I was wondering this weekend about whether we could have an assembly that didn’t mention lockdown or coronavirus. Bother – I have already scuppered that. It is hardly surprising; it has, quite understandably dominated our lives and turned them upside down in a very short period of time. But perhaps today, instead of dwelling on the trials of the present, I might lay down a few thoughts about the future. It helps to be an optimist, of course, but I can’t help but think that we have an almost unique opportunity to make the world a better place on the back of this terrible situation. So here are some schemes already up and running; and a few wishes for the future, in no particular order:
Using spare hotel capacity, mostly, about five and a half thousand rough sleepers, which is over 90% of those known to local councils, have been offered safe accommodation in just under a month. Eighty rooms in an East London hotel have even been transformed by an NHS homeless outreach team and Médecins Sans Frontières into the UK’s only treatment centre for rough sleepers with coronavirus. We can do it in a crisis. But can we capitalise upon this post-coronavirus?
Gun crime in London has dropped 51% since the same time last year, muggings by 63%, stabbings by 69%. Yesterday’s Times reported that, based on a strategy used to rehabilitate gang members in Chicago, the Met Police has seized the opportunity to make visits to a thousand of the most prolific violent offenders and to sit and talk to them, to try to re-educate them and help them to understand that there is another way for them, as being demonstrated by this crisis. Can we capitalise on this?
The BBC reports that we are living through the biggest carbon crash ever recorded. No war, no recession, no previous pandemic has had such a dramatic impact on emissions of CO2 over the past century as Covid-19 has had in a few short months. The wildlife is amazing at the moment, as anyone who has gone for a bike ride at 6.00am into the countryside can tell you.
Do businessmen really need to fly to Mumbai for a single meeting? Do you really need to drive to school? In Greater Manchester there have been 179,000 daily journeys by bike since lockdown – this would have filled 1,826 buses every day. This is only half the story, of course, as there is a long way to go, but can we not capitalise on this?
Fitness and health
Joe Wicks – need I say more?
Very many people have never been as fit as this before. Internet searches for vegetable growing have tripled since the lockdown. Figures released by the NHS last year revealed that almost a third of adults in the UK were obese, and almost two-thirds were either overweight or obese. Might we find a way out of this problem?
Friendships and kindness
The extraordinary use of Zoom and Teams and other such platforms, combined (for many) with an increase in available time, has enabled people to get in touch with old friends as never before. People have remembered to stay in touch regularly with elderly relatives, too, and to care for them if even remotely. 750,000 people signed up to volunteer for the NHS in four days when the crisis began. There have been literally countless random acts of wonderful kindness. Can we remember what this feels like when the crisis passes?
The Guardian reported last year that the top 1% of earners in the UK now account for more than a third of income tax paid to the government, following changes over the past decade that have left almost half the population exempt from making payments. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said above-inflation increases in the personal allowance to £12,500 a year meant 42% of adults paid no income tax.
This extreme lack of equality is a very serious long-term worry. But for the moment, I am not sure that taxing the wealthy out of existence is the right way – we must, like it or not, keep that 1% in the UK or the whole welfare system risks collapse. However, I do hope that all of the wealthy can instead be encouraged to use their money for charitable purposes more willingly and even more lavishly than they already do; this way, everybody wins – both the vulnerable, though greater finances, and the wealthy, who will enjoy their wealth that much more for giving it away with greater choice of cause. It seems to me that the Times Giving List would be a much more powerful celebration of a magazine than the Times Rich List.
There are many more areas that you can think of, I am sure, that this crisis could influence for the better if we choose to bottle our current feelings, expand some of these initiatives and show renewed determination to act on them in the years to come. Maybe you could think of some more with your tutors in the coming week?
The good news is that you boys today, and your peers, in my experience, and for the most part, care deeply about equality, social justice and the environment. Children may represent 20% of our population, but they also represent 100% of our future. Personally, I think we are in good hands.