Social distancing has created social togetherness in ways that we all expected along with weird and wonderful moments that none of us could have predicted. We will look back upon these shared experiences in the Coronavirus Pandemic with mixed emotions of nostalgia, anger, warmth, anxiety, and pride.
COVID-19 has brought us together in mysterious ways – none of us foresaw a shared experience involving Tigers, Meth, and Murder.
I’m a great believer in society, community, in people pulling together for good of the collective population – democratic socialist ideals in a capitalist world, and if there was ever a time to see how we all unite, it’s in a pandemic when we have all been told to stay at home.
What did you do in the great COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 Dad?
We fought over toilet rolls son.
Social distancing doesn’t directly help us to combat the virus, but indirectly it helps us to fight the virus at a slower pace; a pace that doesn’t overwhelm our health services. It indirectly helps us to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. It indirectly helps us to ‘buy some time’ to develop and test a vaccine to protect the population.
Social distancing also brings with it a wealth of opportunity for those fortunate and privileged enough not to be physically or economically damaged by it. It forces us to take a break and that in turn gives us the opportunity (whether taken or not) to stop and think, to be creative, to plan ahead, and to spend valuable time thinking of how we can emerge from the pandemic stronger as individuals, as families, as communities, as nations.
To be clear, and to prevent any misunderstanding that I believe that everyone has a duty to somehow ‘better themselves’ whilst staying at home, simultaneously trying to pay bills with invisible money, understand government legislation and guidance, and parent small humans that are vectors of disease on a good day… I don’t. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity available to them if they are able or want to take up that opportunity.
Life is hard at the best of times, and we need support to help us through; support from our friends, family, communities, and government. We need financial support – but wouldn’t it be amazing if instead of just an artificial prop for the economy, we used this opportunity to develop a more sustainable, stable, diversified, and localised economy?
I am greatly interested in Universal Basic Income and believe that the simplicity and universality of it could reduce state welfare implementation costs massively, and although I also accept the weaknesses as pointed out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), I believe that UBI could have been a far simpler and universal method for addressing the Coronavirus’ economic impact than the disparate systems proposed including separate funding streams for individuals, employees, sole-traders, employers, Universal Credit recipients, charities, etc.
But it appears that even now at the most opportune time for a large scale roll-out and evaluation, our government has decided to put sticking plasters on each cut as they find it, and not just put in place a shield for all that would offer universal protection (to a certain level) and is easily taxed back off those who do not need it through the existing tax systems.
Social Distancing Together
Ignore the fighting over toilet rolls and the stockpiling of baked beans. It’s a minority of people that the media have latched on to, knowing that fear drives readership, viewers, and that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There is a whole world of community and charitable activities going on that are working night and day to make our communities and our countries stronger when we finally emerge from the pandemic and return to our (new-normal) lives.
In my day job working for South Kent Mind – a mental health charity, we have three pillars to our strategy to support our community of over 200,000 people: Relief, Rehabilitation, Resilience. And it is these three pillars that I hope to see the entire third sector (voluntary, community, and social enterprise) get behind and build opportunity for the people that they support.
Relief is important right now as we need to immediately support and help those affected (which is everyone) and to address those immediate needs to relive crises and provide emergency help.
Rehabilitation is where we now need to also focus our attention, on the what happens next, and how do we get back to ‘normal’?
The Financial Times editorial board published a leader on 3 April that sums up just how important this next phase is:
Radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.
The leaders who won the war did not wait for victory to plan for what would follow. Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter, setting the course for the United Nations, in 1941. The UK published the Beveridge Report, its commitment to a universal welfare state, in 1942. In 1944, the Bretton Woods conference forged the postwar financial architecture. That same kind of foresight is needed today. Beyond the public health war, true leaders will mobilise now to win the peace.Financial Times, 3 April 2020
I’ll repeat that for the sake of emphasis: Do not wait for victory to plan for what will follow.
Resilience is how we intend to ensure that if this were to happen again then we would be more protected, more defended, better able to handle a crisis. It’s about making sure that sever incidents happen less frequently and with less severity, and that we can recover from them more quickly after an event and over a shorter period of time. The advance planning would help with this too.
Moving past the crisis response and into the rehabilitation and resilience planning, we have the opportunity to pause, revaluate what’s important to us and to build a stronger community moving forwards, and to do this we will need a wide variety of organisations on board from statutory services to the full breadth and depth of the VCSE community.
We need super-charities; the large, nationally-known charitable behemoths like Mind to give us national reach, and research-based leadership within the sector. We need local authorities to give us the infrastructure and policy-based direction. We need regional charitable organisations like Red Zebra to pull together all of the efforts and provide wraparound support, and we need smaller social enterprises like Nest + Grow CIC to be agile in delivering localised targeted projects where they can be most effective.
We all have a part to play, working together while still social distancing, with purpose and direction to build a stronger more resilient future for ourselves and each other.
Now is the time to work together and capitalise on the overwhelming community togetherness, to build on these shared experiences whether through fear, pride, or incredulity (back to the Tigers again).
Let’s start planning. We have the opportunity to be stronger, together, six feet apart.