We can build back better

By on

As the July edition of the magazine goes to print the coronavirus lockdown is winding down and the long, hard road to recovery lies ahead of us.

No area of our economy has been unaffected, and as the government’s job retention scheme ends many businesses will be facing tough decisions.

But already people are looking to the future, trying to work out how we can learn lessons and how this experience can accelerate change which is long overdue. Three things could see us build back better: building more homes, addressing the challenge of an ageing population and putting individual wellbeing back at the heart of the workplace.

Firstly, the government must invest in new homes, giving a boost to the construction industry and stimulating demand in the supply chain. There are clear reasons to focus on construction. Many building sites have carried on operating through the crisis, with additional social distancing measures in place. Developers are already up and running across many sites and ready to return to pre-crisis operations from a standing start.

The government has already taken steps to make construction easier, by giving local authorities powers to extend planning permissions and lengthen working hours so that shift patterns can increase social distancing and allow workers to travel to work at different times of day.

There was a housing crisis long before coronavirus, and now there is an opportunity to help kickstart economic recovery while fixing it, tackling intergenerational unfairness and creating a training pipeline to tackle youth unemployment.

Another consequence of the crisis will be that young people revisit whether they want to go to university – an army of apprentices in the construction industry and in its supply chain could be an economic boon. As has often been said, if you find a man without a home and a job then teach him to build and he will have work and a house to show for it.

The speed with which local councils moved to house those living rough on the streets also shows what can be done in a crisis. Good housing for all should be the legacy of the virus.

Clearly the impact on older people has been the most painful to bear. The contrast between gleaming, brand new and empty Nightingale Hospitals and care homes unable to get hold of PPE has been the great injustice of this crisis.

All political parties must bury their differences and work together on a new settlement for care homes that means people have the care they deserve in old age.

Finally, the experience of the virus and the lockdown has changed the way we have all worked – possibly forever. Here the lesson must be to listen to the workforce and put them at the heart of the changes to come.

For some, working from home will have brought new joys, for others it will have been lonely and worrying. Some people will be blessed with ready-made home offices, others will be craving the interaction of the work canteen and the change in pace between work and leisure.

As businesses regroup and revise their 2020/21 business plans, they will have to look first to the bottom line. But they also have a great opportunity, to reshape the way they work around the needs of their workers – those that put wellbeing first will be best placed to lead the economic recovery.

Charles Pitt is Head of policy and influencing at the British Safety Council


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