Coronavirus will change Britain – and mostly not for the better

TV review: Dispatches predicts economic devastation, but says some things will be better

A deserted Mall in front of Buckingham Palace, in London, as life in Britain continues during the nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph:  Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

A deserted Mall in front of Buckingham Palace, in London, as life in Britain continues during the nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty

 

While most of us are doing our level best to take it all one day at a time and not let our thoughts drift too far ahead, while vowing never to take normality for granted again, Dispatches: Coronavirus – How Britain Is Changing (Channel 4, 9pm) engaged in some future gazing to imagine the long-term impact of the outbreak. 

Even in more regular times, attempting to predict how our world might alter is a tricky exercise. In the times that are in it, the programme’s array of talking heads had their work cut out to forecast with any degree of certainty the long-term consequences of coronavirus. 

They all agreed, though, that the impact would be profound on everything from Britain’s economy, its workplace practices, the gaps between rich and poor and north and south, the aviation industry, and so on, as well as on this generation of children who, said the narrator, “will have to bear the burden of the crisis – they’ll be picking up the bill for years to come”. 

Predictably bleak, then, especially in terms of the economic impact, the expectation being that thousands of businesses that have had to close will never reopen and that unemployment will triple in Britain, possibly going as high as 20 per cent.

“I think there are very few economists who would not say we’re heading for a recession; the debate is about how deep and for how long,” said Miatta Fahnbulleh, chief executive of the New Economics Foundation.

But there was a hope, too, that some things might change for the better, like a newly found appreciation for the largely low paid workers – from carers to delivery drivers, postal service staff to those working in distribution centres – who are keeping things going while the rest of us discover we’re less than essential. 

“People are absolutely working their socks off to keep our society running whilst lots of those who think of themselves as important – lawyers or politicians or business CEOs – are sat at home doing video conferencing and feeling totally helpless, like there’s nothing they can do,” said MacKenzie. “I hope, over time, that will lead us to have a more egalitarian view, that all the different work that people put in to keep our economy and our society functioning has real value.”

And she ended the programme on another positive note, lest we all felt thoroughly deflated, pointing to the manner in which so many have responded to the crisis, “with innovation, with inspiration, with optimism and with extraordinary hard work”. 

None of the problems we faced as a society a few months ago, she said, have gone away, but she believed they could look more surmountable in the future. “We will look at those problems without so much fear, because when you’ve dealt with this I don’t think anything looks too difficult any more.”

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