People are naturally worried about what life will be like post-COVID19. COVID19 is a major, shocking and unexpected crisis which has exposed the weaknesses and inequalities in our society. Weaknesses in such areas as: the health and wellbeing of our citizens; our education system; our social care services.
The pandemic began with cries of ‘we’re all in this together’ but instead has brought into sharp focus that some of our citizens are more vulnerable than others, for example, casual workers, those in poorer families and the elderly. Many are worried about whether they’ll have a job to return to. The same sentiment has gone round the world: things have got to change.
Post-WWII, we had The Beveridge Report which acted as a reset for society and stemmed from a belief that such a major, shocking and unexpected event had highlighted that things could be done much better. Labour was in power from 1945 to 1951 but had also been in government since 1940 through the wartime coalition.
Clement Attlee’s government created a new vision for society:
· The NHS
· Welfare benefits applied universally
· Proper unemployment benefits
· Public ownership of key utilities and industries that had been failing, like the mines and the railways
· Council house building on a massive scale (family homes with gardens for people to be proud of)
All these things made a fundamental difference to the lives of working people and to the economy. Unfortunately, since the Tories came back into power in the 1970s, their policies have transformed us from one of the most equal societies to the most unequal society in Europe today. So how are we going to get back to a society that truly cares for all its people?
Many things that Labour demanded and promoted in the 2019 Election Manifesto are now having to be put into place: smaller class sizes; accommodation for the homeless; key workers being valued as they should be. So if we can do it now, it could always have been done! Austerity was a political choice, not a necessity.
Recently Boris Johnson has promised to spend big, saying new schools, hospitals and homes will be built, infrastructure projects completed and employment created. These are policies that Labour espoused; policies that were derided in December last year. ‘How will you pay for it?’ ‘Labour will bankrupt the country’. Is anyone saying that to Johnson? How will he pay for it? I am quite sure he won’t be taking money from those CEOs, for example, who typically earn 300 times their workers’ wages. Surely now is the time to tax the wealthy to tackle injustice and surely now is the time to introduce Universal Basic Income.
The Tories typically express concerns for the economy over the health of the people but a forward-thinking government should realise that maintaining a healthy workforce would be the surest way to prevent such a damaging aftermath (as we are seeing now) to any future crises. What would be best for the economy after all is to improve the resilience of the population, through better education, a real living wage, creation of sustainable jobs and homes, NHS and Social Care provisions.
This is what a new social contract should include. But any future solutions require the political will and capital investment to properly restore our broken and diminished social and economic infrastructure. So, watch this space, as they say.
Of course, any new ordered society has also to take into account the damage we have done to our planet. As George Monbiot said, in his video for Double Down News, entitled ‘Post Coronavirus: The World You Want is in Your Hands’. We could turn factories that produce cars and planes into factories that produce wind turbines and solar panels. And that’s just for starters, to create an economy that ensures we live within our planet’s means.
History has shown us that only certain major crises lead to positive, long-term change. Let this be one of them! We have all recently found the energy to applaud key workers and to support community groups. The pandemic has shown that people are prepared to make big changes for the public good. Now is the time to turn our energies towards lasting change.
East Yorkshire CLP