Not even an apology! – And I’m not referring to Boris Johnson’s statement on Sue Gray’s Report.
Boris did at least say the word “sorry”, even though it was an inadequate, half hearted “apology”. But Sajid Javid made no apology at all, when he made his statement in parliament announcing that the government was scrapping the policy of mandatory vaccines for NHS staff, and for staff in care homes and other care workers.
Around eighty thousand NHS staff would have been told, on February 3rd, that they would lose their jobs. Not for any wrongdoing or incompetence – many had an exemplary record over many years’ service – but just because they had declined to be vaccinated. Just for exercising their right to bodily autonomy, which had previously been accepted as a basic principle of medical ethics.
Around forty thousand care home staff had already been sacked, in November 2021. Care home managers were forced to sack excellent, much valued staff members, for no other reason than that they had made a decision not to be vaccinated. These care home staff found themselves without any income, just a few weeks before Christmas. Most of these people had been on very low incomes, and were unlikely to have much in the way of savings to fall back on.
Yet Sajid Javid made no apology to these staff. He openly refused to make one. He insisted that the policy had been the right one at the time, and that “the government makes no apology for it”. Showing complete lack of empathy, he insisted it was “their choice to leave their jobs”, because they could have stayed if they had been vaccinated.
I am aware that some readers will agree with Sajid Javid. Some of you will consider that care home and NHS staff had a duty to be vaccinated, and that if they did not, then they should be prepared to face the consequences. You may be thinking that it is easy enough to be vaccinated. But it is not as simple as that. It is obvious that if someone has not been vaccinated, even when the alternative is to lose a job that they love, to be without an income, without any way of supporting their family, then it is clearly not the case that they just couldn’t be bothered to make the trip to the vaccination centre. Some people have a real fear of vaccinations. Perhaps it is an irrational fear, but it is not any the less a real fear for being irrational. Think of your own irrational fear. Most people have one. Perhaps you are afraid of spiders, or of flying, or of lifts (for me, its lifts). Imagine if you were suddenly told that, for some reason, it was an essential requirement of your job that you should pick up a spider, or travel by air (or whatever your irrational fear may be). Imagine if, when you refused, you were shown no empathy, but told you were being selfish.
It is very clearly untrue to suggest that the unvaccinated staff were selfish, or that they did not care about vulnerable people. These are people who worked tirelessly and selflessly, throughout the pandemic, in very difficult circumstances. These are the people who the government encouraged us to clap for every Thursday.
Tim Farron recently spoke eloquently about this in Parliament (before the government’s U turn). Tim said the mandatory vaccine policy was “an insult to those people who have served us and kept us well, saved people’s lives and put themselves and their families in harm’s way over these two appalling years. Ministers clapped them and now they’ll sack them. And that is utterly wrong and ungrateful, above all else”.
Sajid Javid, in his statement, claimed that “throughout the pandemic, we’ve always put the safety of vulnerable people first, and we always will do.” But if the government really cared about the safety of vulnerable people they would never have introduced mandatory vaccines. In some care homes, the loss of staff has had a seriously detrimental impact on the care of the vulnerable residents. There have been horrifying reports of care home residents left in bed all day, and of visits being limited, as a direct result of the shortage of staff due to the mandatory vaccines policy. Yet Sajid Javid gave no apology to these vulnerable people.
The government must admit that this policy was never justified, and that it was morally wrong. They must apologise.
* Catherine Crosland is a member in Calderdale and joined the party in 2014