Graham Martin argues that the voluntary sector has been #NeverMoreNeeded in the fight for a society that puts people first
One of the most pernicious aspects of the coronavirus story – and this is why I reject all the wartime analogies – is that we are all in it together.
The virus is, apparently, the great leveller. Everyone, from someone barely eking out existence in a migrant camp to prime ministers and royalty, can all fall victim.
None are favoured, all are equal as they stand before Covid’s Great Judgement Seat, to mangle a line from Kipling.
Except, like a lot of Kipling, that’s simply eyewash, constructed to tie up the class and health inequalities which underpin life and this epidemic in a paternal and patriotic package.
We do not all stand equal before Covid – as we do not stand equal before any disease.
The profit system distorts life from the upper reaches of our atmosphere to the microbial level
If you are poor, you are more likely to die from Covid. That’s just a fact. If you are working class, you are more likely to die from Covid. That is also just a fact. For complex reasons linked to these facts, if you belong to one of the country’s BAME communities, you are more likely to die from Covid. It is a greater leveller among our older people – but even here there is evidence of class and income inequality.
In Scotland, as I write, the area most affected is Inverclyde – Greenock and Port Glasgow, basically – one of the country’s poorest areas. It is not having quite so terrible a toll where I write as I work from home – wealthy East Dunbartonshire.
If Covid is the great leveller, then the blade of its scythe is pitted, its swing erratic.
As we edge through this crisis, it’s probably inevitable that we begin to look forward. Talk and actual plans from the Westminster government on easing the lockdown, as I write, seem like madness, a chorus conducted by the needs of business, not flesh and blood.
But look ahead we must – and not just to when the pubs can open again. We need to look ahead to the reconstruction, and the form that will take.
Never trust a politician who wants to go back to normality. It is the normality of wealth and income inequality which has helped select this pandemic’s primary victims. It is the demands of a rapacious system of profit-making which led to environmental despoliation, enabling this virus to jump species. Unchecked, this will happen again – as the profit system distorts life from the upper reaches of our atmosphere to the microbial level.
Increasingly it will make life untenable – as it does for millions worldwide every year.
SCVO has launched its #NeverMoreNeeded campaign. And it’s true – civil society, the voluntary sector is needed like never before. This has two strands: first, as is celebrated in this month’s TFN, in terms of the immediate response to the crisis, the stuff that gets us through – more, the stuff that saves lives, from emergency food aid to youth mental health work.
But there’s another area where we’re never more needed – and that’s our input into ensuring we do not go back to normality. That we use this as an opportunity to reframe life on a better and higher level. We must bring all our knowledge and expertise to bear on this.
That we argue for a system that places humanity and our stewardship or the world at its centre, strapped to an engine of sane economics which values solidarity above share price.
This is where we can have a huge impact, because if we don’t change, something even bigger than Covid could be lurking – almost certainly will.
It’s existence or extinction - and that’s why we’re never more needed.
Graham Martin is editor of TFN.