After lockdown, it is crucial we don't abandon our newfound concern for each other
"If we think about our fellow citizens as individuals worthy of our support and protection right now, we should not take the backward step of de-prioritising the critical healthcare needs and support of the most disadvantaged in our society" says David Isaac. | PA Images
The coronavirus response must protect the most vulnerable in society for the long-term.
The coronavirus does not pick and choose whom it infects. Everyone, irrespective of wealth and status, is at risk and this is why the restrictions on our freedoms apply equally to us all.
This crisis reminds us of the importance of the role of the State, but also the need for national unity to look after the sick and dying, to stop the spread of the virus, to protect our frontline NHS staff and to accelerate work to find a vaccine. The Government has been bold in addressing these concerns, and addressing the immediate financial consequences of the lockdown for employees and businesses in both the private and third sectors.
But it’s becoming very clear that the virus and the restrictions affect various sections of society differently. There is a growing awareness that older people, people with disabilities, people from ethnic minority communities and those who are less well-off, are more vulnerable. What we do know is they are less resilient because of their health needs, their reduced ability to access resources or support, or their greater exposure to hardship.
As we begin to contemplate the end of lockdown, we are slowly realising that life probably won't ever be quite the same again. From increased respect for the NHS and its staff and the likely impact that this will have on NHS funding, the role of experts, the use of technology to allow more than occasional home working, to the recognition that we don't need to travel internationally for work very much – or at all.
While there will be people and businesses that may emerge stronger – I’m thinking especially about the technology solutions we have all used to stay in touch while in lockdown – there is no doubt that those who have been most adversely affected by the virus won't easily bounce back and are likely to suffer more without specific assistance. When we leave lockdown, it is crucial we don't abandon our newfound concern for each other; indeed understanding how the crisis affected individuals differently will, I hope, give us an increased awareness of the underlying inequalities that existed prior to the pandemic and the importance of our human rights that we so often take for granted.
There are already far too many comparisons being made about what happened nationally after the end of WWII. Nevertheless, I think it is instructive to remember the communitarian thinking that existed at that time. It allowed a devastated country to commit to the provision of universal health care and education, the development of the welfare state and international recognition of the importance of human rights.
As we plan for the end of lockdown, we must hold on to the recent words and sentiments of the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who said his economic responses to COVID-19 are based on the "simple idea that we all depend on each other". The Government's financial commitments undoubtedly come at a huge cost to us all, but the motives that drive them should not apply only to addressing the most immediate and vicious aspects of the pandemic. In the next phase, we need to move beyond crisis management to look at what should be done to protect the most vulnerable amongst us in the long-term. We need to re-start the economy in a way that has the welfare of those most devastated as a key aim. We should not be focused only on economic revival so that we overlook the very people who were most impacted by the virus.
If we think about our fellow citizens as individuals worthy of our support and protection right now, we should not take the backward step of de-prioritising the critical healthcare needs and support of the most disadvantaged in our society. We must not forget that it is disabled and older people, as well as children with special educational needs, who will struggle more than ever to find jobs, finish their education or achieve their potential.
Some might argue that these are big asks, especially at a time when such measures might be seen as blocks to boosting our struggling economy. Yet if society can embrace a communitarian approach during lockdown as we begin to leave our homes, why can't we re-build a society based on the same values and priorities which have kept us all safe?