be more stark: many thousands of us will be left to die, many in the most terrible conditions. Together we must stand up to this brutal and callous government and demand the right to live, in peace and genuine human security.
Kate Hudson is the general secretary of CND