This crisis is a global turning point. The UK and the world will not be the same after Covid19. Loved ones lost, livelihoods collapsed, economies shrunk, debts rising, air cleaner, CO2 emissions lower and nature creeping into urban streets. Unless a vaccine is found, and Covid-19 eradicated the virus will lurk for years and flare up suddenly again and again. Physical distancing will create new social norms. Life will not be the same. How it changes is, in part, up to us.

Covid19 is a visible, painful crisis that raced across the world like wildfire. It foreshadows slower, bigger and more menacing multiple crises of global climate change, loss of biodiversity and accumulating pollutants. Covid is a warning that we must prepare for greater dangers looming over the horizon.

Covid has also brought many urgent social problems and inequalities to the fore. Poor, black and ethnic minorities are being hit much harder than more affluent groups, as highlighted recently by 'Health Equity in England: the Marmot review 10 years on'.  Children, women and a few men have suffered abuse during the lockdown.

We need to make Britain better by containing the disease and healing the underlying social, economic and environmental problems revealed by the crisis.

So what can we do now to make our world better after the crisis?

Every crisis is a turning point. Decisions by people in power, opportunists and others set new directions for society. After the plague killed 30 - 60% of people during the 14th-century wages soared, and the feudal system declined. After the first world war in 1918, flawed decisions by victorious governments created the Great Depressions and conditions for world war two. But during the 1930s, the policy consensus was formed, which resulted in the NHS and the welfare state. After the financial crash in 2007/8, many governments strengthened the banks, weakened public services and cut social security, making society more vulnerable. These are simplifications of myriad decisions and complex dynamics. The point is that crisis creates change, creates opportunities and people determine the direction of change.

Time to prepare for life after Covid19

Many people are preparing for life after Covid19. Airlines and aircraft manufacturers are making redundancies. Online stores and delivery companies are recruiting. Neighbours are strengthening community support networks. Governments are planning how to end the lockdown, restore the economy and pay off the debt. Fund managers are looking for new opportunities to invest your savings, pension funds and insurance premiums.

Caption: IMF predictions for economic growth  Source: Visual Capitalist

This map shows the International Monetary Fund's predictions for economies across the world after Covid19. Poor people are being hit hardest, but fund managers will find post-pandemic opportunities among the ruins. Governments and citizens have a responsibility to look after people left behind and ensure that investments are environmentally and socially responsible.

1.  What can ordinary citizens like us do?

The first thing is to understand what is happening: what are the dangers and opportunities to create a better future?

Understanding what is happening is difficult because we naturally see the world through our own preconceptions. In turbulent times it helps to seek reliable witnesses with different points of view. These include the Economist, Guardian, the Fianancial Times, New York Times, Open Democracy, African Arguments, Aljazeera, The Diplomat and partners, World Economic Forum, as well as networks of researchers, thinktanks and policymaking institutions like the Scottish Policy and Research Exchange. They have different perspectives but share a commitment to telling the truth as they see it, checking evidence and deepening understanding to inform policy and action.

The Local Government Association provides advice and guidance to local councils. Global service provider Mayer Brown set up portal with "dynamic, agile and informed advice" for business to deal with the crisis and prepare for the aftermath.  We, the electorate, need something similar.

We encourage people to share information and analysis about what's happening through our Facebook group.

2. Join the dots and build a movement   

The second thing we can do is connect with other people working for a better future, such as

And many more, not to mention thousands of local groups, helping neighbours, running foodbanks, making scrubs, hosting virtual People's Assemblies and a groundswell of bottom-up community action.

We are listing as many projects as possible on our resources page, to encourage people to connect and build a movement for change: please post links to organisations on our Britain Beyond Covid Facebook page. If you don't use Facebook please use our contact page to send us the links you would like us to add.

3. Develop a shared agenda for action

Third, work out your priorities for action. The crisis is an opportunity for everyone who wants to change society to promote their solutions. This may or may not be their moment. As citizens, we need to discuss each proposal to clarify priorities and set short, medium and long-term objectives to make Britain better.

There is evidently a widespread movement for change, it is diverse, and people will have different priorities, we need to look for opportunities to build broad alliances just as people did in the 1930s  Some of the many strands for a new agenda are emerging, for a healthier, cleaner, more equal, democratic and resilient society include:

  1. Elevate key workers: recognise the vital role of frontline staff in health, social care, transport, agriculture and emergency and essential services by ensuring a minimum keyworker wage, at least 20% above the living wage.
  2. Make health, social care and wellbeing a national priority, integrated with public health and muchg stronger and well funded local resilience forums, and create a national strategy to end health inequalities.
  3. No return to austerity: cancel unpayable debt and give the Bank of England authority to provide direct monetary financing to cover the cost of the crisis and the recovery, overseen by the Monetary Policy Committee to avoid inflation and an all-party committee of MPs to ensure broad cross party support as well as public scrutiny.
  4. Banish poverty: create an emergency basic income scheme for the self-employed, then develop universal basic income to provide economic security for all (petition UK Parliament here)
  5. Tackle climate change – by decarbomsing our economy and investing in greener technologies to created good quality sustainable jobs
  6. Create a sustainable work-life balance, through reduced working hours, flexible working, job sharing and recognition of unpaid caring, voluntary work and civic roles.
  7. Create a new legal framework for companies to uphold social and environmental responsibilities, requiring reliable transparent reporting, ensuring worker representation in decision-making, and encouraging cooperative, mutual and community enterprises through the tax and financial system 
  8. Shift economic incentives to promote sectors that protect people and the environment, such as clean energy, sustainable construction, the arts etc., and decommission harmful sectors, such oil, gas, mining, arms production, advertising, non-recyclable plastics, etc. End subsidies for fossil fuels, airlines, arms exports and unsustainable industries.
  9. Transform our towns and cities, to cut air pollution, increase green spaces and biodiversity, improve housing, strengthen local economies and reduce car traffic.   
  10. Transform farming to sustainable agriculture based on biodiversity conservation and more local food production, reducing food miles, use of fossil fuels and pesticides.
  11. Shift defence priorities to the major threats of climate chaos, disease and conflict within countries, emphasising peacebuilding, conflict resolution and arms reduction over military spending.
  12. Strengthen local democracy so that people have more control over what happens in their area, have more control over raising revenue and their local economy
  13. Make global cooperation and governance more effective, equitable, accountable and transparent within a framework of world law and the core values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility agreed at the UN Millennium Summit  

At some point we will see whether it is better to focus on a few core principles and three or four top priorities, or to draw up a manifesto with more detail about what needs to be done when by whom. Ian Burbidge of the RSA has developed a useful matrix to help distinguish between one-off crisis actions and interventions with longer-term potential, and between innovations resulting from new activities and those enabled by putting a hold on business and bureaucracy as usual.

Covid19 or another pandemic disease could suddenly appear anywhere in the world and spread rapidly across continents. No one is safe until everyone has essential health systems at a local level, a sustainable environment and effective international response to any outbreak of disease.

The important thing is to discuss, develop and focus on priorities for action while building a broader movement to make Britain better.

4. Develop the power to act

The fourth thing ordinary citizens like we can do is to develop the power to get action on our priorities. This will not be easy. It is worth reflecting on the fate of reform movements after previous crisis.

Address people's immediate needs, by uprating welfare benefits, ending the benefit cap and two-child limit, controlling rents, supporting social care, providing mental health care, giving every child what they need to learn, ending homelessness, tackling domestic violence, supporting local resilience, giving asylum seekers temporary leave to remain, abolish the NHS surcharge for overseas workers in key roles.  

Create local virtual forums for people to connect and share ideas about immediate needs and next steps in their own area, such as the Faversham People's Assembly,  Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, One Walsall Virtual Forum

Create virtual national forums and a citizens' convention to pull together and scrutinise proposals for Britain after the crisis.  Chris Creegan proposed a Crisis Recovery Commission for Scotland. The TUC proposed a tripart' national recovery council' for the UK. French MP's have already set up an online forum for people to contribute to a consultation on the Jour d'Apres, the Day After, setting out 11 themes for discussion.

After the financial crash citizens' movements across the world challenged political priorities. Occupy camps set up in many cities. Radical movements challenged mainstream parties on the streets and at the polls, such as the Five Star movement in Italy, Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece and the Pirate Party in Iceland. Some even won seats and power. But their influence was largely disappointing. Nationalist movements such as the Lega (Northern League) in Italy, Brexit in England, Trump's America First, Alternative for Germany, and the National Rally (National Front) in France probably gained more support as a result of the financial crash and politicians' response to it.

After the Great Depression and 2nd world war the transformation of societies through the New Deal in America and Beveridge reforms in the UK were built on years of experiment, discussion and development. The Beveridge Report was commissioned by the coalition government during the war but implemented by the Labour Party after its 1945 landslide election victory and largely accepted by the Conservative government after 1951. However, the failure to build a consensus for democratic change in the 1930s resulted in the rise of populist nationalist and fascist parties and war.

We can all take steps to build a movement behind our priorities by

  1. Support petitions on your priorities: it encourages supporters more than influencing those in power and raises awareness.
  2. Engage with elected politicians with responsibility for that issue, through WriteToThem.com, and by telephone or online surgeries.
  3. Join or support campaigns leading on your priorities and encourage them to connect with others to create a stronger movement.
  4. Join and influence a political party to adopt your priorities: major decisions are ultimately made by people who run political parties and win power by campaigning within their party, in the community and at the ballot box.
  5. Look out for an support social movements that connect people and have the potential to become a force for change, then do what you can to support it.

Many organisations will seek to lead the change after the crisis, including political parties. It is impossible to know what kind of movement will catch the public mood and change public policy. It could be -

  • A call to action, like Charter 88, which started with a letter signed by 348 people, then a newspaper advert signed by 5,000, then local meetings, and influenced the New Labour government of 1997.
  • An upstart political party, like the Referendum Party, UKIP and Brexit Party, which dramatically changed public opinion and national policy.
  • Factions within a party, like supporters of free markets who influenced Mrs Thatcher in the 1970s or the Campaign Group and more recently Momentum within the Labour Party.
  • Small, persistent pressure groups, which chipped away at laws against homosexuality until equality was enshrined in law and public policy.
  • A broad coalition like Jubilee 2000, which led to a reduction in the debt burden of the poorest countries.
  • Or it could be something new, like Greta Thunberg's school strikes for climate and Extinction Rebellion.

Movements for change take many forms, but five key features make a difference:

  1. A compelling story about the possibility for change, expressed in a few words, like Make America Great Again (Trump), Take Back Control (Brexit), Yes We Can and the Change We Need (Barak Obama), and Drop the Debt (Jubilee 2000) – behind each slogan is a story about problems that matter to people, a promise it can be solved, and a plan of action.
  2. Believable speakers for the movement, with whom people identify as being on their side.
  3. Organisation, to build a presence on the ground and in the media. 
  4. Funding, or many well-organised and motivated volunteers.
  5. Access to power, through links with members of parliament, influential lobby groups or the media, and preferably all three.

Social movements and campaigns can suddenly take off when they touch the nerves of enough people. Covid19 has made people fearful and exposed many raw nerves. All governments and parties are working out how to position themselves take advantage of this moment. If they are smart, they will listen carefully to people's concerns and identify issues which have most traction. Whether this emerging agenda touches enough people depends as much on chance as effort, but without effort there is little chance of change happening.

Creating a movement

To conclude, we can build a movement to make Britain better after this crisis, and be better prepared to tackle the bigger crises of global heating and social inequality, by

  1. Connecting with others with a shared agenda
  2. Identifying core priorities which resonate with the public and can create meaningful change
  3. Developing the power to get action on these priorities, through a pressure group, political party or other form of organisation
  4. Telling a compelling story to show why and how change is necessary

The world will not be the same after Covid19 has receded as a threat to everyone's health. Ordinary citizens can help to decide the kind of world that emerges from the crisis. Let's not leave it to chance or the big powers, but connect, decide and act to put the issues that matter to us on the public agenda.

Titus Alexander

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