Introduction: When the singing stops

Nick Lowles - 03 07 20

The last six months has probably been the most turbulent of modern times. The coronavirus pandemic has swept across the globe, while the murder of George Floyd has brought millions onto the streets and forced organisations and countries to face up to institutional racism.

The Covid-19 statistics are frightening. At least 11 million people have been infected. Over 520,000 have died. Worse, the virus is picking up pace. Almost 200,000 a day are now testing positive, and the virus spreading fast in countries with limited healthcare systems and more fragile economies.

Covid-19 has also devastated the world economy. The International Monetary Fund estimates the virus will cost the world £9.6 trillion, the biggest hit since the Great Depression. Hundreds of millions are predicted to lose their jobs and go hungry.

In the UK we are only just beginning to feel the true economic impact of Covid-19. As the economy reopens and Government support is lifted, we will start glimpsing a massive rise in unemployment and understand the economic carnage the virus has wrought.

Black and Asian communities have been adversely affected, with statistics showing they are four times as likely to die from the virus as their white counterparts. Many in low-paid industries have been designated as key workers and forced to work through the lockdown, often with poor protection.

At the same time, we have witnessed a massive surge in social solidarity. Our polling has found that 55% of us have taken part in the Thursday night clap for the NHS, and an even bigger number recognise the importance of “community” and helping others. Encouragingly, the polling also saw much more positive attitudes to supposedly lower-skilled workers and migrants.

The outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter protests, shows how rapidly events can turn and how many – especially the young – can be mobilised around progressive issues.

However, tougher times lie ahead. The rollback of financial support for the economy will reveal the virus’ true impact. Unemployment looks set to surge past three million, back to levels last seen in the 1980s. Foodbanks are at an all-time high, while millions will struggle to pay their rent and mortgages.

Increased economic insecurity often leads to growing fear and hate. The huge growth in conspiracy theory belief during the lockdown, as highlighted in this magazine, reveals the disturbing appetite for conspiratorial and right-wing propaganda.

While the death of George Floyd has rightly forced us all to address racism in society, there is also a right-wing cultural backlash which will resonate with a large minority. Internationally, President Trump is doubling down on his racist narrative and authoritarian regimes are using the pandemic as a cover to increase surveillance and crack down on dissent.

It is too early to tell what societal change will come out of the pandemic. Will we have a 1945 moment, when British people demanded a better world to come out of the war, or is this akin to 1929, when the economic crash led to the rise of Nazism and eventually the Second World War?

What is certain is that good will only come out of this pandemic if we all fight to make it happen. HOPE not hate is ready and willing to play its part.


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