Now’s our chance for a society that works for all

Acting regional secretary Tim Roberts urges public sector workers to grab this chance to shape the new normal

Despite all the upheaval of the lockdown, it has at least provided us with the chance to think about the kind of society we want to be part of.

What’s clear to me is that we have an opportunity to build a “new normal” that is far better than what we had before the crisis hit.

A society that finally understands the role that well-funded public services have in sustaining our communities and tackling inequalities.

A society that appreciates that public services are delivered by “key workers” who deserve better pay and safer workplaces.

A society that recognises that we will all be worse off without the contribution of workers born outside the UK.

A society that responds to the threat of global climate emergency and drastically reduces our reliance on fossil fuels.

But such a society will not just emerge – it will have to be fought for. We will have to challenge those who have vested interest in returning to how things used to be.

We need to ensure no-one forgets the consequences of more than a decade of under-funding our health and social care systems.

In UNISON, we have always been clear that austerity was a choice. Recent months have demonstrated to the whole country that governments have the ability and the resources to invest in communities, safeguard jobs and protect the vulnerable.

This weekend’s celebration of the NHS’s 72nd birthday is a golden opportunity for us to proudly make the case that public services must have a central role in our society and the recovery after Covid.

Nye Bevan, the Labour minister who oversaw the creation of the NHS, wrote: “Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves – but all their fellows have access , when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide.”

Those words are as true now as they were in 1952 when he wrote them.

The NHS is a shining symbol of socialist and trade union values. Working together we can create, sustain and develop institutions that help everyone in society and tackle inequality.

We all contribute financially to its success through our taxes, and we all rely on it in our time of need. Its success is built on the hard work of generations of nurses, cleaners, doctors, midwives, health care assistants, administrators, laboratory technicians, estate workers, managers, paramedics, data analysts and countless others.

The NHS only exists because people fought for it to be created, funded, and modernised. If we want the NHS and other public services to bind the fabric of our communities, we will have to keep fighting.