Chief Executive of Chwarae Teg,
Board Member of the Cardiff Capital Region Economic Growth Partnership
Covid-19 has been and continues to be a dreadful experience for many people across Cardiff Capital Region.
But there have also been some positive lessons we can draw from this time, and there are opportunities as we come out of it to build new businesses and better communities. There are implications too for the sort of investment decisions we make in the City Deal.
Impact is not equal
What’s been brought into very sharp focus is how the crisis is impacting differently on different groups of people. We know that the economic effects of the lockdown are having a disproportionate impact on some groups of people, who are also worse off from the years of austerity. If we’re interested in equality, then we have to think about how we try to invest differently to address that fact.
It’s a similar argument around sustainability. If we think about the type of things we want to invest in, let’s be sure they are sustainable for the long term – not just economically, that they are designed to be sustainable, to make a positive contribution, and they’re not reinforcing old, bad habits.
We’ve seen some of the worst aspects of how power operates in our economy laid bare. Work like cleaning, caring, and catering, that was always thought of as low skilled, low paid, perhaps even low value. Suddenly we are all very reliant on those things and the people who do that work. We need them to keep us safe, keep us cared for, and keep us well.
So we need to put the people who do that sort of work at the heart of the decisions we make, and that’s quite a big shift from what’s happened to date, not just here in Wales but everywhere. The people whose voices are not being heard around the table need to be heard, and as a nation we need to put our money on the things that matter most and where our values are.
Time for a new approach
In this kind of situation there can be a tendency to think, let’s get things back to normal as quickly as possible, when actually what we all need to think is, do we want to get back to the normal that we had, because some of the structures that existed have been really damaging. We can see that in sharp focus now in terms of people with poor health, and poor access to the labour market.
In the past our approach to economic development has been dominated by the familiar statistics. We measured GDP, we measured GVA, but we didn’t measure people’s wellbeing. We’ve thought about investing in physical infrastructure, but what about our social infrastructure?
We need to start thinking about things in a different way, like how would you stimulate the economy to shape it the way we want, so we’re not so reliant on some frankly unsustainable and precarious industries. That’s quite a big shift.
Often in crises long-term thinking can be thought of as a bit of a luxury, even when it comes to tackling critical issues. But for those of us who are in a position of influence, we need to use that privilege and think long term. It’s our responsibility to make sure we’re diligent in doing that.
This should be a massive opportunity to get people who’ve been locked out of the labour market previously into work. Disabled people, for example, have extremely low rates of employment. With lots of organisations switching to remote and off-site working, that should enable us to recruit much more diverse people into our places of work, which has to be good for everybody.
We must reinforce some of those positive things that we’ve learnt, so we can have a positive impact on the environment, the economy and our communities. Let that be the legacy of Covid-19.