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Re-imagining a better kind of society

  • 12 May 2020
One of the things that has struck me during this pandemic is how clearly it has highlighted the precarity of the lives we lead. Obviously, this includes our actual lives — especially in places where the rates of infection and the death toll are still rising exponentially. But it also includes so many other things we often take for granted — our jobs, our homes, our way of life.

But just as the frighteningly precarious nature of our lives has been thoroughly exposed, so too has the inequality of it all. Even in a pandemic, we aren’t all suffering equally. Across the globe, the lowest paid communities are dying the fastest, in addition to falling further into poverty. And lockdown is markedly different for those of us living in comfortable homes, as compared to those confined to tiny apartments or informal settlements. Even in a pandemic, structures of privilege continue to operate.

As I contemplate these realities, a number of things occur to me.

First, in many ways this is a high-speed test run for so many of the issues we are facing due to climate change. People are already dying from the impacts of climate change. And people are already losing their livelihoods, their homes, and their way of life. But this will continue, because we have accepted this human sacrifice in order to protect ‘the economy’ and our own way of life.

Second, it doesn’t have to be this way. We are capable of fundamentally rethinking significant aspects of our property and labour systems overnight. We can impose a moratorium on evictions, double jobseeker, and introduce a whole new scheme for basic income protection. The choice to lift people out of poverty and to prevent homelessness has always been there.

Third, the current push to get back to ‘normal life’ as quickly as possible includes continuing to accept the ecological (and related human) cost of climate change, as well as rapidly discarding the barely nascent social safety nets that have been introduced to reduce the unnecessary suffering caused by unemployment and housing unaffordability.

'There are so many systems that do not serve (the majority of) us well, but which we have accepted as immutable for too long.'

Is this really what we want?

Throughout human history, periods of upheaval have led people to question the fairness of their social order. After the plague — or ‘Black Death’ — reduced the English population by half, from around