“Furlough stats: Eye-watering figures today on the government’s job retention scheme. 6.3 million jobs have been furloughed, with 800,000 employers taking part in the scheme, with the total value of claims so far now at £8 billion” Politico newsfeed
“Rough sleeping five year reduction plan achieved in two days.” Reasons to be cheerful podcast
Seven weeks into the lockdown and you could be forgiven for thinking you have stepped through the looking glass into an alternative world. Huge government spending to keep business, charities and public services operating. Rough sleepers virtually disappeared from our streets, hardly any traffic and clear skies. NHS staff and key workers treated as heroes as, across our cities and towns, communities take action to support the vulnerable and isolated.
Yet, in many ways what the pandemic has done is accelerate and bring clearly into focus issues, trends and debates that have been on the UK and global policy radar for the last decade. These include:
• How best do you ensure and deliver public goods and social services?
• Concerns about the way some very rich people and companies avoid paying tax.
• The growth of huge inequalities both within and between states.
• Division between young and old, cities and towns and urban and rural.
• Lack of affordable housing
• Concern about “in work poverty” and the need for a living wage
• Calls for a greener economy and green lifestyles.
• The impact of AI and new technology on the way we work and live.
At this stage I would normally write there are no easy solutions to these issues, but I am increasingly beginning to wonder if there are. The way government has acted so swiftly to deliver what was a five year goal and get almost 90 percent of rough sleepers housed within two days is outstanding. It also suggests that where there is commitment and will, backed up by resources, issues can be solved quickly. The building of the 4000 bed Nightingale hospital in London in a matter of days and the introduction of the various financial packages to support workers and businesses are other examples. So, for me, the question now becomes how do we go about building a consensus that will enable a united nation to deliver quick effective responses and solutions to other pressing issues.
I am not naive enough to believe that politics is not important, and, in many ways, your political beliefs and values will shape the issues you prioritise and the way you go about solving them. However, I would suggest that for any programme to be successful it will need to be built on a partnership between government, business and community and it will need to address:
Inequality. It has become obvious that we are a divided nation and that there are vast numbers of people living in poverty, many of whom are hardworking and doing vital jobs. This poverty impacts on their health, wellbeing and life chances. So, action needs to be taken to speed up the delivery of a universal living wage and to invest in poorer communities.
Empathy. We need to build on our new found sense of community and look creatively at how we build bridges between people. Urban and rural, young and old, graduates and non-graduates, rich and poor, white and BAME need to be encouraged to connect and have a better understanding of each other’s lives the issues they face and the strengths they bring to our community.
Taxation. We need to ensure everyone pays their taxes, including multinational companies and super rich individuals. We need to talk about taxation as a “collective good” providing the means for us to fund health, education, welfare, care and infrastructure and, of course, we need to ensure we spend it wisely and effectively.
Joined up thinking and action. We need to find better ways of encouraging, especially at local level, partnership working between government, business and community to create safe, wealthy and thriving communities. Government funding to business, community and local authority could insist that three way partnerships are utilised. In many cases this would synergise with corporate social responsibility strategies (CSR) and moves toward shared values way of working. Key to this would be sharing different ways of working and problem solving.
Innovation and new technology. We need to encourage thinking outside the box and to use new technology as a tool that can connect us and quickly scale up projects. We will not go forward by seeking to go back and we should actively encourage bright young people from a diversity of backgrounds to share new ideas and ways of working. Central to this will be the ever increasing need for organisations to be flexible, agile, learn quickly and adapt as required from our ever changing world.
Environment and quality of life. Now is surely the time to look at how we develop a greener economy and put more emphasis on “quality of life”. If government is involved in funding businesses to recover from the pandemic, loans could be linked to green and social value targets which in many cases would link to CSR targets.
After seven weeks of lockdown many people have reflected on what is important to them, what is right and what is wrong with their life and the world we live in. Many have stepped up and supported their local community and almost all of us have supported and clapped our NHS heroes and key workers. This newfound sense of togetherness and community is a powerful platform on which to build a positive future. If the pandemic has taught us one thing it is that when the government puts its focus and resources into tackling issues, and unites the nation behind it, we can achieve great things. If five year plans can be delivered in two days just imagine what is possible if we all pull together over the next five years.
Kieran is the CEO of Leicestershire Cares and tweets at @Leicscares, he also lectures in global issues and youth at DMU but is writing here in a personal capacity