Covid and cost of living crisis: Boris Johnson cries 'freedom' over the wrong issue – Ian Swanson

Boris Johnson and his allies love to present the removal of Covid restrictions as all about restoring people's liberty.
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His announcement of the lifting of the remaining legal requirements was trailed by his new chief of staff Steve Barclay as the state "taking a step back from people's lives".

And Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi hailed the move as “a huge victory for freedom and liberty”.

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Health experts, however, have warned that ending the requirement to self-isolate if you have Covid and the withdrawal of free testing kits is premature while the infection rate is still one in 25 in Scotland and one in 20 south of the border.

Despite his own brush with death early in the pandemic, the Prime Minister seems still to view any measures taken to protect people from a lethal virus as some kind of gross interference with their human rights.

He delayed over the original lockdown because it meant taking away "the ancient and inalienable right of every freeborn Englishman to go to the pub".

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Boris Johnson never liked wearing a face mask. Picture:  Tolga Akmen/AFPBoris Johnson never liked wearing a face mask. Picture:  Tolga Akmen/AFP
Boris Johnson never liked wearing a face mask. Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP

In this view, the simple precaution of wearing a mask in shops and on public transport to avoid spreading the virus is seen as an intolerable intrusion which must be reversed.

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And common-sense measures like staying at home if you test positive for Covid, so you don’t give it to other people, are an infringement on individual freedom.

But the other big issue affecting people just now, the cost of living crisis, has a far more damaging effect on people's freedom to lead their lives than wearing a mask or self-isolation.

Faced with soaring energy bills, rising food prices and increased taxes, many people on low benefits are left with just £4 a day to live on, according to calculations by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. What sort of freedom can they enjoy with that?

Chris Birt, the foundation’s associate director for Scotland, says: "We are in such a bad position now that when we talk about poverty we are no longer talking about not being able to realise your full potential and to participate in society, which should be everyone's experience; we are talking about basics like hunger and cold. We have spiralling levels of destitution where people can't keep a roof over their head."

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Households in the A-D council tax bands are to get £150 each to help with the rising heating costs, though the bills are going up by £600.

And many of these households are already losing £1,000 a year from the reduction in Universal Credit to pre-pandemic rates.

Dragged down by debt, burdened with loans and struggling to make ends meet, how are families and individuals already mired in poverty supposed to cope when inflation creeps up to the predicted seven per cent by April?

Meanwhile, in this unequal society, figures from the Office for National Statistics show the richest ten per cent in Scotland are more than 200 times wealthier than the poorest ten per cent.

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The Prime Minister and his colleagues would do well to think about restoring people’s freedom to bring up a family without having to choose between heating and eating and enjoy the basics of ordinary living without getting into debt, rather than obsessing about imagined infringements of liberty from coping with a global pandemic.

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