Sunday, 22 March 2020
Things can change quickly in life. The security of one moment can quickly become impermanent before we have chance to realise it. This is certainly the case with the crisis that has resulted from the global outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Thousands in the UK have been infected and over a hundred have already died from the outbreak. The general public is advised to remain socially distant from one another and to regularly wash their hands. The economy has gone into freefall, a recession, if not a depression, now seems likely. Panic buying in the shops is rife. But most of all people are scared.
What seemed certain only a couple of weeks ago, no longer does. People are worried about the most basic things in life; putting food on the table, keeping a roof over their heads, being able to see friends and family members. People are fearful about losing their jobs, not to mention becoming unwell due to the virus. They want to know that they and their loved ones will be safe. And this is before we mention the looming emergency facing our National Health Service and all the brave doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, hospital cleaners and many, many others in the NHS who will be putting themselves in harm’s way to serve the public and the common good.
Prior to the emergence of this virus, the NHS was already stretched to breaking point, many worked in insecure, precarious employment and the living standards of the poorest had been reduced after more than a decade of austerity. Things cannot go back to the way things were prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Things have to change. This needs to start with the nature of our economy and our society. It should not take a new deadly pandemic virus for people to be kind and compassionate towards one another. It should not take a major crisis for the government to think about protecting those in low-paid employment. It should not take a global virus for us to drastically reduce our carbon emissions internationally.
There needs to be hope at the end of this crisis. Hope is what will get people through this crisis and will make the many enormous sacrifices easier to bear. In 1942, at the height of the Second World War when victory against the Nazis appeared far from certain, William Beveridge released his radical and comprehensive report into social security. The Beveridge Report became the founding document of the modern British welfare state. It helped to forge a new progressive consensus, based on clear social liberal principles. Its ideas informed the post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee, one of which, the introduction of a free universal health service, became the NHS in 1948 following the great work of the socialist Health Secretary, Aneurin Bevan.