As lockdown eases and we start to imagine our lives after coronavirus, we need to stop wishing things will ‘go back to normal’, and instead build a future which works for everyone.
It’s overwhelming to think about – the ‘normal’ we relied upon before the pandemic was based upon the way humans have lived, worked and functioned for centuries. But just because something is well-established doesn’t mean it’s not systemically flawed.
In fact, the idea that things should ‘go back to normal’ as soon as the coronavirus pandemic is over is deeply problematic. Why? Because the ‘normal’ we had before lockdown was not only damaging to people and the planet, it was rife with inequality.
For example, a public health England report concluded at the beginning of June that people from BAME backgrounds were more likely to die with Covid-19, with the risk of death for people from Bangladeshi backgrounds twice that of white British people. A follow up review to that report (which has still not been published by the government, apparently for fear of stoking tensions around race and racism after George Floyd’s death) obtained by Sky News, found that “racism, discrimination and social inequalities” were to blame for the disproportionate impact Covid-19 is having on people from BAME communities.
And that’s not forgetting research from the Fawcett Society published last month which confirmed that the coronavirus crisis has had a greater financial and psychological impact on BAME women than white women.
Gender inequalities have also been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. For starters, the number of women experiencing domestic abuse has greatly increased during the lockdown; according to a survey by Women’s Aid, 67% of survivors who are currently experiencing abuse say it has gotten worse since Covid-19, with over three-quarters (78%) reporting that the pandemic has made it harder for them to leave their abuser.
The gender gap in mental wellbeing has also widened under lockdown, with one third of women in the UK saying they have struggled with loneliness over the last couple of months, compared to 23% of men. Women were also one of the three groups who the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicted would be hit hardest by the coronavirus shutdown of businesses, alongside low earners and young people.
And that’s not forgetting the experience of people with disabilities throughout the pandemic – research from the Office of National Statistics released at the beginning of the lockdown found that nearly two-thirds of disabled people said coronavirus-related concerns were affecting their wellbeing, from loneliness and problems at work, to worsening mental health. And according to a recent report published by the Fawcett Society, 63% of women with disabilities have struggled to access what they need from the shops during the pandemic, with six in 10 also fearing missing out on medicines.
The crux of all of this? The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t created all of these problems – it’s exacerbated inequalities which already exist.
I’m not saying we can’t wish for the return of some of the things we enjoyed pre-pandemic – I, like many people, can’t wait for the day when I can hug my friends and family again. But what I am saying is we have an opportunity to make real, tangible change – so that our new ‘normal’ is one that works to support people of all races, genders, abilities, sexual orientations, religious identities and economic statuses.
I’m not the only one who feels this way – a new YouGov poll published this week revealed that 31% of the public want to see big changes in the way the economy is run coming out of the crisis, with 28% saying they want moderate changes. 49% also said they thought the crisis had made inequality worse.
So what might those big changes look like? There’s already been some suggestions, such as a new campaign by trade unions, business groups and religious and civic leaders which is calling for an economic recovery that provides more funding for the NHS and social care, tackles inequality, creates good jobs – particularly for young people – and reduces the risk of future pandemics and climate emergencies, according to The Guardian.
No matter what our new ‘normal’ might look like, one thing’s for sure: as lockdown eases and the UK begins to recover from the coronavirus crisis, it’s our responsibility to use our voices to call for a better, fairer and greener future which provides for more than just a select few.
The pandemic has proven that change – both in terms of government funding and public behaviour – is possible. So next time you go to wish for life to ‘go back to normal,’ ask yourself this: is ‘normal’ the best we can do?