Whoever said life was fair?
This week I read the tragic news of how a young, black student of business and IT at Oxford Brookes University was found dead in a pond in Epping Forest, East London. Richard Okorogheye, aged 19, lived with this mother, a community nurse, in Ladbroke Grove in London. He had sickle cell disease, which is much more prevalent among people of African heritage than their Caucasian counterparts. He had been shielding at home throughout the pandemic, as his condition made him at high risk should he contract Coronavirus.
At the time of writing the cause of death has not been reported, but police had not found any evidence of foul play. Yet for some reason one evening in March this young man took a taxi journey from west London to a residential street in Loughton, Essex and never returned home.
I’m not sure why this particular item of news has affected me, but it has. It has made me reflect on how random all these hideous events are, and just how unfair life can be. My thoughts returned to the recent murder of Sarah Everard so near to where I live, and what her family and Richard’s are now going through. My father, a great one for bons mots, used to say to me: ‘Whoever said life was fair?’
He was right. It isn’t. My mother had her own views on this; if ever I said how lucky I had been that something or other had happened, she always weighed in with: ‘Not lucky, fortunate’.
There is a lot to be grateful for, and I do feel fortunate to have not – yet – caught Covid and have the protection of my first dose of the vaccine with the second dose imminent. But it is impossible for me to ignore the unfairness of the huge inequalities of wealth and health across the world. I therefore am excited at Joe Biden’s administration’s proposals for a global minimum corporate tax rate.
If countries can commit to this, the world’s 100 most profitable multinationals would pay taxes to national governments based on the sales they generate in each country, irrespective of where they are based. It would also establish a global minimum tax rate to help bring an end to profit-shifting by multinationals and discourage countries from undercutting each other on tax rates. Washington has suggested a rate of 21%.
Finance ministers from across Europe – including from Germany, France and the Netherlands – have welcomed the US intervention. I do hope that our government follows suit. Analysis has shown it would bring in an extra £13.5bn a year for the public purse in the UK – money that we desperately need to rebuild our shattered economy and restore public services.
So to celebrate fairness: in my view it is fair for India to temporarily halt exporting the supplies of Covid vaccine it is manufacturing so that they can concentrate on their own citizens at a time when cases are rising exponentially. In my view it would be fair to give nurses much more than a 1% pay rise when they have given their all to protect us and at a time when even some senior staff members have to rely on food banks. And when the chips are down, we can always have recourse to Bing Crosby’s golden voice: let’s accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.