‘When this is all over’ has to be one of the most over-used phrases of the Coronavirus pandemic. But will it, in fact, ever be over? Maybe this is a very sudden but quite short-lived shock. But it seems much more likely that Coronavirus will have lasting long-term effects that leave our economy and society so fundamentally changed that we won’t ever return to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’.
There are, of course, numerous unknowns. We don’t yet understand enough about the disease. The scale and longevity of its impact on the economy is unclear. We do not know how public priorities and individual behaviours will be reshaped. But we can look at how economies have responded to previous shocks. We can be pretty sure that the most vulnerable will be among the hardest hit. And we can expect to encounter significant public policy challenges as we try to recover from the pandemic.
The Wales Centre for Public Policy at Cardiff University provides independent evidence and analysis to help inform the decisions made by public service leaders, Welsh Government ministers and other policy makers. Over the next month we are publishing a series of blogs that look at different facets of the Coronavirus pandemic and some of the approaches that policy makers could adopt to support an environmentally sustainable economic and social recovery from it.
All the evidence points to the importance of creating a dynamic, innovative and inclusive economy to generate good work and underpin investment in public services and welfare support. We know that policies to stimulate economic recovery will need to reflect significant regional differences within Wales. Tourism, hospitality, leisure, aerospace, and automotive industries are major employers in many parts of the country and could be slow to bounce back from the pandemic. This will hit coastal towns and some rural communities hard. Wales also has large numbers of micro-business and SMEs which may be less able to weather the economic downturn than larger firms. Younger people and those with low skills will be particularly vulnerable to unemployment and underemployment, and there is a lot that policy makers in Wales can do to help facilitate job progression out of low paid, insecure jobs.
A guiding principle of ‘building back better’ is that any recovery must be based on green growth so that we address the urgent challenges presented by the climate change emergency. Recent recoveries have been powered by fossil fuels. Tumbling oil prices could tempt us down the same path this time. Building on our work on just transitions, this blog series will take a look at ways for government to avoid this and support an economic recovery that helps us to achieve a net zero-carbon Wales.
Health and social care workers have been on the frontline in fighting the pandemic. Our series will look at Coronavirus and the costs of health. We’ll also consider how we support health and social services in future. One of the positive impacts of the pandemic has been the increased recognition of the vital roles that frontline staff play in caring for the most vulnerable people in our society. Will this lead to long-term improvements in pay and terms and conditions for care workers? And if it does how will we meet the increased costs of care? Brexit could exacerbate recruitment and retention problems. Will the pandemic make health and social care a more or less attractive career option for UK workers? More immediately, what support can we give staff to help them come to terms with the trauma of treating victims of the pandemic?
Other, often unsung, public services have played a vital role in responding to the pandemic. The crisis seems to be unlocking new ways of working and speeding up service transformation. We have seen a rapid move to some digital health services combined with the mobilisation of community capacity to support vulnerable people. During the lockdown, rough sleepers were brought into emergency accommodation and renters have been protected from evictions. Our blog series will consider what long-term provision for vulnerable groups might look like as these emergency measures are wound down. We’ll also explore whether we are witnessing a long-term shift in levels of civic engagement and how to sustain capacity in local government at a time when public finances will, inevitably, be stretched. And we’ll consider the role of ‘policy entrepreneurs’ in generating new policy ideas.
At this stage, there aren’t any definitive answers. But it is important that emerging policy responses to the pandemic are informed by the evidence, from around the world, about the best ways to mitigate the immediate and long-term risks, and take advantage of the opportunities to reshape our economy and society so that we come out of the current crisis fit for the future.
The next blog in our ‘When this is all over: Recovering from Coronavirus’ series will look at the effects of the pandemic for Brexit and the Welsh economy and will be published on Weds 27th May.