The editors of the main UK news outlets have given huge coverage over the past couple of weeks to three stories.
The murder of a young woman, Sarah Everard, in cold blood in south London on the way home from a friend’s house. The various squabbles over Covid vaccine availability and comparative safety – particularly of the Astra-Zeneca variety. The last story to run and run is the Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan.
The first story raises very important questions about ways of protecting women from various sorts of male aggression. And then asks questions about the legitimacy of public demonstrations about that issue especially during lockdown and about police restraint of protesters.
The second story brings to our attention the politicisation and weaponization of vaccinations. And there is a primary question about the flow of vaccine supplies from producer to consumer.
The third story explores the nature of the British establishment and the question of the extent to which racist attitudes and misogyny help to sustain it. It further raises many issues about the role of the monarchy, hierarchy and class.
All of these are extremely important questions which must be addressed seriously by the relevant authorities, and to which we ordinary citizens must give more serious thought than that offered by tabloid news outlets.
But these issues have obscured another story which is actually more important, and which embraces many of the issues raised by the others.
The ‘obscured’ story is this. The UK government has recently reduced its foreign aid budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%. It may not sound much but it translates into tens of billions of pounds which will not now go to the world’s poorest people. At the same time the levels of our voluntary giving to charities devoted to aid and development have plunged in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
The effects of these two developments are many but they include the following.
When foreign aid and public donation is reduced the first people to suffer are women. Resources tend to be channelled towards the breadwinning men in the population. And if the men don’t share it, women lose the means the carry on the small businesses which they have created, and which sustain their families and communities. If the women suffer, they will not be able to share their resources with their children. And of course women and children are the most vulnerable to physical aggression. Women in Nigeria have again realised this as they suffered recently at the hands of Boko Haram militants.
Alongside this deprivation, there is vaccination inequality. News came this week of a likely month’s delay in the UK vaccination programme because of production problems in a manufacturing plant in India. Less coverage was given to the fact that in parts of the global south mass vaccination is unlikely before 2022 at the earliest. Clearly the richer countries are making sure that they hold their place at the top of this hierarchy.
The discomfort being felt currently in royal circles should raise for us our own questions of hierarchy. All of us occupy a place in some pecking order or other. So the question arises as to how we view any shift in the pecking order in which we may have a fairly comfortable position.
None of this makes for comfortable reading. The mantra frequently trotted out about the pandemic ‘None of us will be safe until we are all safe’ applies to so many other areas of life too.
With all these things in mind, we all have a responsibility to develop awareness of the ways in which we accept the populist priorities and the values created by the media. Charity may begin at home but it does not end there.