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Work with all members of our society to #BuildBackBetter
by Katy Goldstraw, John Diamond
The unprecedented challenges created by the global COVID-19 pandemic have brought about many examples of human kindness, compassion and value-driven policy responses. Painted rainbows in windows across the country and a weekly clap for NHS workers are tangible examples of how much, in the face of adversity, the nation values its key workers. Appreciation is valuable; it boosts morale, shares thanks and develops a culture that seeks to focus on kindness. However, appreciation alone will not help us #BuildBackBetter after COVID-19.
We need to take our shared experience of these unprecedented challenges and think through how we build a positive, compassionate and kind public policy response. Taking an appreciation of key workers as a foundation, building society back better can use the public sense of thanks as a methodology for change. Building back better after COVID-19 needs to recognise our key workers, and challenge their zero-hours contracts, low pay and poor working conditions. It needs to remember the experiences of the almost one million people within two weeks in March 2020 trying to access an already challenged Universal Credit system. Building back better needs to rethink our education system, reflecting on the positive aspects of home schooling and the many challenges. It needs to reflect on the digital exclusion experienced by so many during an almost exclusively digital policy response to lockdown. How can building back better do this? It needs to take our appreciation for key workers as a starting point and listen to their expertise and opinions, and it needs to listen to all people, key workers included, with lived experience of welfare, education and digital exclusion.
Building back better needs to return to the basic human values that sustain us at a point of crisis. Policy makers now more than ever need humility; they need to stop, realise that they are not the only experts, and listen. The government has made some compassionate policy moves, aiming to support small businesses, employers and the self-employed through the economic element of the crisis. The education department has offered support in the form of food vouchers and laptops to children in receipt of free school meals. The department for culture, media and sport has made moves to increase data limits for people to reduce digital exclusion. These moves, although welcome, will trip up, and are indeed already experiencing criticism, as they have missed a vital step in their development. This vital step is listening to people with lived experience of socio-economic inequality, key workers included.
The only way we can build a better society after the current crisis is by including all members of our society in the remodelling. We need also to recognise the importance of our environment to our wellbeing, as well as socio-economic factors. The lockdown and the resulting quiet has had some positive effects on the environment. Air pollution has reduced; wildlife has increased in urban areas. These are positives that should be nurtured as we build back our public policy. Foregrounding a #BuildBackBetter approach that nurtures sustainable livelihoods recognises all elements of our life. Our social networks, health and education, financial capital, the environment that we live within, and the infrastructure from housing to wi fi that we have access to – all have an impact on our lives. Building back better involves listening, involving and collaborating across socio-economic, environmental and infrastructure responses to develop sustainable livelihoods that seek to address inequalities.
From The Spirit Level to the 2020 updated work on the Marmot Review, research continues to confirm that inequality results in poorer outcomes for all. We need to involve and listen to those with lived experience of socio-economic inequality. Groups such as the APLE Collective and the Poverty Truth Network, who represent individuals and groups with lived experience of poverty, are the groups that we should be inviting in and listening to. A #BuildBackBetter public policy needs to reframe and decolonise based on the expertise and voices of experience.
A sophisticated deliberative democracy – for example citizens assemblies – which gives voice and decision-making powers to those who have so far been marginalised, is one that can co-design new policy agendas. This process is participatory decision making. It is messy and time-consuming, and deliberately so. A collaborative, co-designed policy arena holds the potential to redesign welfare, education and cultural strategies in a way that is effective and supportive of all of our society – rich, squeezed middle and poor alike.
Dr Katy Goldstraw, Visiting Fellow, Institute for Social Responsibility, Edge Hill University, and Professor John Diamond, Edge Hill University.