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Post-lockdown utopia?

By Emily Hay

What would be the dream world after the social changes of lockdown? Emily tells us hers.

There’s no denying it’s been one hell of a year – and mostly for the worse at that. When the coronavirus lockdown was ushered in back in March it felt like the world was ending, but whilst it didn’t come without its fair share of anxiety and heartache, we mostly managed to adapt to our new circumstances. In fact, for some of us, lockdown brought some previously unthinkable (and almost utopian) ideals to fruition in the attempt to mitigate the disaster awaiting us. Don’t get me wrong, nothing the UK government got right really went anyway to repairing the damage that their slow reactions and general incompetence had gotten so wrong (or the decade of austerity they had forced on us prior) but what they did do was give the public a taste of just what a society could do to make its citizen’s lives better. They showed the general public just what we’d been missing out on. So now, I want you to imagine a world where we live with those things on the daily – only minus the deadly virus and Uncle Boris imposed curfews.

Imagine that no matter what you did, you knew you didn’t have to worry about your income month to month. Back in March, before the full lockdown, I was terrified about catching the virus. Not for my health, but because it would mean a two-week isolation period where I couldn’t go to work – and I was ineligible for sick pay. At that time there was nothing which scared me more than the thought that my work would be forced to close indefinitely; without that income I couldn’t even afford my rent, let alone those other frivolous necessities like food. When the furlough scheme was announced it was the first sigh of relief I’d breathed in weeks. Sunak’s words that day felt like living in a world turned upside down: a Conservative government… effectively nationalising the economy? 

The unthinkable had come to fruition. Yet, once the relief had settled then the questions started coming to mind: if the government could afford to pay the salaries of nine million people at the drop of a hat, then they always had the money for everything they had always told us that the country couldn’t afford. Potential future policies: improving the benefits system, implementing a universal basic income (UBI), eradicating the need for food banks, ending child poverty? Yes, they went further into debt to support jobs, but what they conveniently don’t like to mention is that governments can be in quite a lot of debt without any real consequences. Not to mention the fact that a guaranteed UBI for everyone in society would itself have gone a long way to mitigating the economic effects of the pandemic: to get out of recessions, people need to go out and spend money, but they can’t do that if they don’t have enough money to live. In my perfect post-lockdown world, not only would there be a universal basic income for everyone, but the public would never again swallow the idea of a “need” for austerity without question. We know where you keep the money Rishi, and we’re coming for it.

Imagine your healthcare system not only being free at point of use, but also being properly funded. Somehow, in a country that has a weird amount of national pride in its healthcare system, this one seems even more far-fetched than implementing UBI. Wouldn’t it be nice if post-pandemic, when our hospitals have been stretched to breaking point, Boris and Rishi could dig deep into those cavernous pockets and properly fund the NHS? 10 years of austerity certainly hasn’t helped our health service in their ability to wage war on a militant virus (and I’m not talking about privatisation); so with what they know now the government would never return to the stripped back, understaffed and overstretched system the NHS has been forced to deal with since the tories came to power… right? Ah well, a girl can dream.

Imagine if our mental wellbeing was a thing the government actually cared about when it came to policy. In their endeavour to stave off a second total lockdown, Westminster and the devolved administrations have enjoyed bandying about the fact that continued restrictions are bad for our mental health. However, it seems pretty clear (especially in Westminster’s case) that this fact is mainly to allow them to continue opening up the economy no matter how physically dangerous it may be. But what if, on the other side of all of this, the government and our employers could take that performative concern and turn it into substantive change? Proper funding for mental health services, more opportunities to work from home where possible, all in all just a better work-life balance – doesn’t that all sound fantastic? Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve heard some companies who continued operating (albeit, from home) gave their employees extra holidays specifically as “mental health days” to help them cope with the upheaval. Just imagine the possibilities if the government implemented that as a scheme across all workplaces. Dragging yourself out of bed on Monday morning may not be so bad if you knew you had some support to fall back on.

Imagine if forcing people to work when unwell was completely a thing of the past. I’m personally really excited at the potential for no longer feeling pressured to drag myself to work, or anywhere else for that matter, when I’ve got a cold. The upside of the paranoia caused by this pandemic is that it’s definitely frowned upon – if not outright illegal – for your boss to insist you come in and interact with colleagues and customers when you’re sniffly because you’re “not that ill”. Oh, I’m sorry Sandra, would you rather I sneezed all over you? Yeah, I thought not.

Imagine a country where all of this was likely to stick. Perhaps the best, and most likely outcome of the trials and tribulations of this year? What, with their delayed reactions, mixed messaging, ill-planned marketing campaigns, and general incompetence, the Tories might just have dug their own electoral grave. Now, that’s something that might just make the months of cancelled plans and being stuck indoors worthwhile after all.


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