In memory of Aunty T

On Christmas Eve, I received the phone call from my uncle that everyone dreads. One of the few people who really lit up my life had died that day. Sad does not begin to express the pain I feel and – no doubt – my uncle and cousins are experiencing.

This was one extraordinary lady. She had a spine injury in her 30s that altered the way she worked, but that didn’t stop her. She was a testament to how someone with a significant disability can – with a little adaptation on the part of employers – have a full career. She taught several of us to ‘chef’ and I am happy to say there are two very good chefs who now have secure careers built on incredible skills developed by my aunt. In particular, I hope that my cousin will remember that each time he cooks for his customers, he brings the sparkle into their lives that Aunty T brought into ours.

Admittedly it is rare, but when I cook I tend to prepare a meal that could feed the neighbourhood and this is no surprise either, because my aunt would have fed and helped anyone in need. In fact, I have witnessed how she did this throughout her life, alongside my uncle. Their door was open to anyone. It is an amazing blessing to know that you have at least one person in your life who would genuinely help if you needed it. I see this in my cousins and some of their children; they have no fear of taking chances with their careers, of stepping into the uncertain and are kind, compassionate and dedicated to helping others.

My aunt could also have given Gordon Ramsey a run for his money; she was not the quiet, retiring type and I have no doubt a few staff members quaked in their boots if they did something wrong. She could – at the very least – be described as feisty. Equally, she would never have let anyone touch or harm her staff, she had their backs. She had all our backs.

Why is this quasi obituary here? Well, the circumstances of Aunty T’s death were such that I feel that I must advocate for us all to protect those who are at risk from a Covid-19 death, particularly the elderly and vulnerable.

Kindness, compassion and dedication to helping others might be devoid from the average politician’s daily public life, but we – the people – are a driving force of change and, in these times of economic uncertainty caused by the double impact of Brexit and Covid-19, alongside the chaotic approach to protecting human life in the UK during the pandemic, we must remember that they – the politicians – work for us.

There have been reports of the elderly and vulnerable being sent to care homes and hospitals when it is known that Covid-19 presents an increased risk. I find it inhumane to intentionally send a person – whatever label they are given (‘vulnerable’, ‘elderly’, ‘do not resuscitate’) – into a ward, hospital or care facility where it is known that there is an increased risk of exposure to Covid-19. It is, quite simply, a death sentence.

I fear that the people who have made those decisions and those who have underfunded public health facilities including the NHS – the Conservatives – have knowingly created a system whereby the NHS fails the public; and I genuinely believe it is contrived so that the Conservatives can advocate for an insurance/American style health service and reduction or removal of the NHS and – in committing to that ideology – have treated our lives and those of our loved ones as expendable. We are numbers to those politicians; our lives simply do not matter.

If the government was genuinely committed to protecting public health and our lives, they would have locked down earlier and issued a mandatory requirement for mask wearing to try to avoid a second wave. Further, they would not even contemplate physically reopening schools too soon (the government has been warned about the concerns since at least November 2020) and they would have introduced quarantine of a minimum 14 days for all arrivals into the UK from March onwards. Instead of providing funds to their friends for Covid-19 related contracts (for example PPE), they would have adhered to the legal procurement procedure in the UK and/or chosen the best suppliers that could have delivered what was required to protect our lives. 

The only way to prevent the inhumane suffering that Covid-19 causes a proportion of our population, is to stop the spread and kill Covid-19 off, before it kills more of our loved ones.

For that to happen the UK needs grown-ups in charge, and Johnson – with his botched-up Great Brexit Boris Deal (that has neglected to achieve a deal on financial services, a sector that in 2018 contributed £132bn to the UK economy, compared with fishing, which contributes around 1.8bn) and his chaotic approach to Covid-19 – isn’t the man. Neither is Keir Starmer, since he is a man – understandably – more interested in his long-term career than being the forceful opposition we need at the moment.

We owe it to those who have died of Covid-19 to demand this government ensures that human life is protected first – before any other consideration; before the chaotic approach to the economy; before sending public funds to their friends and/or donors; before ego and before party politics.

For without our lives, we have nothing. Without our loved ones, we have a deep hole that will take time to heal. If we tackle this government – or demand a government of national unity if the current government is not up to the job – we can at least say we have tried to protect human lives in the UK. I am working for that. I hope that you will join me.

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