This comment piece by our Executive Director, Robert Palmer, first appeared in The Times.
The real heroes of our society are emerging: they are nurses, supermarket staff, delivery drivers and helpful neighbours. Many of these people are woefully underpaid.
The coming months will see politicians urge the public to show solidarity normally reserved for wartime.
When the worst is over, there will be a big debate about the role of the state and to what extent measures introduced to help get us through will be rolled back.
After the 2008 financial crisis, the burden of spending cuts fell disproportionately on the disabled, sick and vulnerable. Even the NHS, despite record investment, failed to keep up with demand. The promise to the families who have lost loved ones to this epidemic must be “never again”.
Politicians would be foolish to think that the public hasn’t noticed the deterioration of our public realm. One of the consistent messages I have heard in focus groups from Blyth Valley to Hastings since the election is that people feel insecure. Just about managing families are worried about their future amid pervasive resignation with the way things are.
That was the temperature of the nation before coronavirus arrived.
The health and economic emergency we’re facing has exposed even further the threadbare nature of our social safety net. This means that an austerity re-run is not an option. Instead, what we need is something closer to the spirit of 1945, when post-war rebuilding saw a new political consensus that included the founding of the NHS and an expansion in state support.
The Prime Minister has already suggested that he gets this. Earlier this month he said that: “In 2008 everyone said we bailed out the banks and didn't look after the people who really suffered. This time we will look after the people who really suffer..."
The government should be bold. Many of the changes introduced over the last few weeks, such as more generous sick pay and Universal Credit, must stay. But we should go further, for example by introducing a minimum income guarantee.
As we start to rebuild after the immediate crisis has passed we need a new social contract to support increased spending. Tax loopholes exploited by the wealthy and companies should be closed for good. Serious consideration needs to be given to a tax on wealth. Some are suggesting an extra levy on companies making super-sized profits, as happened during WWII. We also need to properly resource HMRC and stop the current programme of layoffs of tax staff who have been designated key workers. These measures would ensure that those with the broadest shoulders are contributing to our recovery.
Polling that my organisation - Tax Justice UK - carried out as we went into lockdown found that this would be popular. 74% of the public want to see the wealthy paying more tax. Only 24% of people rule out paying more tax themselves.
Before the virus struck, there were signs that a cross-party space was opening up to address issues of inequality and public services, with the Conservatives championing a “levelling up” agenda.
Once we’re through the worst of the crisis, these discussions will become even more acute. Progressive tax reform needs to be part of the mix if the public is going to be able to confidently say “never again”.