“How do we prepare and give confidence to our teenagers today,
who are facing climate change, the fracturing of international bonds
and… pandemics and climate change? How do we build resilience?”
— Renew Normal contributor, female, 70s, South East
In November, we conducted a nationally representative poll – to see how significantly Covid-19 had changed our perspectives on how we live in the UK. We found that around a quarter of people had changed their minds across four key metrics: what’s important in life, what’s important in our society, how we should run the economy, and how we should run public services. This is a major shift in how we view some of the biggest questions facing us as a society. When 1 in 4 people change their minds in the course of a single year, the government should sit up and take notice.
The future we expected in January 2020 is not going to happen. We need to start planning for the future we now want.
There is a real opportunity after this crisis to shift the focus about what the government means by levelling up. The agenda to narrow the gap between poorer, northern towns and richer places in the South East remains important. But as we emerge from the crisis, it’s clear we need a much more comprehensive approach, if we are to make Britain stronger and more resilient.
Click the dots below to see what a comprehensive approach should include.
Levelling up wellbeing – through investment
in green space and more flexible working.
Levelling up social capital – through a community
development programme and support for volunteering.
Levelling up health – with a focus on
poverty reduction, obesity, and healthcare access.
Levelling up for left behind workers – with
a higher minimum wage, strengthened employment
rights and a stronger welfare safety net.
Levelling up for left behind groups – fulfilling commitments
on racial equality and support for disabled people.
Levelling up digital access – with a combination
of infrastructure and skills investment.
The pandemic has proved beyond all doubt that community networks are a vital component of national resilience. National shielding support schemes, test and trace, and volunteering programmes were regularly out-performed by their local counterparts. Hyper-local community efforts delivered not just direct aid, but a national morale boost, too.
And yet, we have also seen that there are still proportions of the population who know almost no-one in their neighbourhood, and that loneliness has increased for millions. There is an increase in the demands for the state to support individuals where neighbours and communities had not organised to do so. We need to fill these gaps in social capital, as part of the wider ‘levelling up’ agenda.
Over the last year, we’ve seen an unprecedented shift of our lives online. And while it hasn’t been perfect, and we can expect to see some return to offline working, socialising and shopping once restrictions are fully lifted, the simple reality is that we are not going back to how things were before.
The policy agenda needs to urgently focus on three things:
Our economy and society were under pressure long before the pandemic. High streets were suffering as shopping moved online. Cities were growing and towns were dwindling. There were wide variations in access to green space and community buildings, and our public transport networks were overcrowded and in need of investment. The plans we develop to tackle them can and must feed into the wider policy agenda for post-Covid renewal: