WHILST a lot of things in people’s lives seem very unclear at the moment, there might be some merit in thinking about a time after the pandemic and preparing for that life in some way.
There has been a lot of speculation that life will never be the same again. Whilst this may or may not be true, it is important to consider how things could change.
This piece is not written with an intention to critique the government’s response to the pandemic. There is likely some good reason to assume it has been flawed and too slow in nature, but I usually believe you deal with a crisis as best you can and then investigate afterwards what could be done better.
I think party politics is not any use at this time. I do not believe the mantra that ‘X is bad because your party did it, or X is good because my party did it’.
A pandemic does not care who you vote for, or give morals to any political leanings, so these must be looked beyond in order to really consider what could be happening in the future.
Firstly, the NHS has coped incredibly well with the crisis and it has avoided going beyond its operational capacity. This is obviously an incredible feat and the workers who make up the NHS deserve all the recognition they have been given recently.
However, it is important to look to the future of the system after the pandemic. Opinion of the left would argue that the NHS has been chronically under funded for a decade and a workable solution would be to increase funding across the board.
But then where is the line with this?
Is it appropriate for the government to spend an unlimited amount of public money attempting to be a public health care provider? No system of health care is perfect and without flaws that lead to people falling through the cracks.
However, an open an honest conversation of alternatives to possible workable alternatives in health care may be a discussion we need to have.
To assume we either have the NHS we have today, or we have American style system where people die in hospital waiting rooms is not a full picture of the options available. Germany has a universal single payer healthcare system that covers the whole country and makes assurances for low income citizens to be covered and cared for.
There has been a lot of discussion about Germany having a better approach to the pandemic and the health care system might be the reason why.
Because of a system with better capabilities at regional level, it was easier to roll out mass testing and attempt to stop the spread of the disease. Also, if there is a shift to a single payer system then the government would be able to offload a lot its annual spending on to some where else.
This could result in a range of tax cuts that could save citizen’s money to fix their losses, or they could restructure the taxes and use these to continue to provide support without the risks of running up large debts.
Any conversation about NHS reform is often contentious because of national pride and worry of it being taken away from the most vulnerable, but when a 100-year-old former soldier is raising money for the NHS that has been underfunded for the past decade and there are worries that it will cope with looking after people, surely there is something wrong and this is something we need to discuss and rectify now?
If not, maybe it will not survive the next crisis.
As a law student I have seen the affects this has on the judiciary and the questions it raises about its future. The judicial system was stuck in constant backlog and was overlooked by the public as one sector that had been chronically underfunded for years; it was essentially sleepwalking into a crisis regardless of the pandemic.
However, now in order to try and function in some way, courts are attempting to move to remote online workings. Could this be a novel approach to the problems it used to face?
Obviously it would only be a tip of the iceberg in the systems problems, but having more funding available through running procedures remotely would likely lead to other issues being better addressed and a faster way of dealing with cases would only take the strain off the system.
What about the changes under different forms of the public sector like education.
In schools, for the short term, how will social distancing be applied in classrooms that are already at capacity?
Will schools have to move to shift work where some students are taught in the morning, and then some are taught in the afternoon?
This is a workable way of achieving social distancing, but this will obviously come at the cost of how much children will learn. Haven’t the current generation in schools already lost a year compared to their predecessors?
How much can we justify time they continue to lose before they will be an unfixable disadvantage?
What about the bigger picture in the long run. Teachers are definitely underpaid. If anyone attempts to argue the opposite then they have probably never taught a child anything, never mind a room of them.
Has the abrupt start of home schooling for many parents made them realise the hard work that goes in to teaching and the toll it takes? If so, do they now believe that teachers should be properly paid for their work and even given the same stature as other careers such as doctors? Calls will only intensify as the weight of what is expected of them continues.
Furthermore, what about Universities?
Some are very much on the brink of financial collapse. For some institutions, more than half of their spending is on staff pay.
Will this change people’s attitude to university fees and the system that funds them?
Will university staff have a leg to stand on when they want to put on further industrial action to protect their pay and pensions?
Will research suffer? If there is no research grants, then there will not be the same level of research.
The effects that this has on society would never be known but would likely be far reaching. It will not only be small former Polytechnics that collapse, Russel group institutions will also fall and as much as some may think they have had it too good for too long, there is something to be said about the loss in research and students that any institution can produce.
What about the students who are graduating with poorer results than they are capable of? This could affect their entire careers and even the value of the previous few years of their lives.
Universities can do their best to put in place a number of confusing no detriment policies that can be as thoroughly thought out as possible, but they will never be able to have a ‘one-size-sits-all’ approach. It will never truly reflect the results that students would have achieved in their studies without covid-19.
What about industries that are beyond the public sector and are more for recreation and leisure?
Aviation may never be the same, British Airways have announced 12,000 job cuts and Norwegian Air and others have said they expect to run out of money in a matter of weeks. If airlines do not collapse, then their approaches to flying will have to change.
Easyjet has already said that in near future when it is operational again it will not sell middle row seats to keep social distancing.
Whilst this obviously will not fulfil the requirements of social distancing, it also reduces the capacity by one-third. If this is the case, are we going to need more planes flying to deal with capacity? Will airlines use this as an excuse to increase prices due to higher demand?
It is likely to be the latter in order to make back losses of the pandemic, but this is all under the assumption people will still wish to fly at the same levels as before.
This will have a domino effect on other industries. What about tourism as a whole? If businesses that fall within this group survive the pandemic, then they will be on their knees and desperate for income.
It is likely that Airbnb will either collapse or be a very reduced version of its current self. This will obviously be a loss for cheap accommodation, but will the rental market see a boom in the number of properties available?
Will this then push general rent prices down? Whilst this might seem like a brighter perk of the pandemic’s effects, it is likely this will be seen in metropolitan cities mostly.
Who will even have the money to go on holiday and prop them up until recovery happens?
Will this result in independent restaurants collapsing and leaving the market saturated to only a few nationwide chains?
The market will likely be very reduced given social distancing measures. Austria is one of three European nations to give a date for reopening their restaurants, but this comes with strict regulation on the number of customers in at any time and changes to the way staff work.
Will bars and restaurants merely survive the pandemic with government bailouts but then go bust afterwards because they just do not have the business to go on?
What even about general retail shopping, will the screens stay up? Will there be a bigger ethos of purchasing what you need over what you want?
That is with the assumption there are even many shops to come back. Debenhams, Laura Ashley, Bright House, Car Phone Warehouse are just a few of the retailers who have already been lost, who is next?
If a company cannot survive a few weeks with reduced income were they likely on the way out anyway, should they just be left to fall? Is that just the realities of business? Perhaps, but large amounts job losses are never good.
Trust in the media is arguably at an all-time low and people generally say they do not trust the media as much as politicians when it comes to covid-19, is this where a lot of media also meets its end? Is this maybe a wakeup call that was long overdue? Should the privilege of verification and large following on social media come with an enforced responsibility of fact-checking and an appreciation of the consequences on your audience?
Are we forgetting the quality investigative journalism that has happened in the past? Are the government going to effectively regulate the press or just use this an excuse to do something more sinister? Is freedom of speech in their firing line so they can try at rewriting their handling of the pandemic?
Austria have encouraged people to make reservations in order to avoid queues and have better records to trace spreading. Is this an effective tracking method or is it a hidden attempt to have more infringement on individual’s private lives by big brother?
Is now even the time for a discussion of civil liberties in a time of crisis? If not, then what guarantee of protection and freedom do we have left?
Imagine a society where we never found out about MPs expenses, NSA surveillance, or the Panama papers. In whatever your opinions of the media, a loss regardless of your opinions of specific outlets, just because you hate the Daily Mail and the Sun does not excuse the struggle of an entire industry.
It is not just articles not being commissioned, the arts in general will be bracing themselves. Touring is the main income for a lot of performing artists, will we lose many talented performers and singers because they just can survive?
Filming of TV shows and movies is halted, many of these staff will likely be freelance and seeing what is the busy period for them just pass by. Will we eventually just have to live off re-runs and come back to a society where cinemas no longer exist? Will our culture suffer as a whole because of this pandemic? It is hard to know what you have lost if you never had it.
Will Covid-19 only result in more appreciation for public sector workers and leave private non-essential jobs in a poor place, how can you bargain for higher pay when it is known that your job is not essential for the very basic functioning of society? How should they pay for their sustained existence?
Richard Branson has been a prominent name when thinking of someone potentially hypocritically asking for a government bailout whilst being personally very wealthy. There have even been calls for management or owners of businesses to liquidate personal assets to pay for losses before they get a government bailout.
Whilst this will probably feel like a winner and a way to make Branson suffer like many of his employees would, it will affect all business owners the same.
This will be workable for millionaires and the rich, but what about business owners who were just breaking even or making a small profit before? Are we going to ask them to sell their family homes and belongings before they are entitled to any government support?
As much as some would wish for millionaires to face a burden, it is hard to separate most business owners who do not earn a lot from billionaire CEOs with tainted images. We were told things would change after the 2008 financial crisis, but did they really change for the better?
There has been a celebration of how clear the air has become because of so little flights and traffic. Of course, this is something to be celebrated, but is this a wake up call for how we are going to achieve our environmental targets and goals?
If we are to reach the target of carbon neutral by 2050 then we will need to see an annual drop in emissions that is half of what will happen this year, is this doable for our society if we just go back to business as normal?
Whilst our air might be clearer, what about our other environment targets. It is likely an on-coming production and use of billions of face masks that will need to be thrown out after single use.
This is no way suggesting we do not use them, but it will have to come hand in hand with an understanding of the effects of these mask and other new waste will have by filling landfills and chocking our oceans.
The air being cleaner will always be a good thing, but it will be tainted if it does not come with a comprehensive understanding of how Covid-19 is affecting other environmental targets.
Beyond this, have we given enough thought to other rural affairs? How are farms and our food supplies going to be affected?
Some farmers are currently throwing produce away because they are attempting to produce scarcity in markets to still turn a profit, or the demand is just gone. There are a lot of people who would buy a coffee every day just not doing that now, that is a lot of milk that is no longer needed.
There may not even be people to pick the food because of the lack of cheap labour. Should we be getting ready for farmers to go bust? Most only make small profit or breakeven so they will not be able to bankroll themselves in the same way as other businesses.
What will happen to the food we eat and what it costs? A very hidden consequence of the pandemic, but something that will have very large effects on food supplies and everyday life.
There should be considerations given to the political and psychological affects. This has largely been a pandemic that has had its worse effects in Europe and the US, but are developing countries next in line?
With their less comprehensive infrastructure in their medical systems, people living densely and in poor conditions, less money available, or even access to clean water to wash hands; does this mean we are only just at the start of the death toll?
More optimistically, the travel restrictions in place mean that international spread is less likely, and they will cope until there is a vaccine. Whilst the death toll in the US and UK has been devastating, what effect will this have on their standing on the world stage?
Brexit is still happening on the same time scale. The time scale was already viewed to be something that would require a miracle to work, but what about now when so many politicians and civil servants have not thought of Brexit for weeks? The UK’s firm negotiating line has meant that they have said they will not ask for an extension to the transition period and we have to achieve the same high bar with much harder circumstances to work with.
Is the UK setting itself up for another crisis?
How long will the recovery take if we just go from one economic crisis in to a very different one? Should we just be ready for a much smaller economy and our living standards to go down?
The US has by far seen the highest death count that shows no sign of slowing because of poor leadership and conflicting information being given. President Donald Trump wishing to always be right and refuse to admit that mistakes were made only seems to show America in a poorer light.
There is no other country in the world having protests from its citizens to argue that the economy is more valuable than their fellow citizens lives. These deaths may even result in a changed future. Will the likelihood that many of the citizens dying and the elderly mean there will be less people voting Republican in November and deliver a Biden presidency?
Perhaps Trump will be voted out anyway by how people view his reaction and work to the pandemic. Can Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon ride waves of popularity into their next elections?
It would look that way now, but if people are still living off savings and are on the brink of mass unemployment and hardship, will this popularity stay?
Being seen to have ineffective leadership or making poor decisions regarding constitutional international affairs will stay in people’s memories after the pandemic. The recovery for these countries will likely be a longer road than for others who acted faster and in different ways.
Will people ever view each other the same again? Will a newfound sense of community remain, or will we be sceptical of each other? Are we to wonder the value of people if there are questions of whether opening the economy is more important than some people’s lives?
Recently it feels like you can walk on the pavement without people moving to avoid coming within two meters of you. Is socially distant just going to be the new norm?
It would be rational to think immigrants and minorities would have a bigger appreciation in society due how much of the health service they make up and how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting them. But how long until they are blamed for something that is not their fault, and we return to a place where it is hostile for them to live or move here?
The number of immigrants that work in the NHS has not magically happened overnight, it has been fact for years and people chose to ignore it.
It feels ironic for the government to be lapping so much praise on the NHS when they are accused of underfunding it and creating an unsustainable environment for it to function in.
Will people with South East Asian heritage feel safe? There have been spikes in racism and aggression towards them due to framing the pandemic as a Chinese disease.
After the financial crisis we had the disabled, vulnerable, or working classes as the people worst effected and scapegoated; will South East Asians be the next one?
New solutions to old problems, but it comes at a cost. How do we pay for Covid-19? Will people accept tax rises, squeezes on public spending, and harm to the people we are celebrating at the moment be how we recover? Or should the money come from accrued wealth?
The UK has been trying to live with a big state on low taxes for a long time and it arguably is not working and is time for a new way of thinking. Would post-pandemic be the right time to change the way society works? Perhaps people will have had enough of unusual times and will just want some form of normality back.
Will there be an enquiry into the handling of this pandemic? If so, will it be domestic or international? Can we expect to be better prepared in future?
Plans can be made, but they can also be undone. We will arguably never know the true death toll from the pandemic.
Will the death toll include the suicides that happened because some people’s mental health just could not cope? The increase in domestic violence deaths? The people who did not seek medical attention because they did not wish to be a burden on the NHS? The people who needed cancer treatment but were not allowed because it would weaken their immune systems too much?
Will this figure ever be whole and known so we can appropriately see just how it changed society?
The UK government is currently not including care home death in their figures because of how it is difficult to track. However, other countries have managed to do this. It is likely the real figure of deaths would produce a shocking reality that the UK was unprepared.
Were the expectations of lockdown even properly explained to the public? Could you yourself say that you never thought the lockdown was three weeks, the disease would be under control, and life would just go back to normal?
The reality is that the lockdown was put in place to mitigate spread so the health service could cope with demand. An overwhelmed NHS would lead to its eventual collapse which could only cause social collapse and destabilise society.
If this were better understood, would people have been so keen for lockdown? Or would people better understand the part they had to play in controlling the virus? This is a very strong example of questions that an enquiry would need to answer.
The pandemic has presented novel solutions to problems within society. If the NHS were established today, it is very likely that tackling loneliness would be an additional pillar of its structure.
Now a lot more people are having an experience of very little contact and socialising, will we find new and easy ways to tackle this? Will FaceTime and Zoom calls become the new way of spending time with loved ones and friends? Will we be willing to adopt a system of Universal Basic Income because a new change is needed?
People would have more money to spend and that would get the economy moving again. In the 2008 financial crisis, the Australian government send every citizen money to spend. This injection of money into the economy meant that Australia largely missed the worst realities of the crisis. What about working from home practices? Will new ways of doing jobs from anywhere be adopted and change urban life?
If people can work from anywhere then maybe densely populated cities will be a thing of the past.
Can society ever really recover from this? Can society recover from seeing mass graves being built because there are just so many dead people?
Even in their deaths, some victims do not even get the privilege of a proper burial or a any form of mourning for their loved ones that we have become accustomed to.
The government has allowed members of the public to ask questions on their daily press briefings and the first one showed the true depth of the pandemic on people.
The question asked by Lynn from Skipton was,
“When lockdown ends, can I hug my grandchildren? I miss them very much.”
It is hard not to feel almost lost and hollow at this question, but it is important to consider how we recover from perhaps never seeing our grandparents again.
Can you legitimately ask people who had to say goodbye to their loved one on a doctor’s phone through FaceTime to be ready for life as normal?
The psychological impact on individuals and society will likely take years to be understood but understanding why people are not okay will lead to a better way of making them feel okay again.
Whilst this piece has been very pessimistic in what the future holds and would seem hard to be optimistic. However, it is important to know that society has been through hardship that we assumed we would never recover from, and we did.
We largely survived the 2008 financial crisis in a way that was viewed as not possible at the time. However, to say we did this unscathed would only be a way of erasing all the deaths and hardship that happened as a result.
It would be very easy to feel that things have just gone wrong for most of younger generations lives. It is hard to ask them to be optimistic about the future when they are facing their second economic crisis in their lifetime.
However, I do believe we will survive this and find a new way of living in whatever the future looks like. But it is important to ask, along with all the other questions this piece poses, at what cost?
Featured Image: Medium.com