National Voices’ statement on ‘Living with COVID’

Wed, 23 February 2022

Responding to the government's 'Living with COVID' plan, Sarah Sweeney, Head of Policy at National Voices has released the following statement:

At National Voices, we have grave concerns about the government’s ‘Living with COVID’ plan, which throws all caution to the wind by removing almost all protections we have against the virus. Over the last two years, our members and the people and communities they work with have repeatedly told us that COVID-19 hits those already living with ill health and people living in poverty the hardest. We are all in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat. 

The safety net offered by universal free testing and £500 self-isolation support payments for people on low incomes went a small way to buffer against the significant inequalities which put some of us at greater risk of the long-term and potentially fatal consequences of COVID-19. At a time when many are struggling to meet rising costs of living, people will be forced to make impossibly difficult decisions between providing for their families and protecting the health of their friends, families and colleagues. Good public health measures should benefit everyone, but the Government’s ‘Living with COVID’ plan creates a two-tier system between people who can afford to test and to self-isolate and those who no longer have a choice.   

Furthermore, the move to ‘personal responsibility’; the abandonment of universal free testing and legal requirement to self-isolate with COVID-19 symptoms completely disregards people who are immunocompromised and more vulnerable to the virus, effectively excluding a very large group of people from living full lives in society. There are around 500 thousand people who are severely immunocompromised who may be less well protected by the vaccine and at highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and many, many more who have an increased vulnerability to serious illness or even death. 

The framing of protective measures such as mask-wearing, access to free testing and isolation periods as ‘restrictions’ is unhelpful – these are protections that keep us all safer. The pandemic is not over, and these changes only mean many people will be left behind. We are going to have to learn to live with COVID-19, but there are far more humane and fair ways to do this, as well as ways which will better protect our NHS.