Columnists

How Covid has broken UK systems

BORIS

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. FILE PHOTO | AFP

jenny

Summary

  • The British no longer care about border control, or about registering people for work or national insurance, it’s all gone and it isn’t back as Covid measures end.
  • And that’s a long tail. For if you multiple the breakdown in most UK systems with breakdowns in everything that was stopped, our world will move to chaos.
  • We need the world’s administrations back on the job.

I have never been one for conspiracy theories, but a brief taste of the UK this week has really widened my eyes, for nothing is quite as it seems at the moment.

Sample 1: getting a national insurance number in the UK for my youngest, British son, entitled to one, and we have been trying for a year and a half.

We finally ended up in something called a Job Centre Plus in the capital city of the next country to where he now lives, only to be told the UK has stopped issuing them.

Now, of course, one of the things about Covid, as we stood in that staffed but otherwise completely empty job centre, is that it stops computers working, and definitely prevents issuing people with the British equivalent of an Huduma Namba.

But no, it doesn’t! Kenya can still issue Huduma numbers and passports and many things. But the UK, well if you weren’t put into an automated system 15 years and nine months ago, no National Insurance for you on that virus.

And the sneaky thing is they haven’t told anyone. What they did was reroute the online forms, so if you don’t already have a number thanks to that trigger 15 years and nine months ago, it tells you that you need an appointment at a job centre and gives you a phone number to ring as the only way to get an appointment.

But the people on that phone number tell you they can’t make appointments for National Insurance numbers, it’s not their job and they cannot.

So no-one can fill the form, which is blocked, or get an appointment. Which is why we ended up physically at an office so we could officially be told the thing the UK government forgets to mention in its e-government — no more National Insurance numbers.

Sample 2: so then the oldest son arrives at Heathrow airport, I go to meet him. His plane, with British Airways, actually lands 48 minutes late, alongside nine or so flights coming in at that time to Terminal 5. And all the passport control officers go home, at 22:00. I watch them all leave.

They leave just one passport officer and hundreds of passengers, many hundreds. He has to check their passport, their passenger locator forms and that they have purchased the PCR test pack. He manages to get through one person every three to five minutes.

After two hours there is a riot brewing. I had read about long queues entering Heathrow, no-one mentioned one passport control officer for everyone. It’s that Covid again, because now, quite clearly, it has completely addled the UK organisational brain.

So, my son is sending me videos from inside the arrivals hall, there’s shouting, passengers are threatening to run the gate. At gone midnight, a security guard says they are ‘waking up’ extra resources, because they didn’t realise there would be so many passengers.

Except all those passengers were in the hall when all the other officers left, and a second one sat the whole time, clearing no-one, sipping tea and on his phone, my son filmed him.

In the end, the one officer abandons the Covid checks and lets everyone through with just sight of a passport, and four hours after landing, my son arrives at arrivals.

So here’s the thing no-one is writing about Covid, and can it really only be the UK? It’s broken all our social contracts and systems, did anyone mention that?

Because we decided it was super exceptional, and things closed and people worked from home, now nothing is actually really working any more.

In fact, yesterday had been labelled ‘Freedom Day’, in the UK, because the British were told Covid measures had ended, no more masks.

But still, it seems, the British no longer care about border control, or about registering people for work or national insurance, it’s all gone and it isn’t back as Covid measures end.

And that’s a long tail. For if you multiple the breakdown in most UK systems with breakdowns in everything that was stopped, our world will move to chaos. We need the world’s administrations back on the job.