Chair of the Young Fabians, Mark Whittaker, reflects on 2020 and makes the case for collectively building a better world in 2021.
The world we live in today was unimaginable on 31 December 2019.
The story of the pandemic is very difficult to tell, because we have no shared experience of it.
Covid-19 has wildly different effects in our bodies. In a similar way, the devastation brought by the pandemic has impacted everyone in different ways.
If you work in a field that’s been paused by the pandemic or were yet to start your career, 2020 may always make you remember enforced inactivity, uncertainty and boredom.
If you’re a salaried employee who’s been working at home through the pandemic, 2020 may have brought an inability to switch off as the boundaries between home and work blurred out.
If you are a key worker, 2020 may have meant going out to work harder than ever at great risk to your health: even while everyone else was told to stay home.
And if you care for a loved one, 2020 will have been a time for huge anxiety.
Although this has felt like a time of fundamental change, the pandemic has followed the fault-lines of existing economic and health inequalities, and deepened them. In this crisis, we are not all in it together.
In Britain, the virus has hit low-paid manual workers, Black people and men of Indian and Pakistani heritage significantly harder than their office-based or White counterparts.
Beyond the immediate impacts of the virus, the pandemic has harmed the prospects of women and young people in specific ways: particularly in terms of care, education, and mental health.
In wealthier countries, many of those who were able to keep working have saved more money than in any normal year. At the same time, those who lost their jobs, or who weren’t able to navigate the flawed support systems available for self-employed people, may have lost their livelihoods and much of their income through no fault of their own.
Meanwhile the pandemic has driven everyday interaction online, accelerating the fracturing of our worldviews across virtual echo chambers.
But we have hope as 2020 comes to a close. With every month that goes by, the world gains more medical tools that work against Covid-19 thanks to health research, and these will help us return to something closer to normal before too long. Now, we can think seriously about what kind of world we want to build when the immediate crisis is over.
For the left, this means working hard to improve the lives of those around us. It means being involved in the wealth of community initiatives that have grown up in response to the pandemic, and not just engaging with politics through our social media bubbles.
It also means having the courage of our convictions, and applying them to meet the challenges of the early 2020s.
As 2020 has shown, you can build all the emergency health infrastructure you want: but if you don’t have the healthcare workers to staff it, it isn’t much help. Yet even before the pandemic, record numbers of healthcare workers were on the verge of exhaustion or leaving the sector due to overwork. Key workers across our public services and private sector all deserve better pay, conditions and training – and the resurgent trade union movement has a vital role to play here.
While the pandemic has increased poverty and deepened inequalities, the recovery must not be allowed to do the same. We must push back against anyone who proposes a fresh round of austerity. Our alternative must include more progressive taxes on accumulated wealth and land: to help us modernise our strained public services for everyone, and to invest in projects that will really level-up our country. After all, dealing with an infectious disease outbreak has taught us that what protects the most vulnerable among us, protects all of us.
The pandemic is a crisis that has swept the world regardless of political geography, and that will only end when every country is protected against coronavirus. Even as borders have tightened, we’ve received a powerful lesson in the importance of international solidarity to take on global challenges. As Britain leaves the European Union, we will need to find a new relationship with our European allies and a new place in the world. The British left must make the case for international cooperation to counter the roll-back of democracy and human rights, and to tackle climate change with the urgency it demands.
2020 has been the strangest year of my life, and perhaps of yours as well. Let’s look ahead to 2021 with hope and the conviction that we can build a better world, if we make sure our values and ideas win out.
Happy New Year!
In 2020, countless people have shown heroism as healthcare workers, activists, volunteers, educators and in many other walks of life. The Young Fabians will be publishing a selection of their stories on our Blog early in 2021.
If you’d like to tell us about a Covid hero who you know, please get in touch with our Blog Editor Emma at [email protected] and the Secretary of the Young North West Fabians Helen at [email protected] to pitch your story.
Mark Whittaker is the Chair of the Young Fabians. He tweets at @MarkWhittaker10.