How liberals can tackle the monsters and revelations of Coronavirus

The past two months have been flavoured with fear, insecurity, and a collective sense of grief over the death and suffering of our neighbours and fellow humans. US President, John F Kennedy, inaccurately reflected in 1959, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters — one represents danger and one represents opportunity.” The danger certainly feels apparent today, but the systemic problems that crises like the Coronavirus Pandemic reveal and create are a useful starting point to building a brighter Britain. If we are going to do so, we will need to more than give our NHS staff a extra £29-a-day bonus:

1. Valuing our Carers and Key Workers

Our care staff are asked to do the socially intensive emotional labour needed to support those who are vulnerable and elderly. If they act negligently at work, it can lead to clients becoming ill, neglected, or dying. These care problems then become NHS problems. Before Coronavirus, the Government delayed and delayed and Social Care reform, but given the hardship of the last two months and the recruitment crisis that exists, a proper redress seems essential.

We also need Homes for our Heroes. Coronavirus has revealed the effect of the housing crisis hugely in rural areas. With police checks and public transport cuts, it has become much harder for key workers to reach vulnerable communities, and even harder still to recruit young key workers in urban areas to where their labour is needed. The government need to arm our Housing Associations with the funds and support they need to create new homes for our new “heroes” working on the frontline tackling Coronavirus.

2. Reforming Our Public Spaces

Coronavirus has revealed many of the problems in our public spaces. It is essential that all public spaces have the basic minimum level of hygiene for toilets and handwashing facilities and this is made a licencing condition. It is no longer acceptable for the gents to have six urinals, two cubical, and one decorative sink with a broken hand drier. Public venues cannot be allowed to continue be catalysts of illness.

Alongside this, the lack of accessible green spaces in cities has been well highlighted in this crisis. Lack of green spaces is bad for mental and physical health. Cities need to be connected to breathing space. The lack of green spaces has led to dangerous overcrowding of the few that exist. This has disproportionately affected the young and disadvantaged who are forced to live in the urban areas most remote to high-value facilities like urban parks. This shows the need to sacrifice areas of the green belt to prioritise urban corridors and green spaces within urban communities.

3. Tackling the Employment Crisis

Over one million people were made unemployed last week alone, and full employment statistics will come out later this month, but we know that thousands of businesses have shut up shop since Coronavirus, including the owners of key retail development, and air travel providers. The expendability of young people has been really apparent since this crisis began (just look at our party…). We need a huge boost to employment support services and career coaching to help equip this wave of unemployment and youth unemployment. We also need the Government to make some quite dramatic investment to support employment, this therefore is an ideal time to be prioritising Green and Inclusive economic growth – for example, by cracking on with HS2 and other green transport solutions. In mean time, Universal Basic Income is now essential to create a huge rise in poverty, and to grant Britons security and the opportunity to thrive post-lockdown.

* Huw James is a Councillor in North Somerset and a Board Member of Alliance Homes, a Housing Association based in the West of England.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Peter Martin 21st Apr '20 - 6:20am

    @ Huw @ Freddie,

    “In mean time, Universal Basic Income is now essential to create a huge rise in poverty..”

    A typo? Maybe but there is some truth in the sentence as written.

    These repeated calls for a UBI merely illustrate the extent of contradictory thinking by many in the supposedly progressive left. On the one hand we are all going to lose our jobs to robots. On the other we can’t manage to pick our own apples. We are totally reliant on imported labour.

    If the robots do take away some of the drudgery of some work, that must be a good thing. So, why not have longer holidays and a shorter working week? Why can’t we share out the necessary tasks to keep society functioning in an equitable way?

  • You can’t be bar staff or a builder or do a lot of other jobs from home. People are being put out of work by government policy. Lots more jobs and small businesses will go. The rise in anti-lockdown protests in America and elsewhere is not a right wing plot. It’s hairdressers, shop keepers and manual workers running out of money and patience.
    I don’t see many good political opportunities in making people unemployed, broke and annoyed with their governments. It’s not a recipe for positive change, it’s a recipe for finding yourself being chased out of office by angry villagers with pitchforks.

  • Glenn – those anti-lockdown “protests” are a right-wing plot funded by Betsy Devos and are the 2020 equivalent of the Tea Party. They do not reflect the majority view. Do you notice those MAGA hats and Confederate flags in those “protests”, and that all of them occur in swing states and red states?

    Fact: polling suggests that the *vast* majority of Americans support lockdown.

    Fact: American liberals and leftists hate Confederate flag and monuments – those are the symbols of hatred and racism. They will never carry them around.

  • Thomas
    I just look at the film of who’s there. They don’t look like hedge funders and bankers to me. They look like small town church going Americans. I didn’t see many confederate flags. I did see an awful lot of Stars ‘n’ Bars. Michigan is Mid West heartland USA. The problem for liberals, and I am one, is that we tend to forget that not everyone is a liberal and not everyone is in a position to sit at home on their lap top. I think that latching on to lockdown as a means of social progression and seeing it as anything other than a short term imposition is a big mistake. Purse strings and patience will snap quicker than you think. They already are. I see more people finding excuses to get out and I’ve heard more growing discontent. What I have not seen or heard is even one actual live person clapping for the NHS.

  • Correction
    I meant stars and stripes. For some reason an old Neil Young record stuck in my head.

  • Peter Hirst 21st Apr '20 - 1:15pm

    The Chinese via Confuscius seem to have their fundamentals right even if putting them into practice goes astray. Hopefully there are people who are planning how we benefit from this calamity. We need some hope not just in finishing off this pandemic but also seeing how our society will improve in a sustainable, more community focused and fairer way as a result of it.

  • Glenn – “The problem for liberals, and I am one, is that we tend to forget that not everyone is a liberal and not everyone is in a position to sit at home on their lap top. I think that latching on to lockdown as a means of social progression and seeing it as anything other than a short term imposition is a big mistake” – no, just go to Twitter and see the photos. They either bear guns or flags (leftists and liberals in America don’t wave flags on the streets). Also, it is these “protesters” who are out of touch – every polling suggests that the vast majority of Americans support lockdown and the margins are not even close even among Republican voters. It’s safe to say that the vast majority if not all of these “protesters” are Trumpists because almost all Democrats support lockdown (based on polling – only like 5-10% of Dems think that lockdown has gone too far).

    You can look up recent polling results to see how out of touch these people are. They are just a small but loud minority. The *vast* majority supports lockdown, and it’s the only thing that matters.

    Also, the US has already developed a federal exit strategy, and it is surprisingly good.

    About conservative groups backing these protests from behind, read this:

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