Government data must prove any Covid restrictions imposed on the British people are necessary
So many of the decisions being made now are ones that lead us away from prosperity – and I do not just mean economic wealth, writes Baroness Stroud | PA Images
Protecting people's incomes, jobs, and their mental health should be at the heart of the government's Covid-recovery response. We must have sight of the data government has been using to make decisions about Covid restrictions.
When a house is on fire, instinct kicks in and with crystal clarity we know what we need to protect. As we reach for our children and our parents and grandparents, we are grateful to be alive. Thus it was in the first few weeks of the pandemic.
Although the house is still on fire and protection of loved ones and our communities is essential, we now understand the risks. Whilst no nation can prevent the unknown from happening, how we deal with the unknown is central.
The character of the British is to Keep Calm and Carry On. In order to make us panic and react in the opposite way, we have been fire hosed with fear. Some of the methods used resemble archaic tools of coercion: isolation (removal of all social support), threats (constant reminders of the cost of non-compliance), occasional indulgences (Christmas), forcing capricious demands without evidence (10pm curfew). This is the nation that slept in the tube during the blitz! We don’t need fear - we need clear communication of the facts.
I lead an organisation, the Legatum Institute, dedicated to creating pathways from poverty to prosperity. We have spent 14 years tracking and charting what leads to poverty and what leads to prosperity. What concerns us is that so many of the decisions being made now are ones that lead us away from prosperity – and I do not just mean economic wealth.
In this pandemic, yes, we need to protect lives, but we also need to protect the British spirit and our key values
Let’s take the hospitality sector for a moment. Central to our nation’s prosperity is the knowledge that Britain is a place where property rights are respected. We believe a man or woman can start a business and live by his wits, with no danger from the state of having his property or livelihood confiscated. This is why people come to Britain and invest in Britain. This matters as much of our wealth comes from the certainty of this age old principle.
Moving from property rights to truth, freedom and power. Once leaders get a taste of power, they rarely let it go. This should concern us. Anyone watching journalists interview government ministers about the potential for false positives leading to isolating unnecessarily or data on cases starting to fall, can see a clear example of truth being sacrificed on the altar of power. This matters because politicians who get used to this level of power rarely lose it. It isn’t that politicians are lying, but they are selective with the data they use. This leads to incredibly bad decision making.
This is why we need sight of the data the government has been using. Any intervention imposed on the British people must be proven to be necessary. The government has not yet produced sufficient data to support the decisions they have made. Given the well-documented impacts the pandemic is having on jobs and earnings for families across the UK this matters. It should come as no surprise that poverty is rising – and rising by 700,000 people.
That’s why we’re calling for the government to urgently push ahead with its development of Experimental Poverty Statistics based on the Social Metrics Commission’s work and the launch of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. These measures shine a light on the drivers of poverty and the range of tools available to the government to tackle it. The government needs to be mindful of boosting incomes and promoting work, to tackling mental health and supporting families. This should be at the heart of the UK’s Covid-recovery response.
Leadership is about knowing the season you are in. We are near the end of the immediate impact of this virus – we’re not there yet, but we are in the closing stages. It is about knowing what is important to protect and build. In this pandemic, yes, we need to protect lives, but we also need to protect the British spirit and our key values that have built prosperity through the ages.
Truth matters – so give us all the data – the real cost benefit analysis. Life matters – so give us all the lives that are being lost and damaged and not just those that are dying with Covid. Freedom of the press matters – so don’t allow the voices of those who disagree with you but are just as qualified to be stifled. Freedom to assemble matters – so allow the British people to manage their own risk with accurate information. Property rights matter, so allow businesses and restaurants to open and let customers decide whether they want to take the risk. And the economy matters, so stop propping us up with hard earned tax payers money and let us open our businesses and offices in a Covid secure way, using all the ingenuity and creativity that is typical of a great nation that Keeps Calm and Carries On.
Baroness Stroud is a Conservative member of the House of Lords and is CEO of the Legatum Institute.