A Better Society?
Posted on April 6th, 2020
By Rab Bruce’s Spider
The lock down has created a couple of interesting social reactions, one within the disabled community, and another in wider society.
As a blind man, I do my best to keep up with the sentiments expressed within the disabled community, and it’s been interesting to note that many disabled people have been pointing out that all the things they were told were simply not possible have suddenly become available now that able-bodied people are faced with restrictions on their mobility. Home working is now a major thing, as is remote learning. People are stuck in the house and cannot visit pubs and restaurants, and many disabled people are saying, "Welcome to our world. Maybe when this is over, you’ll be a bit more sympathetic to our requests for reasonable adjustments."
In wider society, many people are pointing out that it is right wing ideology which has left the various National Health Services struggling to cope with the pandemic. In England, in particular, brutal cuts over several years are causing major problems now. We’ve also seen a recognition that so-called low-skilled workers such as delivery drivers and supermarket staff are actually the people who keep the countries of the UK going, and that many of these people are the same foreign immigrants who have been so reviled by the Right Wing extremists. Naturally, the hope is that this will be recognised once the lock down has been lifted, thus creating a more equal society.
I know this is going to sound very pessimistic, but I’m afraid all these hopes are probably doomed to remain unrealised.
The disabled community will at least have precedents to point to when asking for reasonable adjustments in future, and some people will no doubt have more empathy now that they have experienced the problems for themselves, but I very much fear that far too many organisations will revert to their old ways as soon as they can.
In wider society, history has some lessons for those who think society will change. A century ago, those who had served in the armed forces during World War 1 were promised a land fit for heroes when they returned to civilian life. Instead, they came home to mass unemployment and very little, if any, support from the UK Government. This was, of course, in the tradition of such Government responses. Soldiers who were wounded during the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars were left to beg on the streets once they were of no further use to the state. A similar thing may well have happened after World War 2 had the General Election not kept the Tories out of power and paved the way for the Welfare State.
Predictions are dangerous things, but I’m prepared to say that, if the Tories remain in power, nothing will change after the pandemic. We already know Brexit is still going ahead despite calls for the transition period to be extended. Sweeping new powers have been introduced, and you can bet your last penny on the Tories watching developments in Hungary with keen interest. Of course, this being the UK, they won’t overtly proclaim a dictatorship, but we’ve already seen creeping increases in authoritarian laws, and I’m afraid I expect that to continue. They have no incentive to call another General Election any time soon, so I fully expect them to resume their policies of cutting public expenditure, no doubt blaming the vast cost of countering the pandemic as an excuse to reintroduce Austerity on an even grander scale than before. Foreign nationals will continue to be deported, Local Authorities will have their budgets slashed even further, and you can wave goodbye to the NHS in England, probably with the justification that the problems it experienced in coping with the pandemic are due to systemic failures rather than underfunding, and privatisation is the only way to go.
I hope I’m wrong making these pessimistic forecasts, but history, and the way the Tories operate don’t fill me with any feelings of hope for a better society emerging from the pandemic. What we need to remember is that those who currently hold the power, wealth and influence in the UK have a vested interest in keeping things the way they like. They may trot out slogans about all being in this together, but the reality is very different, and I’m afraid I don’t see that changing.
Of course, an independent Scotland could choose a different path, but how likely is that to actually come about? We’re going to hear "Now is not the time" over and over again because you can always find excuses not to do things, especially in politics. And, unless Nicola Sturgeon breaks away from her enthrallment to following Westminster processes, IndyRef2 is looking pretty unlikely.