Peter Holbrook is Chief Executive at Social Enterprise UK
This crisis has no sharp edges, it permeates into every aspect of human life and it really does change everything.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the United Nations set up a commission on Human Rights that drafted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted in 1948.
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family”
The quotation comes from Article 25 of the declaration which specifically references every citizens’ right to food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services. It also decrees the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond the individual’s control.
Whilst the declaration remains a remarkable milestone in human history; never before had an attempt been made to specify the moral economic entitlement of all human beings, 62 years on, those hopes, and dreams remain, for many just that. In the midst of this crisis, achieving that ambition looks ever-more distant, despite the unprecedented international response and emergency borrowing to back that up.
Today we are faced with severe and ongoing economic upheaval and years of subsequent readjustment. The economic consequences of COVID-19 have the potential to claim many more victims than the pathological infection alone and this crisis also lays bare the fragile nature of our economies, public services and the inherent and growing interdependencies that exist between and across communities and nations and the globalised economy with its complex supply chains.
It also begs the question; if we can mobilise, invest in the face of this crisis, what does it teach us about our ability to mobilise, organise and prioritise in the face of other issues too.
If inequality or climate change had the ability to threaten their own consequences with such random and quick spreading infection, then just imagine what else we might be motivated to achieve?
We could progress all the road repairs and public works required over the coming months whilst everything is shut down, we could properly explore universal incomes not just an expansion to universal credit, we should ask ourselves why tax-exiled, international corporations, historically distributing billions to private owners, still look to domestic governments for bail outs and special treatments. This should provoke and will provoke big questions about using tech in the workplace, but let’s not lose focus either on what this tells us about the world, the nature of vulnerability and social inequity, and the speed at which it s possible to change things and dramatically so.
I’d like to thank the team at SEUK who did us all proud, they were fast to respond and their pace and quality of dissemination of practical information and support, briefings and engagement to and with government and building a sense of peer community support was put simply, best in class.
The work doesn’t stop, it’s great that we have both opportunities to access government backed business support and will have access to loan holidays, overdrafts and some other emergency grants, however we know this emerging landscape will be challenging to navigate and probably bureaucratic to access. We’re here to help and support you and rely on your engagement to further that sense of mutuality, peer support and sector voice.
Alongside some speedy and we hope helpful content, we are lobbying directly across government for their intervention to be simple, swift and substantial whilst raising specific issues relating to different sectors and issues, for example; how best to reinforce and protect our social care workforce, in order that it doesn’t collapse, and inevitably apply unnecessary and unsustainable pressure onto an already overwhelmed NHS.
We also know some of you will have seen income and future bookings disappear overnight; venues closed; loyal workforces dissipated through self-isolation, home working or even redundancy. Please look after yourselves, your teams, your beneficiaries, and please look to each other for inspiration, mutual support and good ideas. We’re here to add value and to help amplify your voice.
Like you, we continue to ponder what this means for us and for how long. In this period of social distancing please stay in contact with us and each other, we intend to see the opportunities ahead not only help the sector tackle the imminent and immediate problems.
We must not forget that when we come to reflect and rebuild, we can use this crisis as an opportunity to design in the dreams and ambitions cited in the UN Human Rights Declaration agreed generations ago. We can re-build an economy that addresses not only the evident weaknesses and disparities that we see, but also that more effectively address the issues of climate change, structural inequity, deficient democracies and marginalized citizen voice. We can learn so much from this pandemic if we choose to. We can see that change can be immediate and quickly organised – here is the evidence we can rebuild better economies, adapt systems and structures towards inclusive, fair and healthy economics – ultimately making good on that 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. Lets remember in times of crisis we tend to re-position every institution, every business, every decision toward those immediate priorities; lets do the same with climate change; human trafficking; poverty. When we come out of the other side of this crisis, let’s not lose the opportunity to learn from it and mobilise against those other threats too.