As the UK slowly eases lockdown restrictions there have been plenty of activists, politicians, and writers making noise about what kind of society the country should be looking to rebuild.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over — there is still much work to be done on developing tests, treatments, and vaccines, and social distancing measures are ongoing in Britain and around the world.
There has, however, been a sense of recent progress as many countries flatten the curve of the outbreak. In this context, the question, “do we really just go back to normal after all this?” has become a resounding one.
As the use of food banks rises, the economy shrinks, and health workers are stretched to breaking point, people are asking questions about poverty, wellbeing, health inequalities, and inequalities more broadly — and how we can bounce back from COVID-19 stronger and in a more equal, and sustainable society. Now, in the midst of global protests against racial injustice, the questions are only growing more urgent.
Here are some thoughts from UK-based social change organisations, both big and small, that have been working on solutions for post-coronavirus life and their recommendations for the future:
1. Poverty and financial inequalities
Sarah Arnold, a senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, a thinktank advocating economic reform, told Global Citizen that now is the time to think about the idea of a “minimum income guarantee” — similar to Universal Basic Income — to help support people through the recession and increase spending in the economy.
“As we recover from coronavirus I would like to see a minimum income guarantee for all. Many people are currently falling through the gaps of government support, and our current benefits system is insufficiently generous for many households to meet their basic needs.
“A minimum income guarantee would create a robust social safety net, providing income security for all by ensuring that no one’s income falls below a level needed to cover the basics, and preventing severe financial hardship.”
A report from the New Economics Foundation published on March 29 calls for a Minimum Income Guarantee of £221 per week to be available for all working adults to apply to.
It argues that this would help support people who are waiting for other forms of support being offered, such as the job retention scheme, so that people can cover their basic needs.
Rachel White, head of public affairs at Sustrans, a non-profit dedicated to sustainable transport, told Global Citizen that there was an opportunity now to reduce carbon emissions by increasing walking and cycling.
“Our recovery from the COVID-19 crisis can be a catalyst for long-lasting change in the way we live and travel in towns and cities.
“The pandemic has seen communities come together in ways we haven’t seen before, with people helping neighbours, and appreciating local living and the natural environment while walking and cycling for essential journeys and as part of their daily exercise.
“One way that the government can lock in the increased public appetite for walking and cycling is to adopt a 20 minute neighbourhood planning principle, where all vital services are within a short cycle or walk. This is partly achieved through greater investment in walking and cycling and less investment in new major road building which induces greater car travel. More active, resilient, and safer cities and towns are what is needed for the future.”
Sustrans runs the UK’s national cycle network and is working on developing safer ways for people to take essential journeys during COVID-19 in Scotland.
3. Health and wellbeing
The Mental Health Foundation, a charity dedicated to improving mental health, has been studying the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on mental health and has some ideas about what can be done about the stress and anxiety people are facing as we move out of lockdown.
The Mental Health Foundation’s long-term study began on March 23, at the start of the UK’s lockdown, and has found high numbers of people dealing with stress over work.
Over a third of people currently in work (34%) said they were worried about losing their job, and a fifth (20%) of people who are currently unemployed said they had struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past two weeks.
The foundation’s recommendations for dealing with the impact of the financial fallout of coronavirus on mental health are all about providing a stronger safety net.
They include: tackling the debt crisis and pause debt collection during the pandemic; offering free psychological support to unemployed people; and improving infrastructure going forward in a way that increases opportunities for “social connectedness” — such as funding ways for people to offer peer support to each other in their community.
4. Poverty and hunger
Helen Barnard, acting director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an anti-poverty charity, told Global Citizen that action needs to be taken now to avoid child poverty getting worse in the UK.
“We all want to help each other weather this storm, but families with children are being particularly hard hit and do not have the lifeline they need to stay afloat. Millions already caught up in poverty face deepening hardship, while many more risk being pulled into poverty alongside them.
“It’s vital that our social security system can act as an anchor in tough times and keep people afloat when they need it most. While the government has introduced some additional measures, many people are still not getting the support they need to weather this storm. Temporarily boosting support to families with children would provide a lifeline to those most at risk of hardship.”
5. Racial inequalities
COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people of BAME communities in Britain, as well as globally, in part because of discrimination at work as well as typically lower incomes, says leading race equality thinktank, the Runnymede Trust.
The Runnymede Trust’s April 26 report “The Colour of Money” analyses how inequality affects Black and minority ethnic people in the UK, and its conclusions link this to the unequal impact of COVID-19.
“What we are seeing play out in harsh reality: that racial discrimination is, like poverty, a ‘social determinant of health,’” it read.
While Public Health England recently published a report analysing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities in the UK, it came under fire for failing to lay out steps that can be taken to solve the pressing issue.
Given that the vast majority of people in BAME communities in the UK live in cities, she says, they are disproportionately affected by air pollution and park closures.
“There is a fundamental loss in being disconnected from nature, compounded by a trauma in experiencing the full force of the city,” she said. “We all need access to nature and open green space as an antidote to the everyday stressors of city living, and not least the anxiety-inducing impact of this COVID-19 crisis.”
6. Gender inequalities
The UK’s first domestic abuse commissioner Nicole Jacobs has urged the government to boost investment for refuge spaces as lockdown comes to an end.
In the face of a troubling increase in domestic abuse during the COVID-19 crisis, with the charity Refuge seeing a 10-fold spike in web traffic during lockdown, Jacobs has urged the public “not to look the other way” as lockdown ends.
She told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Everyone from employers to doctors, housing officers and religious leaders, should be vigilant.”
She further called for the government to increase space in refuges as the country moves forward, to end patchy provision in different parts of the country, adding that “we don’t prioritise this as an issue in a way that matches its prevalence.”
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