In this discussion piece, which was published in the Western Mail on Saturday 9 May 2020., I argue that post coronavirus there must be no going back to austerity.  I’d be really interested in any views you have on this.  You can email me at: [email protected]


If Coronavirus has taught us anything, it is how vitally important our health and public sector services are to our communities and our wellbeing and how undervalued they have been.

We are not yet out of the crisis. In 1945 when the second world war ended, the debate about what the post war society should look like had taken hold years earlier. To win the war people needed to know there was going to be a better future. We now need to start our own citizens debate if we don’t want a return to austerity.

For three years, Brexit has divided our nations as no other issue in recent history.

Now we have the human tragedy of Coronavirus. Despite this, the pandemic is bringing people together in a way not seen since the inter war years. Our communities grow stronger and we have shown by our volunteering and generosity how we can look after and care for one another. Through weekly applause we demonstrate who the really important people in our society are.

In 1945 we won a war against fascism and now, in 2020 ,we face a different though no less devastating war, this time against the virus.  Then, the majority of the population showed they did not want a return to the old order but instead elected a radical Government which prioritised housebuilding, jobs, social welfare, the national health service and access to justice.

We now face a similar pivotal moment in our history. By 2021 our country will be as broke as we were in 1945. The trade deficit which was at £49 billion per annum is optimistically predicted to rise to over £260 billion and the national debt to increase to over £1.8 billion. We are heading to a severe economic recession as a consequence of what the Bank of England describes as the worst economic shock for several hundred years. As we slowly come out of the pandemic many companies will find much of their market has disappeared and a significant number of the 6 million furloughed workers are likely to become unemployed.

After the financial crisis in 2008 , the Government’s economic solution was to cut public spending ,cap earnings and drive down working conditions increasing job insecurity and a growth in zero hours contracts and bogus self -employment.  At the same time changes to taxation policy targeted the public tax burden at working families leading to a concentration of wealth in a smaller percentage of the population raising inequality to levels not seen for generations.

This time, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, there will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something different and to recalibrate our social and economic values. We have seen the level of support for our public sector workers and the recognition of their importance to all of us go through the roof. We stand together every Thursday evening and applaud their work, their sacrifice and the risks they take to keep us safe. We applaud the care workers who look after our parents and the elderly, the bin men, the bus drivers ,our teachers and social workers. In fact all those who make up our vital and essential public sector. We do this because we know that our lives and well being depends on the success of those very services.

This time we need radical change and no return to austerity . We will need an international economic Marshall plan to kick start the world economies.

Domestically there must be a new financial formula for funding the regions and nations of the UK based on need with the object of increasing social equality. To eliminate poverty our dysfunctional benefits system will need to be overhauled and replaced with a system that guarantees a minimum income.  No one in the health and care sector should be paid less than at least the real living wage. We cannot expect any of our public sector workers to be rewarded for their sacrifices during the pandemic with anything less.
We will need a fairer taxation system based on the ability to pay and wealth . Graduated higher rates of tax from 50% rising to 75% for the wealthiest and a new tax on wealth will be necessary . Corporate tax avoidance estimated at over £30 billion a year must be eliminated. Social care such as the care home sector is proving increasingly unsustainable and should be brought back into the public or not for profit sector, and integrated with our health system.

Our future economy must be based on the principle of fair work and recognise the important role of trade unions, collective bargaining and good governance. The Welsh Government’s proposed Social Partnership Bill will be a first step but will need to be followed by radical employment law and economic reform at UK level.

Jobs must be protected , any reduction in the furlough will have to be graduated and continuing support will be necessary for many companies. Rather than a give-away of cash grants government should seek to exchange financial support for a public equity share in the businesses.

These are just a few of the changes we must consider to avoid a return to austerity. We are at a pivotal moment in our history. We must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. There must be no going back.