Analysis Politics

Covid-19: 'Build back better' or back to normal?

Governments across the world face the question of whether they should return to a pre-pandemic state or strive for something 'better'

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Image Credit: Adam Schultz

It is generally accepted that the Western world has already faced the worst of the Covid pandemic given that there is a vaccine being distributed and societies are re-opening. Therefore, there has been a shift in the political world from enacting policies to prevent the spread of Covid, to re-building what was lost to the virus. Whilst there is emphasis on re-building, there is an underlying debate: do we try to go back to normal, or do we strive for something better?

After losing so much during the last year and a half, it wasn’t uncommon to hear people say ‘I just want to go back to normal.’ For so long, February 2020 seemed ideal to so many: they would have their jobs back, their day-to-day lives back, and their family members back. Whilst it is impossible to hit a switch to return to two years ago, there have been some movements in government to return us to our pre-pandemic state.

Recently, the government reduced Universal Credit payments back to pre-pandemic levels. There will be a weekly drop of £20 for everyone on Universal Credit as the amount added as part of Sunak’s budgetary measures announced in March 2020 to help people deal with the economic hardships faced during the pandemic. Although there was opposition to the government for this move because it would prove hugely detrimental to those who receive Universal Credit, it went ahead with the government citing that it will have cost the UK £9 billion by the time it is repealed.

This is not only indicative of the government’s welfare and benefits policy, but their intention to return to a pre-pandemic state. Universal Credit was introduced by David Cameron’s coalition government and has seen continued support by Conservatives under Theresa May and now Boris Johnson. It makes it clear that some policies, specifically those which were curated by Conservative governments past, must return to their original state, as if unchanged.

Political parties also appear to be picking up on the want for something better, similar to that which occurred post-war in the 1940s and 1950s. The government’s first major policy initiative is an ambitious solution to the constant problem of social care in the UK. After care homes and social care became a significant part of the pandemic and after allegations that the government failed to form a ‘protective ring’ around them as Matt Hancock promised, it is unsurprising that social care is the first reform they have introduced. They want to mark a change, not only to the pattern of their legislation by doing something dramatic and unrelated to Covid, but by doing something that no prior Conservative government did.

This does not come without a price, the increase in National Insurance to pay for it was unpopular, especially among young people who will have to pay the most and who the social care policy has minimal effect on. But the government will hope that the price won’t matter in the long-term because this will be a solution which is looked upon as being revolutionary and long-standing and will therefore cement the idea that the government did indeed strive for something better post-pandemic.

This is not just something happening in the UK — the tagline ‘Build Back Better’ is being used across the world. In the US, Biden has introduced bills which include policies unlike any seen in recent US history, for example the American Rescue Plan included a child tax credit which was unprecedented, and his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan are unlike any seen in a legislative session before as not only do they invest huge sums of money in a range of industries, but they are being presented as one, under the ‘Build Back Better’ Agenda. Finally, international agreements are forming which focus on the post-pandemic landscape where countries are proving to be more co-operative than they might have been previously.

Despite the prevailing narrative that the world is in a period of economic growth, there is still the urge by many to simply hit reset. Those who resist the change because they argue that nothing has really changed, in fact many argue that because of a culmination of Brexit and the pandemic, Britain is in a far worse state than could be imagined, so getting back to where we were is necessary before going for ‘better.’ The government must now face the decision that everyone faces and ask the question, ‘what did we like doing during the pandemic that we can keep and what are we desperate to get rid of?’

Governments now have to walk the line between returning to before and turning a new page. They have to decide the extent to which they were happy with the pre-pandemic state and how much they are willing to fight for it. With the UK government facing opposition over both going back to ‘normal’ and striving for something ‘better,’ they must decide exactly what ‘better’ might look like and how to balance the desires that everyone across the country holds

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