I have been critical about the governments approach to the Covid19 crisis on the health, safety and care issues that they have been forced to address in recent weeks.
Equally, I have praised Chancellor Rishi Sunak for his handling of economic matters. His announcement this week about extending furlough was another example of him listening and responding to business.
However, we are now reaching a tipping point, where the interests of both the nations’ health and its economy will increasingly merge.
For many companies, a three-month shutdown is just about doable. I appreciate that this is a sweepingly generalised statement, but for the most part and having talked to dozens of DIB member companies, I believe it to be true.
Nonetheless, even furloughing, bounce back loans and the bonus of being able to play sports all day with your Grannie, ain’t going to change the facts that if lockdown goes into month 4, our economy is shot.
Many SMEs will throw the towel in – and by doing so millions of people will be thrown on to the dole. As much as the additional furloughing time is welcome, the fact is that the longer the lockdown is in place, the longer it will take for companies to be able to return to the same levels of income generation they were achieving prior to the crisis. For every week the lockdown stays in place, add at least a month to a company’s recovery plan.
This may be a thankless dilemma for the PM and an inexperienced cabinet to have to face. But face it they must.
That means a more honest, adult conversation about not just the implications of returning to work too early; but of returning too late.
It means a genuine debate about the short- term increase in deaths that a further spike in Coronavirus may bring as we relax lockdown measures as opposed to the longer term health and mortality impacts a lockdown beyond the Summer will result in.
It means a detailed spelling out of the cost of an economic meltdown that will most certainly come if we don’t manage to resume a semblance of normality before the end of next month- which begs the question, is it a cost we are willing to Pay? Is the prize of a reduced infection rate now worth the price of a long- term depression that will hit many millions of people for years to come? It means treating the British people like adults.
Staying at home for sustained periods, particularly for those who live alone, is already causing a rise in cases of anxiety. More profound mental health issues are being reported and the areas that are suffering most right now will be the areas that see unemployment and deprivation get even worse in their locality in an economic downturn.
It is an inconvenient truth that a weak economy will inevitably lead to weaker investments into those things that we value more than ever – our NHS, our care services and infrastructure.
Unfortunately, we have a leader, a key adviser and a government who were able to deliver victory through populism and sound bites. Can they change gear?
The underwhelming response to Boris Johnson’s latest address to the country on Sunday evening suggests that the ‘everything will be alright on the night’ approach to governance is fast losing its appeal among an increasingly restless electorate. To pull it off once over Brexit was impressive. To do it again would be remarkable!
The sooner the government is straight with us, the better. They need to tell us the truth. Another eight weeks of shutdown equates to many years of economic pain and health challenges. There are choices to be made.
Can we handle the truth? I think we can. Will we and the government make the right choices? We can but hope.