Matt Hancock: The Young Health Secretary Who Found Himself Amidst Modern Britain’s Worst Health Crisis

Early Life and Education

Matt Hancock was born on 2 May 1978 in Chester, Cheshire, England. His family did not have a political background, as they owned and ran a software company. The young Matt seemed poised to got into the family business since he studied computing at West Cheshire College. However, when it came time to choose university studies, he decided to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Exeter College, Oxford. Little did he know that later in his life, the abbreviation PPE would cause him a lot of trouble, but we’ll get to that later. He then obtained an MPhil in Economics at Christ’s College, Cambridge. It was around that time when he joined the Conservative Party in 1999. While he did briefly spend some time working at his family’s software business, he later moved to London to work for the Bank of England.

2005-2010: Rising Among the Tory Ranks

In 2005, Hancock became an advisor to George Osborne, who was then the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer; Osborne was impressed with Hancock and as result promoted him to become his chief of staff. Hancock later ran to become the MP for West Suffolk in the 2010 General Election, and he successfully secured the seat having gained 24,312 votes, almost double the amount of votes his runner up won.

2010-2018: Backbenches and Junior Ministerial Roles

From 2010 to 2012, Hancock served in the backbenches working for the Public Accounts Committee and the Standards & Privileges Committee. His first ministerial role came during the Cameron years as he was appointed as the Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, a position he held from 2013 to 2014; during his tenure he expanded apprenticeships for young people. From 2016 to 2018 he became the Minister of State for Digital and Culture and from January 2018 to June 2018, he was the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, during these years he was committed to moving Britain further into the digital age and promised nationwide ultrafast broadband by 2020. He did not remain in the ministry long enough to ensure that promise. During the 2016 Brexit Referendum, Hancock voted in favour of remaining in the EU, but later stated that the vote should be honoured and championed leaving the bloc with a deal.

2019 Bid for Premiership

Following Theresa May’s resignation as Prime Minister in May 2019, a contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the premiership was triggered. Hancock threw his hat into the race, campaigning in favour of leaving the EU with a deal and opposed tactics such as proroguing parliament to get Brexit done. However, he later withdrew after gaining a low number of votes during the first round. He then endorsed Boris Johnson for leadership.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Hancock replaced Jeremy Hunt as the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in 2018, following the latter’s promotion as the new Foreign Secretary. Although, Hancock had been loyal to May during her tenure, his endorsement for Johnson saw keep his ministerial position. In 2019, Hancock was accused of privatising some parts of the National Health Service (NHS), after news broke out that the government was offering 127 million pounds worth of contracts to private companies. He nevertheless insisted that no privatization of the NHS would happen on his watch.

2020: COVID-19 Crisis and 100,000 Tests a Day

On January 31, 2020 was a significant day in Britain for two reasons. First, it was the day in which the UK officially exited out of the EU, causing jubilation for some and misery for others. It was also a significant day because it was the day in which the first cases for Coronavirus were confirmed in Britain. Like most European governments, the British government was slow in responding to the looming crisis. By early March, the virus was rapidly spreading across the UK and the government only responded by giving advice on maintaining social distancing and frequently washing hands. The government also controversially applied a policy of herd immunity, after consulting a group of scientists. It is still unclear weather or not Hancock endorsed such a policy. He would nevertheless write an article for the Sunday Telegraph attempting to clarify the government’s plan: "Herd immunity is not a part of it (the government’s plan). That is a scientific concept, not a goal or a strategy. Our goal is to protect life from this virus, our strategy is to protect the most vulnerable and protect the NHS through contain, delay, research and mitigate." Eventually, by late March, the government enforced a lockdown on the UK, in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus. During the next weeks, Hancock had come under criticism for not being able to provide enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS doctors and staff working on the frontline of the crisis. Furthermore, the ministry was also criticised for not conducting enough coronavirus tests across the country. To address the second criticism, he had promised that 100,000 tests a day would be conducted in the country by the end of April. As the deadline loomed, the Health Secretary was placed under hard scrutiny, what made matters worse was when he contracted the virus shortly after the Prime Minister had contracted it himself. He nevertheless had mild symptoms and made a quick recovery. He also somewhat stayed true to his promise, as 100,000 tests were successfully sent out on the last day April, however some reports indicated that 40,000 of those tests weren’t completed yet, thus bringing many to question the authenticity of the claim. Now Hancock is working closely with the government to help it gradually ease lockdown measures, however many critics have said the government is moving too fast and that strict lockdown measures should remain for the coming weeks. Only time will tell if the government’s moves were too hasty.