At the sharp end – what COVID-19 might teach us about our attitudes to the local state?
COVID-19 presents a massive challenge to all of us who live, work and care about the North. In the space of a few weeks, life has changed and we are still only at the start of what will be a difficult time both in terms of the economic, but most of all, human impact of the virus on all our lives. However, one thing has quickly become apparent in the midst of the crisis; the responsiveness of the local state.
Local Councils across the North have had to act quickly and decisively to respond to the new challenges thrown up by the virus. This has included closing schools, leisure centres and other community facilities whilst at the same time, ensuring that the most vulnerable continue to receive help and support.
Whilst decimated by austerity over the last twelve years, Councils, working closely with local partners in emergency services, civil society and the private sector have shown remarkable resilience in the face of COVID-19 and are an important reminder of just how important the local state is in helping to organise, distribute and support in a time of great need.
Despite its impact, it has been noticeable that austerity has had little political resonance, perhaps because it has gone on so long or perhaps because the idea that there is no money with which to act has become internalised as a way of working. COVID-19 changes all that because there is no other choice but to act because it is literally a matter of life and death.
In this, there is a question about the extent to which COVID-19 might shake us from our austerity stupor. There is nothing normal about COVID-19, but there again, there is nothing normal about rising levels of child poverty, widening gaps in regional economies and levels of life expectancy which are actually falling in many areas of the North. Doing policy in a time of pandemic will force us to revisit the values which underlie our economic and political system. It will require us to think again about the objectives which drive our decision-making process and in doing so, it may just help us rediscover the importance of improving human welfare as an explicit policy outcome and the value of the local state.
Director, IPPR North
27 March 2020 | Hollie Ivy