The UK has never faced a major natural disaster. Unlike countries around the ring of fire, nature does not play a huge part in our town planning, government budget, or psyche. What we have discovered with Covid-19 is we are out of our depth.
Let me use the example of a tsunami. Tsunamis are caused by plate displacement. In this instance, the plate displacement is Covid-19. It has impacted our lifestyles, shopping habits, and mental health. But what is significantly more pressing is the ‘wave’ now crashing over British shores. The ‘wave’ is bringing questions, realisations, and conversations and they are all focusing on one word. Dependency. Who do we depend on? What do we depend on? Where do we depend on it from? How do we depend on it? And why do we depend on it?
Of course, if I were to truly dissect these questions, we would be here for hours. I will, instead, focus on the question of ‘where’ with three main ideas: the government, charity, and how they overlap.
Regardless of your political beliefs, you will, at some point, have depended on government run services. This increase has been reflected in the ONS July report which stated the “annually managed expenditure” (AME) for the quarter had increased by double: £10.4 billion to £23.3 billion in 2019-20. Following this, on Thursday an IMF report revealed the UK’s “aggressive” spending policy in response to COVID-19 resulted in “one of the best examples of coordinated action globally”.
But where does the state stop spending? According to HMRC, at the peak of the first lockdown a whopping 30% (8.9 million) of the working population, equivalent to the size of the capital, accessed the furlough scheme. Has it shown the population for the first time in a long time that, if it chooses to, government expenditure can have a widespread positive impact?
But where does government dependency stop and charity come in, when it may seem charity is stepping in where the government should? With the recent debacle about children’s access to food during school holidays and Jerome Mayhew, a Norfolk MP, saying “I don’t believe schools turning into branches of the welfare state during holidays is the right way to do this”, it is certainly no straightforward question.
In my opinion, this question should have been asked a lot earlier. At nine years old, I had to protest the closure of my library due to local government spending cuts. Has the coronavirus prompted us to confront questions about dependency which ultimately should have been asked during austerity?
Also on charity, Children in Need took place this year on November 13th. It supports around 20 charities in Norwich, one of which is located in Clover Hill. The Henderson Trust provides counselling sessions to young people who are at risk of exploitation. One could argue this is an example of how underfunded mental health services are – we rely on charity to provide them.
James Smith, Research Director of the Resolution Foundation, this week predicted tax raises will need to equivalent a £40 billion bill for Covid-19. If people have not yet reflected on dependency on the state during this time, they certainly will when the budget rolls round.
While I am aware this article has, in theory, only raised questions, it will be the question of dependency which will decide the outcome of the next election.