The pandemic lockdowns sparked changes in society that would have been unthinkable just last year. Trapped indoors, the crisis has deprived everyone of their normal routines and transformed the way many of us think of the world surrounding us.
It has forced us to reshape our priorities and values and this is something that must be mirrored by leaders in the coming weeks and months when planning exit strategies.
Given how uncertain the future looks in the midst of this global emergency, it is instinctively tempting for policymakers to focus on the immediate short-term. But this must be resisted – if there was ever a time to think about the future, it is now.
More than mere financial devastation
The pandemic unleashed a global economic calamity not seen since the second world war. The second-quarter forecasts suggest this is the most dramatic drop in global economic activity in quarter-forecast history and the impacts, already evidently immense, are only going to get worse.
Swings in the financial market seem to have attracted most of the headlines – think drastically low oil prices – but it is the devastations on the real economy that should be of greater concern. Unsurprisingly, it is the poor and vulnerable who will continue to be hit the hardest.
The UK and Europe face growing inequality as nearly 80% of workers facing job insecurity – including cuts to hours or pay, temporary furloughs, or permanent layoffs – do not have a university degree.
Similarly, in the US unemployment has hit 20% in some of the major cities – than double the peak during the financial crisis.
But we cannot blame an acute health crisis for this. Instead, the pandemic has exposed the flaws woven throughout the global economic system and has provided leaders with a chance to fix it.
An economic system build around the relentless pursuit of efficiency gains using ever-more extended global supply chains has proven fragile in the face of an infectious disease.
Taking the long view
The Great Depression birthed the New Deal, the financial crisis taught us the risks of financial liberalisation. This global emergency should provoke similarly profound rethinking of our socio-economic frameworks.
Conversation must be refocused to what kind of social safety nets our current system has been missing, and what type of structure might we be able to build in replacement that provides more resilience in the future.
This is especially important as it becomes clear that Covid-19 is likely to be recurrent problem, as opposed to a one-off battle.
Treating healthcare, housing and employment as a universal right and basis of a society, as opposed to means of generating profits, is a more stable way of building an economy that relies upon the health and security of its people.
Policymakers worldwide must not miss the opportunity this crisis offers. Long after Covid-19 wards are emptied, countries, communities, and individuals will be living with the consequences and we must pressure our leaders to take the long view in any coronavirus recovery plan.
Words by Madeleine Coffey
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