Home: News

Covid bereaved families slam David Cameron and George Osborne over austerity

Lawyers for the victims' families took aim at those they hold responsible for leaving the UK unprepared for Covid

James Harrison
18 July 2023, 4.48pm

Former prime minister David Cameron leaves after giving evidence at the Covid-19 inquiry in June


Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Image

The UK’s Covid inquiry closed the penultimate hearing of its first phase with a parting swipe at David Cameron and George Osborne.

The official review of how Britain handled the pandemic is due to hold the final hearing of its opening module on ‘resilience and preparedness’ tomorrow.

And following today’s session, in which families complained of lost loved ones being treated “like toxic waste” after death, lawyers acting on their behalf took aim at the men they hold responsible for leaving the country ill-prepared to fight coronavirus.

“[Former prime minister] Mr. Cameron and [former chancellor] Mr. Osborne were happy to tell us their views on austerity, but somewhat less forthcoming on its effects,” ​​Pete Weatherby KC, acting for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice (CBFJ) group, told the inquiry.

Help us uncover the truth about Covid-19

The Covid-19 public inquiry is a historic chance to find out what really happened.

“[Former health secretary and current chancellor] Mr. Hunt was keen to tell us that the number of doctors or nurses went up under his stewardship, but less keen to talk about overall NHS capacity.

“The really revealing statistic had, in fact, already been given by his chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davis, who told us that the UK was bottom of the table of comparable countries with regard to numbers of doctors and nurses.”

Under his government’s austerity programme, Cameron insisted NHS spending had been “ringfenced”, but funding did not rise in step with inflation.

Osborne, who ran the Treasury during Cameron’s tenure, told the inquiry “money is not the solution to all public health problems” and denied cuts had damaged the UK’s health and social care systems.

Hunt conceded a “mistake” had been made in focusing on preparations for a flu pandemic over other possible diseases.

Last week, Michael Gove, current levelling up secretary and a senior government figure under Cameron, defended controversial no-deal Brexit planning, which some have blamed for derailing pandemic preparation.

Gove, however, claimed Operation Yellowhammer was in fact among the best preparation for “any future crisis” facing the UK.

Addressing this, Weatherby added: “The trade-off [of Operation Yellowhammer] was that most of the work on pandemic preparedness was paused and attention deflected from it.”

Following his own evidence to the inquiry, Matt Fowler, co-founder of CBFJ UK, said in a statement: “The first module of the inquiry has confirmed exactly what the bereaved have always known – that the UK government had entirely failed to plan to prevent or slow the spread of a pandemic and it was families like mine that paid the price.

“The last few weeks have exposed that we had no overall plan for a non-flu pandemic, a dysfunctional civil emergencies framework, and inadequate coordination between local and central government and Westminster and devolved governments.

“At the same time, the government’s austerity programme left our population severely vulnerable to Covid-19 and our public services on their knees and unable to cope with a crisis.

“The government must address these failings immediately, another pandemic could just be around the corner and we don’t have time to wait.”

The inquiry continues.

We’ve got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData