Covid19 Emergency: A few words about public support

Having spent half of my professional life in the UK, the other half in Europe, America, Africa, I feel appalled by the lack of public support for the most vulnerable people in these times of unprecedented health crisis.

By Melissa Chemam

Here in England, most of the initiative to help homeless and jobless people, to support NHS staff, come from individual and community initiatives.

There are many examples and I will mention a few in Bristol:

In this unprecedented time of national crisis, the Bristol food community would like to help as many people as possible get fed well. We understand the power of food to keep us going when times get tough.

The Bristol restaurant community want to make sure that all frontline workers delivering long and difficult hours for our NHS, don’t have to worry about cooking healthy, nutritious meals for themselves or their families.

Feed a Frontline Worker asks you to donate the cost of a meal (£6–10) to ensure that we can produce free meals to keep them going, while they’re busy saving our lives.

“The people reliant on begging have had all of that taken away from them because obviously no one’s about,” says Shada Nasrullah, trustee of Feed The Homeless Bristol.

Facebook groups also came about like this one:

Bristol Community Care — Covid-19 Mutual Aid

COVID-19 Caring in Bristol Homeless Mutual Aid group

Help Bristol Homeless’ response:

Here is a national petition calling the government to act for homeless and vulnerable people:

Meanwhile, Bristol City Council has only launched calls for the population to give moment and shelters, not sort any budget for emergency and — even worse — voted their own pay rise mid-March, as revealed mid-week by local reporter Adam Postans.

The pay rise was approved in 37 seconds with no debate.

Bristol city councillors have awarded themselves a pay hike costing council tax payers an extra £180,000 a year while freezing the salaries of top officers.

The increases include £9,000 a year for mayor Marvin Rees, £5,500 for deputy mayors Craig Cheney and Asher Craig and £3,500 for the seven other cabinet members, along with a rise of about £1,000 in the basic allowance for all 70 members.

They were supposed to be delayed until after the local elections — originally scheduled for May but postponed by 12 months because of the coronavirus pandemic — to give some “distance” between the councillors approving them and those receiving them.

Many here in Bristol are outraged, like you can see on Twitter.

Journalism students are working on the issue and have created a survey:

Currently completing a Newsday for my course. If you are from Bristol, this one is directed towards you! Basically, Bristol City Council is taking an overall pay rise of a total of £180,000 during this worldwide health crisis. Some people think this money should be given to NHS workers and homeless charities, let me know what you think and why, follow the link. Thanks for your help…

This decision creates controversy in Bristol and might have similar parallels in other British city councils.

In these current times of major health crisis, 450 000 residents have offered to volunteer to help the underfunded NHS, and charities and artists are raising funds to help the homeless in finding shelters.

Thus it seems absolutely unbearable that public money raised by taxpayers could be spent on councillors’ and a mayor’s increase in revenue… The mayor and his deputy mayors’ pay rise is particularly high: £9000 per year for the former.

The local elections have been postponed by 12 months, which is already troubling, and now this pay rise has been voted for the members of the council by themselves… Which is another blow to this democracy and unjustifiable. It was on the agenda to begin with because the rise would only apply to a new council.

Criticised by many citizens on Twitter, including by the Bristol-based band Massive Attack and the former mayor George Ferguson, the only councillors who have reacted have fiercely defended their right to a pay rise, despite the unique circumstances.

This local situation makes me ponder on a larger scale and for instance on the commitment of elected members of councils as well as the Parliament in acts of solidarity with their fellow citizens. We could even raise the question of a contribution of MPs themselves to the burdens carried by NHS employees.

The Council replied to me on Twitter and stand to their position:

This was a cross party, Full Council decision on the recommendations of a report that came from an independent panel. The panel was appointed in April 2018 and recommended an increase for all councillors to take effect from May 2020.

It could still be reversed. This generic response is gutless and shameful.

A recommendation isn’t a necessity. They could have done a multitude of moral acts. Asked that it is delayed until business as usual returns. Or donate the pay rise to a homeless charity, or a food bank, or NHS. It is disgusting for this to have been taken up. Shame on you all!

I personally know people who are self-employed, out of work, and spend their days organising fundraising for others.

Councillors now have to lead by example.

So should the MPs!!

As we cannot count on the PM to do so.

More on this soon.

My name is Melissa Chemam, I’m a writer and reporter based in Bristol, where I also teach journalism at the University of the West of England.

Since 2012, I’ve written in many publications like The Independent, the Times Literary Supplement, Verso Books’ blog, Lucy Writers Platform, Skin Deep, Public Pressure, The Bristol Cable, Imperica, etc.




Freelance journalist/writer, I’ve reported in 30 countries for the BBC, CBC, DW, magazines, on African-European relations, social change, arts, music & politics

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Melissa Chemam

Melissa Chemam

Freelance journalist/writer, I’ve reported in 30 countries for the BBC, CBC, DW, magazines, on African-European relations, social change, arts, music & politics

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