Demands in response to COVID-19


The challenge of coronavirus requires a radical response. We will overcome this virus, but current legislation falls short – much more must be done. We demand:

Full PPE

This must include FFP3 masks, visors/protective spectacles, fluid resistant gowns with sleeves and gloves for all health and social care workers dealing with patients and service users who have or are suspected to be infected with COVID-19. This is vital to prevent staff going off sick en-masse leaving no one to care for patients.

Widespread testing

Whole population testing for COVID-19 is essential, with particular attention paid to health and social care workers. Isolation and follow up of identified cases with rigorous contact tracing is crucial.

Laboratories in hospitals

Full pathology laboratories should return to hospitals. Cuts and privatisation of labs have reduced the capacity for testing so that when they are needed the system cannot cope.

Public control of private hospitals

Private health care facilities must be taken under public control and made available to assist the NHS in caring for ill patients.

Public control of industry

Key industries must be taken under public control and repurposed to manufacture equipment that is essential to deal with the outbreak of COVID-19, such as PPE, ventilators and antibiotics. 

An end to needless competition

The protection of intellectual property rights for key equipment such as ventilators must end, so that companies can collaborate to produce them. There is no place for the pursuit of profit and competition between companies during a national crisis. 

Support for staff to work remotely 

Guidance on confidentiality and data security should be rapidly produced. Investment in IT should take place to enable all those who need to work from home to do so. 

Protection and recompense for retired workers returning to work

Retired workers returning to the NHS deserve the proper provision of PPE and COVID-19 testing. Older people are more vulnerable to the virus, and will need thorough protection. 

Full pay when self-isolating

All UK workers who are off sick or self isolating due to COVID-19 should be paid as if they were in work. No one should be under financial pressure to work when government advice is that they should be at home. Previous record of days off sick should not be an impediment to this principle.

Universal basic income

Universal basic income must be made available for all in line with the living wage for the period of the crisis. This would be in place of all other benefits, universal credits or employment support.

Retraining for the newly unemployed

Those who have lost their jobs should be offered free retraining in roles that support our society and infrastructure during the pandemic. This could include medication delivery, care work, and supporting the socially isolated.

Universal access to essential services

Everyone should to be able to access the essentials that they need, including food and shelter. The homeless should be accommodated in empty hotels and houses. Supermarket stocks should be centrally managed and provisions distributed so that everyone can have what they need. 

Proportionate, time limited emergency laws subject to regular review

While being clear that everyone must be able to access what they need, there is a fine balance between ensuring equity of distribution and infringements of people’s reasonable rights and liberties. All new legislation that curtails civil rights must be limited in scope, be regularly reviewed, and should include a sunset clause.

Comprehensive support for vulnerable health groups

Services for the homeless and those who suffer from substance misuse must be maintained. These are vulnerable groups who are at high risk of complications from COVID-19 infection. They are often hard to reach and should be provided with phones so that key workers can maintain contact while working remotely.

Comprehensive social care

Disabled people are vulnerable and their needs must be properly met. They are at particular risk if their carers become unwell. Those who have accepted personal budgets are particularly at risk. Services must continue for them in all circumstances. 

An end to overseas charging

NHS eligibility checks for migrants leads to them not accessing healthcare as frequently. It is vital that during a pandemic, everyone gets the care they need. Charging overseas visitors for NHS care must be stopped and the legislation that allows this abolished.

Extended rent and mortgage payment holidays

Suspend rent and mortgage payments for all NHS and social care staff. No health or social care worker should be anxious about living costs. Many are at risk of losing household income if their partner loses their job. The current three month mortgage holiday should be extended to at least six months.

Psychological support for health and social care workers

Psychological support services should be provided at no cost for NHS and social care staff caring for patients during the period of the pandemic crisis.


We the undersigned support these demands and urge their adoption by the government as quickly as possible:

Universal Basic Income – ‘playing the game for smaller stakes’

In the late 1980s our union first published proposals for a citizen’s income – what we would now call universal basic income. This was long before the idea became fashionable.

Our proposal was simple – we would give an income of two thirds the average GDP per person to everyone, so long as they contributed meaningfully to society for a specified number of hours a week.

The contribution could be through work, self-employment, voluntary work, parenting or caring, or by undergoing education.

Hours contributed by employment, self-employment or voluntary work would be transferrable within households, to include those who bore a disproportionate burden of housework.

Individuals who were too sick or disabled to work or were beyond retirement age would be exempt from making a contribution. We hoped that the numbers who were too disabled to make any kind of contribution would be small, and the aim would be to find a meaningful contribution for everybody.

For those who did not contribute meaningfully there would be a smaller subsistence income of one third of GDP per capita. There would be a sliding scale between the two figures for those who contributed something, but less than the specified qualifying minimum.

Therefore, everybody would be able to qualify – if you couldn’t find employment there would be ample alternatives to choose. The only people who wouldn’t qualify would be those who chose not to.

Children before school starting age would be exempt from making a contribution and once children started school they would qualify by being in education. Payments made in respect of children would be divided between a payment to the parents to provide for the child, and a payment into savings to be accessed when reaching adulthood.

This method distributes two thirds of GDP in an egalitarian way – the labour market and financial markets would distribute the rest. It is what John Maynard Keynes called “playing the game for smaller stakes”. Keynes recognised the importance of incentives but also suggested that they need not be as great as they currently are.

To finance the arrangements there would be a one-off downward adjustment of existing incomes to reset the market. The money consequentially released to business by, for example, lower wages, would be recouped by a range of green taxes which would fund the new system.

Although the gross cost to be financed would be very high, the net cost would be quite small when you ignore the money which has simply been transferred to flow by one route rather than another. There would be savings to public services from eliminating poverty, and savings to individuals from greater security and therefore the lesser need to save for a rainy day.

If you assume a significant Keynesian multiplier from poor people having more money to spend, the net cost might even be less than zero.

There are also considerable benefits to health. Poverty is one of the largest determinants of health – ill health caused by inadequate income would be abolished. With wages contributing a much smaller part of the income of the low paid, most unskilled workers would be instead working predominantly for the qualifying credits. With many other options available for achieving those credits, their labour market power over working conditions would be dramatically transformed.

The credits for caring would liberate carers from the invisibility of currently unrecognised vital work. A guaranteed income makes it substantially easier to make neighbourly arrangements for supporting sick and disabled people – it reinforces rather than fragments society.

The spirit level which measures the health of all societies is remarkably consistent: with equality comes good health. Universal basic income would, at a stroke, eradicate the injustice and illness which plagues our current social system.

Dr Steve Watkins is the Vice President of Doctors in Unite. His paper on Universal Basic Income can be found here.