What an “annus horriblilis”. This time last year, I was writing about the need for communities to come together after a divisive General Election. That now seems like a lifetime ago. I suspect we will be making sense of, and telling the story of, 2020, the year of the global Covid-19 pandemic, for some time. Here are two key lessons I’ve learnt:
Firstly, people are what matter. Our contact with other humans is the infrastructure that underpins our lives, our mental health, our economy. This year has fundamentally challenged that. I am lucky to have spent lockdown at home in Stalybridge with my other half and our four kids. Balancing a frantic workload, childcare and totally inferior attempts at education was tricky, but far easier than for those of us who had to go it alone. The separation of families, especially through care homes and hospital stays etc, has been incredibly painful. The value of a hug has never been greater.
Like so many, I have missed my mum and dad who I have only seen once this year, terribly, along with previously carefree pleasures like catching up with a mate over a pint in the pub. I’ve missed handing our certificates in school assemblies and attending crowded Christmas lights switch-ons. We have found new ways to connect and communicate. We have found remarkable resilience. As Mossley piano star Jon Courtenay sang in his Britain’s Got Talent winning performance, “Britain’s Talent will be that we all carry on”. But sometimes amid the speed and stresses of pre-corona modern life, it was easy to forget that our family, our friends, our community, are all that matters. We should always hold this dear.
Secondly, we’re a long way from equality, and it counts. Deprived communities -and that includes several local postcodes- have lost more lives and jobs to Covid-19 than affluent ones. Minority communities have been disproportionately affected. The North’s economy has taken repeated and ongoing blows, while the South has faired better and receive support more readily when it needed it. Along with the rest of the world, my hopes for 2021 are simple – no third wave, a smooth rollout of the vaccine, an economic recovery that saves as many jobs as possible, an eventual return to living life to the full.
But let’s not build the UK back just as it was. Just as it was flawed, unfair and unjust. What postcode you’re born in should no longer determine what sort of job career you might have, or what exam results an algorithm generates for you, never mind whether you are more likely to lose your life to the next pandemic. We need to reboot Britain, with equality embedded in the new coding. We need to radically distribute power to the North, and fully understand and correct the links between poverty, housing, employment conditions and physical resilience. Let’s make 2020 the turning point for a flood of positive change. Let’s make 2021 the first chapter of a quiet revolution.