This post might be a little UK-centric as that is the context that I’m operating in. But I suspect that some of the themes will resonate…
Many people have written or tweeted or posted about how the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted inequalities in our societies right at a time when we all need better support and community cohesion, and how some are being left behind because they cannot access services or support. Key examples are the challenges families have had with home schooling where, quite reasonably, schools have been putting lessons online for parents and children to access, but at home there is perhaps one smart phone for a family to use to access all the educational needs of their children. Or no internet access at all. These children have been left behind. Equally, older people who do not use internet shopping or video calling have found themselves increasingly isolated. Those small community shops where debit or credit cards are not accepted and have, until now, been only accepting cash. Delayed routine healthcare appointments, diagnoses or procedures that are resulting in shorter lifespans or reduced life expectancy. Increased job losses, some of which won’t come back again as the shape of the economy evolves to respond to the recession.
The new pivot point for social impact and indeed for social cohesion is access. Access to healthcare, access to welfare support, access to education, access to employment, access to technology, access to knowledge and information. Basically, access to anything. Central to this challenge is our attitude towards access as a concept. Do we:
- Insist that everyone has access to all services and support regardless?
- Require access to only the basic services and support?
- Require paid access to services and support?
- Limit access on some other basis?
And who decides this?
We need to ask ourselves, what are we as a society prepared to pay for or live with? Do we want the kind of society where everyone is able to be the best versions of themselves that they can be and that this is paid for somehow centrally, locally, through taxes or service charges? Or do we want the kind of society where access is limited and dependant on certain qualifications? Or even variations on both positions – a sort of blended approach? And what can we or should we aim to afford both socially and politically?
We already know that community mobilisation as envisaged in the ‘Big Society’ ideology doesn’t work because donors and philanthropists simply don’t pick up the tab left behind by governments cutting services. Generally ideological approaches to social issues result in less-than ideal outcomes for everyone and a challenge has to be identifying a way forward that is both apolitical (in that a political consensus can be reached that places society and social provision outside of party politics and their manifestos) and non-ideological so that we can all rub along together and be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.
The UK needs a national conversation on the kind of country it wants to be post-Brexit, post-Covid, post-recession, and it needs that conversation urgently. Otherwise division within our society will continue to get more extreme and any pretence at social cohesion will be lost forever.
What about where you live? Does your country afford access to services and support? What model does your country use? What would you like to see happen?