OPINION
17/06/2020 19:15 BST | Updated 17/06/2020 19:18 BST

Boris Johnson's £1m Jet Makeover Is A Slap In The Face For The UK's Most Vulnerable

A government that has to be persuaded into feeding hungry children by a footballer, yet unthinkingly decorates their private jet, is wildly out of touch, Maighna Nanu writes.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
An RAF Voyager used by the Prime Minister and members of the royal family which is to be repainted in the colours of the Union flag.

Today, in the middle of a pandemic, Downing Street announced it was using just shy of a million pounds worth of taxpayers money.

It wasn’t to help the 100,000 unpaid carers who have been forced to use foodbanks since the pandemic began,

It wasn’t to bulk buy doses of the drug dexamethasone, which could potentially save the lives of coronavirus patients.

Nor was it to help businesses and industries, which may no longer exist when lockdown is over.

No, instead this government pledged £900,000 of taxpayers’ money to repaint Boris Johnson’s RAF voyager in the Union Flag colours – Red, White, and Blue. 

As Foreign Secretary, the PM had questioned why the aircraft had to be grey and had expressed his desire for a Brexit plane.

Perhaps most gratingly of all, the government insisted that the makeover was “value for money for UK taxpayers” — a line which is likely to be a kick in the teeth for those whose lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic, and who are struggling to make ends meet.

This may also prove a difficult line to justify given the voyager was only revamped in 2016 — less than four years ago — for a whopping £10m.

By giving the official aircraft a makeover it is a move that benefits a tiny handful of the most privileged and influential people in the country (the voyager is also used by the Royal Family) and one that was made without consultation and without a shred of hesitation. 

It seems beyond parody then that it was only yesterday morning that the same  government rejected extending the school vouchers scheme over the course of the summer ― a move that would literally feed 1.3 million of Britain’s poorest children.

It was only after huge public pressure that Johnson was forced into a U-turn on its decision to provide free school meals over summer after a sustained campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.

Fears over a Tory rebellion in the Commons, combined with an impassioned three days of sustained campaigning by the 22-year-old Manchester United striker, culminated in the PM finally agreeing to extend free school meal vouchers over the summer.

When a government has to be persuaded into wanting to feed hungry children by a footballer, yet unthinkingly decorates their private jet, it seems that their priorities are hugely out of touch with ordinary people. 

The same sentiment was amply illustrated today during PMQs when SNP leader Ian Blackford asked the Prime Minister whether he would be able to increase child Universal Credit by £20 to help struggling families.

Boris Johnson continues to misread the public situation even when it is told to him. It shouldn’t take high-profile campaigns from footballers for the government change their mind; they must do better.

Citing a Save The Children campaign he stated that six in ten families now have to borrow money, with five in ten are falling behind in rent. 

The move could help the lives of 8 million children. So could the PM increase the threshold?

The Prime Minister’s response? “This is a government that has done everything we can.”

These words feel increasingly hollow now more than ever. 

The Conservatives under Johnson are a government that is unable to properly gauge the public mood, as they themselves would be so unfamiliar with the pertinent issues at hand. 

More than one million people are ineligible for government support including the recently self-employed, freelancers, and those who started a new job before the crisis ― this is an entire cohort of people who have dutifully paid taxes and been left without assistance. 

Further, there is a growing anxiety as to whether those on the furlough scheme ― a record 9 million people – will have jobs to return to once the scheme winds down. 

None of that begins to cover the widespread grief and bereavement felt by those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic which has tragically seen 42, 000 deaths. 

For that reason it seems bizarre, and slightly tone-deaf, to decide that now is the time to lavish just shy of a million pounds on a bright British jet ― firstly, where can he even go?

On the same day, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced he is taking a pay cut of 10% – £15, 300 – over fears that public service funding is facing a blackhole of almost £500 million. 

That is the mayor’s personal decision as he is aware of the shortage of money and cares enough to try and remedy things before they come to tipping point.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic with 2.8 million people unemployed - the use of taxpayer money for something so ludicrously unnecessary at a time when several are unable to claim valid compensation is shameful.

The Prime Minister and government continue to misread the public situation even when it is told to them. It shouldn’t have to take high-profile campaigns to make them change their mind; they must do better. 

Maighna Nanu is a freelance journalist.