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The Corona crisis is a social crisis

Human lives are in danger because of years of cuts to hospitals, while companies are promised lower taxes. Die Linke sets out an action program to strengthen the structures of solidarity

Resolution of the Die LINKE Party Executive Committee, 16 March 2020

Thousands are infected with the corona virus (SARS-CoV-2) in Germany. So far (as on 14 March) there have been eight deaths. Although this development was foreseeable, the federal government has taken insufficient measures to effectively protect the population. Instead, it hesitated and shifted responsibility to the federal states, municipalities and individuals. The lung disease COVID-19 is not equally dangerous for everyone. But it can be fatal, especially for the elderly, the chronically ill and other high-risk groups.

We are now tasting the bitter fruits of years and years of cuts to hospitals and more than a hundred thousand nursing staff are missing relative to what is needed. In other countries, you can already see what is happening: hospitals are overworked, nursing staff are exhausted, material is too scarce, decisions have to be made about who can be ventilated and who cannot. The CDU health minister Spahn has responded by suspending the minimum staff levels, making the situation even worse for the nurses.

An economic crisis looms, fuelled by the anxiety and restrictions that the corona virus has set in motion. The European Central Bank wants to save banks again, the federal government promises companies tax cuts. It wants to invest 3.1 billion euros in the infrastructure. That is far too little! What is needed now is an investment package and measures that protect people, and help those whose health and very lives are threatened by the crisis.

The corona virus reveals the current state of our society: the halt on spending (debt brake) is endangering human lives because there are not enough staff in the hospitals. Doctors and nurses have to decide who they can treat and who they can't. Employees go to work sick because they cannot be absent. In contrast to cultural events and soccer games, production cannot be halted. Older people who are poor and live alone are having to look after themselves and cannot afford not to leave the house. Many fear for their health - and for their existence. The virus hits the weakest hardest.

Therefore, it is now necessary to raise awareness of the dangers of the pandemic without fermenting or buying into panic. We can only master this challenge together and in solidarity.

Corona can help us decide what kind of society we live in: are social divisions widening, or will we do the right thing and focus on people and strengthen the structures of solidarity?

I. We need an action program immediately:

1. Strengthen the health system:

  • At least 100,000 nursing staff are needed in hospitals and geriatric care. We need an immediate program that pays an extra 500 euros a month to all nurses, as well as those who return to work – we need to mobilise the reserves, vastly improve working conditions and protect the health of nurses and patients

  • Nursing and health professions are often female. The proportion of personnel in the health and social sector with children in need of care is almost twice as high compared to the total population. At the moment when school and day care center closures become necessary, this staff is missing in hospitals and doctor's offices. Emergency structures for the care of children whose parents work in the care and health sector urgently need to be set up.

  • In addition, the coordination and merging of data must be improved so that, in an emergency, available ventilation places and the availability of additional medical personnel are possible. We propose, as has already been done in some federal states, to voluntarily register medical personnel (doctors, retired doctors, nurses, medical assistants, laboratory staff, medical students from the 5th semester). This requires central crisis coordination at the federal level.

2. Protect health

Public health services and offices need to be strengthened immediately. The federal government has to come to an agreement with municipalities and states, contribute to better equipment and take action against the shortage of staff.

There must be more corona tests available and they must be free. Medical personnel in particular must be tested extensively and regularly. Events that are not absolutely necessary must be canceled. Social distancing must be possible for everyone, without disadvantages.

All citizens, but especially workers, must be informed about health risks across the board.

3. Nobody must fall through the cracks: we need financial guarantees for people in precarious situations, for the self-employed and for small businesses.

In handicrafts, in the cultural sector, gastronomy, in retail and nursing: in many areas people fear for their health and livelihood. Easier access to short-term benefits is not enough. Determined government measures are needed. Lost wages and income must be ensured by the state. At the same time, employees in supermarkets and the groceries sector in particular must be protected. Companies and employers must provide their employees with disinfectants and latex gloves.

Nobody loses their job, nobody has to go to work sick. That is the best economic aid. Fines must be imposed on companies that do not immediately send sick employees home and do not take measures to protect their employees. Nurses and medical personnel are particularly at risk. During the SARS epidemic, 20 percent of those who died were members of these professions. They need special protection.

The cancellation of trade fairs, festivals and major events puts many, especially smaller, companies on the brink of bankruptcy. The pandemic can cause enormous economic difficulties for solo self-employed people, cultural enterprises, workers in the creative industries, trade fair stand builders and craftsmen. Here, practical help and financial guarantees are needed. We propose a “pandemic bridging allowance” for everyone whose income is at risk from the pandemic. The usual rules under the Hartz IV system (social security/dole), according to which everything saved, including your own pension, must be used up before drawing any further money from the government, are a brutal hit for many.

As an immediate measure, the means test on property, savings and assets must therefore be suspended for the duration of the pandemic when applying for basic security.

As an immediate measure, interest-free and long-term loans must be issued for solo self-employed and micro-enterprises that are threatened in their monthly existence by loss of income during the pandemic, even if they have assets tied up in their company.

4. Support parents

When schools or day care centres close, parents cannot work - and are not paid. The dropouts are immediately noticeable, especially with low incomes. For parents, a guaranteed income is required in conjunction with school and kindergarten closures.

5. Securing financial liquidity for particularly vulnerable groups of the population

The standard rates of financial support for pensioners affected by poverty and those affected by Hartz IV are far too low even in ordinary everyday life. Individual coping strategies such as visiting food banks or soup kitchens are often no longer available because there is a lack of volunteers or a shortage of disinfectants. The poorest sections of the population are particularly affected by short-term price increases for specific food shortages and necessary services in the event of suspected illness and in quarantine.

We are calling for a quick and practical crisis mechanism: A pandemic surcharge on social benefits under the Social Security Codes II, III and XII is therefore necessary in the short term.

6. Nobody should lose everything:

Those with the least are the hardest hit. Nobody should have everything taken from them. The state must act:

No sanctions in the Job Centre, registration dates should be cancelled so that nobody has to sit in lines or crowded waiting rooms.

Due to their living situation, homeless people are a very badly affected population group and often belong to the risk group. In order to reduce the occupancy rate in emergency shelters, additional premises must be acquired. Forced evictions of apartments must be suspended. In many federal states, institutional care/accommodation for refugees in so-called “anchor centres” is still the norm. This serves to deter seekers of protection through inhospitable living conditions: they often have no facilities for cooking and the reliance on large canteens exposes those affected to an unnecessary risk of infection. Decentralized accommodation is therefore not only a requirement of humanity, but also protection against infection. Wherever possible, people (homeless, refugees) must be accommodated in apartments instead of collective accommodation.

7. Invest in the future

The 3.1 billion promised by the federal government is not even enough for the bare essentials. Hospitals need immediate investments and a rapid reduction of the investment backlog of 30 billion euros accumulated over recent years.

We call for an investment program of 120 billion annually, in health, education, childcare, housing, public transport, energy transition and digitization. Half of it must be financed from public budgets, the other half from increased tax revenues. This improves the infrastructure, supports the economy and helps everyone, not just the millionaires and companies.

So that the corona pandemic does not lead to a recession, the halt on spending (debt brake) must now be suspended. This is expressly provided for in emergency situations in Article 109.3 of the Basic Law. Nonsensical at the best of times, the debt brake is downright devastating during this crisis.

8. Reduce risks associated with public transport

Ticket controls must be suspended to protect employees from infection. This is already being done in Berlin buses. The fact that buses and trains are often overloaded and the usual overcrowding in many places is now becoming a serious health problem: a massive expansion of public transport is required.

9. What everyone needs must be accessible to everyone.

It can already be observed that protective masks and disinfectants are used as speculative objects, hoarded and sold at inflated prices. Procurement needs to be coordinated. Scientific research breakthroughs and medicines must remain publicly accessible and must not be sold for exclusive use in other countries. The possibility of seizing (nationalising) urgently needed goods if necessary must be examined.

10. Be there for one another, organize solidarity

Merkel and Spahn call for solidarity on the part of the individual. That is correct, but they are omitting the fact that they have dismantled the social structures of solidarity. We want a society based on solidarity.

Neoliberalism makes us individual, we want to live differently. Therefore, of course, the following applies: In this situation we have to help those who belong to the high-risk groups: shopping for neighbours, offering help, making calls. Solidarity also means: no hoarding of products that everyone needs. No mass buying up of medical devices. No theft of disinfectants in hospitals and old people's homes. Be mindful and protect and support those who belong to risk groups. Nobody is left alone.

II. System change means: make our health system pandemic-proof.

Political lessons for the future must be drawn from the corona pandemic.

1. Successive rounds of budget savings have brought the municipal health authorities to the brink of their ability to function. In the past two decades, the number of doctors in the health sector has been reduced by a third. The municipalities urgently need support in increasing the available staff. At the latest now, it has taken its toll on the fact that hospitals in the Federal Republic have been closed on a massive scale in recent years and that basic care is limited in some (particularly rural) regions.

One lesson for the future that we can draw today is that the healthcare and care sectors should never be spared or subordinated to the pursuit of profit through privatization.

2. We need nationwide regulations and a nationwide coordinated procedure in the event of a disaster. We need a federal civil protection law. Regionalism and parochialism must be overcome in pandemic cases. (The same also applies at the state level, where each health department of the individual districts seems to make different decisions and orders). A virus does not stop at state borders.

3. In the future, a state reserve for essential medical goods and medical products will have to be built up, which can be centrally controlled and distributed as needed.

4. It now turns out that the relocation of medicines and medical devices and the concentration of this production in a few countries (e.g. China) served the profit drive of few companies, but was a big mistake. Urgent medicines and medical devices are absent if production in these countries fails or the global flow of goods is disrupted in the long term. Germany, and certainly Europe, need its own production sites for medicines and medical devices.

Translated by Kate Davison. The original, German, version of this statement can be found here. Die LINKE has set up a special page with information about the Coronavirus here.

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