Socialist Worker

Winners and losers in Covid-19 Britain

Issue No. 2706

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Bosses are still raking it in 


We are not “all in this together”. Covid-19 is not some great equaliser that brings everyone together, but rather a crisis that is deepening the fissures in an already unequal society.

For the bosses and bankers, they keep clawing in profits regardless of the scale of human misery.

Sections of the rich are getting richer even while hundreds of millions of ordinary people are pushed into poverty.

Corporate giants are choosing to grab money from furlough schemes rather than dip into their vast wealth to pay wages. And yet more workers are being sacked while bosses mercilessly look for new ways to trouser profits.

Amazon is a good example. Online delivery orders have boomed for the firm, which has seen its net sales worldwide rise by 26 percent to £62 billion in the first quarter of 2020.

Billionaire founder Jeff Bezos boasted that, “This is demonstrating the adaptability and durability of Amazon’s business as never before, but it’s also the hardest time we’ve ever faced.”

Shot

Times aren’t so hard for Bezos, whose personal net worth has shot up by 30 percent in the last two months—to £121 billion.

His profits are rising because the firm has increased some prices during the pandemic and forced staff to work in dangerous conditions.

But it’s a different picture for former Amazon workers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa. 

They were sacked in April for organising a petition demanding improved health and safety, and arguing the firm shut down during the pandemic.

“I don’t regret standing up with my co-workers,” said Costa.

“This is about human lives and the future of humanity. In this crisis, we must stand up for what we believe in, have hope, and demand from our corporations and employers basic decency that’s been lacking in this crisis.” 

While Bezos counts his ever-growing pile of money, Amazon in the US last week announced it was ending its “crisis special” $2 dollar per hour extra pay and double overtime for all Amazon workers at the end of the month.


Winners—hedge funds

Hedge fund fat cats are rubbing their hands with glee at the opportunities to get stinking rich during the crisis.

Hedge funds are private investment companies that bet on the movement of shares, debts, commodities and currencies. In a space of just three weeks, wealthy hedge fund manager and key Tory donor Crispin Odey has netted £115 million.

Hedge fund Citadel pocketed £43 million from Easyjet’s collapse after short selling—taking shares “on loan”, selling them immediately and buying them back at a lower price. Analysis from the Evening Standard newspaper suggests that hedge funds pocketed £1.48 billion from shortselling.

Meanwhile, Easyjet bosses have grabbed a £600 million loan from the government and put thousands of workers on furlough.

The firm used the government schemes despite its shareholders being paid £171 million in March.


Winners—delivery firms

Lockdown measures are great news for firms that provide home comforts. TV and film services are booming—Netflix rammed £365 million more in the first quarter of 2020 than in 2019.

Food delivery and takeaway services are raking it in—their sales have risen by 8.7 percent. Firms such as Deliveroo and JustEat are able to boost revenues partly because of appalling working conditions.

Workers are classed as “self employed”—so they are on zero hours contracts with no sick pay, holiday entitlement or redundancy packages.

Deliveroo said 3,000 more restaurants signed up to its service in March. With the reopening of pubs and restaurants set to happen slowly, the food delivery apps could be sitting on a goldmine.


Winners—Big pharma

The race to find a Covid-19 vaccine is on—and pharmaceutical companies are desperate to get a slice of the profits.

Drugs firm AstraZeneca has won the contract to manufacture any vaccine that passes the University of Oxford’s trials. The firm has already been paid £820 million by the US government for the development, production and delivery of the vaccine.

The drive for a coronavirus vaccine comes when companies are already hiking up the prices of essential medicine. Health care is dominated by big pharma—drug companies that have a monopoly on medicine.

And the problem is only getting worse.

In the US, two thirds of adults report that prescription drug prices have increased since 2017. And the NHS in Britain paid inflated prices of £18.2 billion to private drug firms in 2017-18.


Winners—the rich

The rich aren’t feeling the pinch during the pandemic—some are grabbing even more money than before.

James Dyson topped the Sunday Times Rich List after increasing his net worth by £3.6 billion in a year.

And a report by a US think tank showed that the total net worth of US billionaires jumped by 15 percent during 18 March and 19 May. It showed that the top five US billionaires saw their wealth grow by £62 billion in just two months.


Loser—a furloughed worker

Around 6.3 million workers in Britain have been furloughed, leaving many people anxious about their jobs in the future.

Bosses are using the scheme to keep paying workers, without dipping into their cash. But many workers are waiting weeks to see any wages come in at all—plunging some into poverty.

Ellie, who worked for a firm organising NHS surveys, had to wait seven weeks until receiving her furloughed wages. And she was unable to claim Universal Credit under the rules of the scheme.

“It was soul destroying,” she told Socialist Worker. “I felt utterly abandoned by the state and my mental health suffered as a result. If I had no family or friends around me, I don’t know what I would have done.”


Loser—delivery drivers

Despite demand for food delivery going up, delivery workers are struggling to make ends meet.

Ben is a bike rider at Deliveroo and told Socialist Worker, “During the last six weeks, the most I have earned has been £70 in one week.”

Competition between workers is fierce—and Ben explains that although orders have increased “tenfold” he rarely earns above £20 a week.

And callous Deliveroo bosses are withholding critical personal protective equipment in an effort to force drivers and riders to work harder.

“Two weeks into the lockdown, management announced to riders that we will only get PPE if we have completed ten or more orders in the last two weeks,” said Ben. When he had received his only pack of PPE, it “consisted of two surgical masks and 250 millilitres of hand sanitiser”.


Loser—health workers

Low paid health workers face contracting the virus every day—yet they are reporting that it’s still difficult to access vital PPE.

Many are outsourced to private firms and are paid the minimum wage on temporary contracts. Adam, who cleans a hospital in Sheffield, said workers are battling low pay, long hours and risk of infection.

“People have to work 40 hours a week just to keep their family afloat,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if cleaners at my hospital got the virus as many work on positive wards. And as with every other work in hospitals it is very hard to get your hands on PPE.”


Loser—disabled people

Coronavirus has made disabled peoples’ lives harder as they are forced to pay for critical care and essential services.

Disability activist Ellen Clifford told Socialist Worker, “This crisis is showing just how little the state cares about disabled people.

“They are having to order food online and high demand means having to go to more expensive places. And disabled people who need care at home are footing the bill for PPE.”

Disabled people face higher living costs anyway—and Covid-19 means that their finances are stretched thinner than ever.


Loser—domestic workers

Government guidance on 10 May suggested that nannies, au pairs, cleaners and other domestic workers were free to go back to work.

But many nannies and au pairs have said bosses had already pushed them to work throughout the lockdown—putting themselves and their families at risk.

“I was forced to quit my job as a nanny,” Susan told Socialist Worker.

“My employer was breaching guidelines continuously. I have a moderate risk family member. But my boss wouldn’t furlough me because they needed me.

“They told me I needed to come in or quit.”

Working class women like Susan are putting their lives on the line to make life easier for rich parents who have enough money to outsource their childcare.

Some workers' names have been changed

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