Yesterday’s post highlighted how, in the past, national infection crises had led to a radical change in social policy with a drive towards universalism in policy implementation.
This history, together with the knowledge of how the Second World War led to the creation of the welfare state and the NHS, leads many people to believe that after this crisis everything will be different.
After the crisis that might happen.
As the crisis moves into weeks and months, there will also be a yearning amongst many people to get back to normal. Many people will associate their current experience with fear and will understandably want life to return to the way it was before. These people will want to recreate society as it was before the crisis.
After the crisis that could also be what happens.
My point is that there is nothing inevitable about what will happen to our society after this crisis is over.
After the First World War there was a promise of “Homes fit for heroes”. In fact it was 6 years after the war before a few council home started being built – and not that many
After the Second World War there was another promise of “Homes fit for heroes” and from 1945 onwards there was the biggest ever council house building programme – it started straight away and went on for many years (I grew up in one of those prefabs).
The difference between these two experiences was the way in which the politics of the post crisis experience was dominated by the politics of the crisis itself.
After the First World War it was possible to quickly transition the exceptional public effort of the war to rebuild the pre-war society and economy.
After the Second World War there was an election where the notion of going back to where we were before it began was defeated and change won the day. One of the main reasons for the difference between these two post war histories was the way in which the changes in World War Two were embedded in people’s day to day experiences. In the Second World War – even with all the fear and danger – people felt that they were contributing to something together. If we could do that now – during this crisis – we could also think about how we are going to live our lives in the future.
Let’s take two examples of these three stages. How we are living now in the crisis; how we were living before, and the possible clash for the future.
1 Asylum seekers: – We all know about the Home Office creating a ‘hostile environment’ to make life difficult for some people. The aim of the policy is to demonstrate to people who actually live their daily lives in our society, that they are really outside of the society they essentially live in. This is not a simple thing to do because people are actually here with us, but the Home Office has given thought to the making their lives difficult.
One way of ‘being hostile’ to them is to ensure that they are in a group who legally “have no recourse to public funds”. That means that the many of the publicly funded services that are there for everyone else are not there for them. Thus demonstrating to them that whilst they may live in our society they remain outside of it.
Then along comes infection. At the time of infection they are here next to us, firmly a part of our society. They could get the virus and infect everyone. In fact because they have been treated as if they are outside of society they are in much more danger of getting the virus. The ability to self-isolate with several people in one room in temporary accommodation is hard. Even harder if you are a rough sleeper.
The junior housing minister, Luke Hall, wrote a letter on March 27 to all local authorities in England asking them to house all people sleeping rough and to find alternative accommodation for people in hostels and night shelters within 3 days. (Yes that’s right, 3 days – previously targets for this would have been 3 years). He wanted this to happen in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In his letter he stressed that people classified as having “no recourse to public funds” should also be helped with emergency accommodation.
Many people agree with the policy of creating a hostile environment. Many people feel we should be being kinder to asylum seekers and will be pleased by the new infection driven policy.
What will happen to an asylum seeking rough sleeper after the crisis is over? For those of us that want to, how do we cement this new experience of unity as a part of the core of our future? It won’t just happen.
2 Vulnerable people. As a society we have known for some time that there are millions of vulnerable people in our society. Intellectually this is not news to us. We all see very old people struggling to the shops to get their groceries. We all know that within a few hundred yards of where we live there are tens of vulnerable people who need help.
We also know that the adult social care services meant to help them live their lives on a daily basis have been cut so much that in 2020 there are a million vulnerable people who do not get domiciliary care that would get it if the criteria were the same now as they were in 2010. For most of them state and civil society have done little to assist.
But in this infection crisis, their vulnerability, becomes front page public knowledge and we all know that if they struggle out to the shops and catch the virus, they will be in great danger (and so as the infection spreads shall we all be). So across the country civil society, often backed by an enabling local state, turn to volunteer groups to help. To get groceries, visit (from the step and through the window), and chat.
In the daily Government briefing for March 29 Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said of the 1.2 million most vulnerable people in society, “I want you to know that you are not alone – we are here to support you as long as you need us”. As an important part of the Government, he is making an important and warm offer to our most vulnerable people. Is he going to withdraw that offer when the crisis is over? Will they then be alone?
After the crisis will we forget about these new experiences helping vulnerable people or will we build it into the foundations of how we live as a society? Nothing is inevitable. It’s all up for grabs.
These are very important issues about our future. Next week I’ll explore 4 issues where the NHS, as a result of this crisis, could progressively move forward forever. Or could spring back to how we were before.