This little survey by the Office of National Statistics has gone unreported. But it’s worth thinking about.
There were two Questions:
How united or divided do you think Britain was before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?;
How united or divided do you think Britain will be after we have recovered from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?;
Lockdown is having a dramatic impact on the way we think about ourselves in society. Messages like “we’re all in it together” and phrases like “blitz spirit” circulate. For the moment ideological and religious differences are suppressed. How much of this is hysterical and how much genuine. Will Covid-19 make us more united and in what ways will this manifest itself when the “new normal” arrives.
Younger adults saw the largest change in their feelings of unity. For adults aged between 16 and 69 years, 19% believed Britain was united before the coronavirus, compared with 56% thinking this would be the case afterwards. For adults aged 70 or over, the change was from 28% to 59%. This suggests that lockdown has a much higher impact on the emotional response of the young than the old and that older people have a much higher sense of unity to start with.
How equal or unequal do you think Britain was before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?
How equal or unequal do you think Britain will be after we have recovered from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?
Lockdown is having some impact on how equal we feel society is. It would be interesting to see attitudes to this question among different socio-economic and religious groups. There are many of my church friends who would answer “we are all equal in the eyes of God”, many ideologues would answer similarly, but most of us define equality in terms of wealth and there doesn’t seem to be much anticipation of a levelling of wealth.
How kind or unkind do you think Britain was before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?;
How kind or unkind do you think Britain will be after we have recovered from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?
Kind is associated with benevolence and words like “indulgent, considerate, or helpful”; and “humane”.
For those aged 70 years or over the change was from 51% to 72%, suggesting that tolerance was and will be higher among the older in society.
We thought ourselves kind before lockdown but lockdown makes us more so. That over two thirds of us think we will be kind rather than unkind after what we’ve been through is touching. But as with thoughts on “unity”, we have to be cautious, it is easy for social confidence in our benevolence to recede when the outcomes of the pandemic become apparent. Will people continue to be kind when economic lockdown replaces social lockdown? Can we afford to be kind when we have little financial security?
These questions are new to the Coronavirus and the Social Impacts on Great Britain survey and were asked in the week 24th April – 3rd May. I hope that the survey will be run again to see how consistent responses are.
It is of course too early to draw conclusions but the questions that these responses throw up are interesting in themselves, especially if you work in an area where words like “unity, equality and kindness” have not been used much lately.
Pensions and unity
Pensions have always been collaborative and involved pooling. Even until 2015, the point of saving for a pension was assumed to purchase an income for life (an annuity). Pension Freedoms not only challenge that assumption, they actively promote the breakdown of pooling “From this day forward , no-one will have to buy an annuity”. But did the announcement of pension freedoms mark the high-water-mark of pension neo-liberalism? Will a post-Covid world be more interested in collective solutions where security in numbers beats aspirations to out-perform?
Pensions and equality
The current pension savings system works well for the affluent who get the majority of the tax-perks, can best benefit from pension freedoms and have easy access to advice.
Poorer people are dependent on state benefits and don’t pick up on many of them (pension credits in particular). They get a small share of the tax incentives and tend to use pension saving as a cash reservoir rather than an income for life. The self-employed – who are now mainly poor, are increasingly missing out on pensions.
The survey suggests that people will expect greater equality going forward though the results were less dramatic. It will be interesting to see if Government policy towards pension equality changes, especially with regards the treatment of pensioners who need to go into care homes
One thing that COVID-19 is breaking down , is myths around f inter-generational transfers from young to old. That the virus has so over-impacted the BAME and those in lower socio-economic groups will highlight underlying inequalities in society
The inequality of suffering from the virus is bound to ask questions about the burden of taxation and create pressure on wealth transference towards a more equal society. But it looks like we are sceptical that this will take us very far. My view is that COVID will break the camels back and we will see a juster pension taxation system going forward . We will see more money being directed towards later life care and less into wealth creation.
Pensions and kindness
There has already been a movement towards ‘financial well-being’ as a workplace benefit. The impact of COVID in the workplace is going to immediate. If we go back to work, it will be a workplace where soft-values of security and wellness are to the fore.
Savings rates are likely to increase despite higher taxes and lower bonuses and we are already seeing evidence of that. People will want to be kinder on others but also on themselves as binging is replaced by a more responsible and conservative approach to money.
Linked to kindness, we can expect to see more giving to others and a greater sense of welfare as a concept that needs promoting. I suspect that this “kindness culture” will allow Government to implement changes in the taxation system that will create greater unity and equality. We will be kind enough to tolerate these changes and this may be, in economic terms, the big shift in society from before to after.
These points are of course not exclusive to the UK!