The UK was not prepared for the pandemic, partly down to a decade of spending cuts, austerity and underinvestment in public services, according to a union leader.
Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, called for an urgent public inquiry into the handling of the crisis.
She told her union’s annual conference that the Government should bring forward the start of a public inquiry, ditch plans to compel care workers to be jabbed and invest in the public services that have kept the UK running over the past year.
She said: “Covid’s shone a spotlight on inequality at home and around the world. It’s highlighted the racism and discrimination all around us.
“It’s had a disproportionate impact on black people, women, disabled people and those on low incomes.
“It’s because they’re more likely to be in jobs that can’t be done from home. Whether it’s cleaners and catering staff, bus and delivery drivers, care and health workers, or those who empty our bins and bury the dead.
“These people and many others still had to go to work throughout each lockdown, however bad things were. That meant using public transport and perhaps working closely with people who don’t understand self-isolation or social distancing.”
She said key workers were “needlessly” exposed to danger because they were not given the protective equipment they needed.
“Workers wearing PPE made from bin bags and masks from old bits of clothing. Care staff were given disposable face coverings and told to make them last a week. This must never happen again.
“Lessons must be learned from this crisis, so we’re better prepared for the next one. There’s no hiding from the fact the UK has one of the worst Covid death rates in the world.
“The UK wasn’t prepared. Much of that’s down to 10 years of Westminster cuts, austerity and underinvestment in public services. That’s why there must be an urgent public inquiry without delay.
“Those people who used the pandemic to make themselves rich must also be held to account. Cronies of government ministers, family members and even ministers themselves – involved in shady deals where companies sprang up literally overnight, claiming to be able to get PPE deals that never materialised or were so shoddy they couldn’t be used.
“Even when services and equipment were provided, the profits made were eye-watering. If we don’t learn from these mistakes, we will inevitably end up repeating them, with similar dire consequences.”