Part one in a three part series exploring the post-pandemic world
The news cycle is rampant with stories of hope and optimism about the way Victorians have ‘come together’ during this period of harder lock downs. Questions are asked about the way the world will look post-pandemic; and the opportunities we as a wider community must embrace. But what is likely?
Is it more likely that the current neoliberal political and societal structures that render us individuals first, community second, will prevail? Neoliberalism doesn’t work because existing social inequalities in terms of wealth, and access to healthcare and education are being reproduced through government policies.
The rise of populism in politics has given way to a mindset of nationalism, whereby our country is more important than another. Whereby, our state or territory must be put first. The NT Chief Minister Michael Gunnar has confirmed the Northern Territory will have strict border closures for at least 18 months. He says his job is to put the NT first. What does this mean for Australia? This social polarisation between states is made possible by neoliberal politics which accompany a decline in trust of experts and a fear of the ‘other’. Furthermore, distrust builds from conspiracy theories which give rise to alarming ideas about how to manage the pandemic, and what it means for all of us.
The welfare system set up following the Great Depression in America which made possible welfare systems across the globe has been eroded over the past four decades. This progressive move away from providing basic needs for all represents the way society has shifted to see success as a result of hard work, with privilege and existing resources not considered as the primary drivers.
Many celebrities and members of the community claim coronavirus doesn’t discrimnate; but nothing could be further from the truth. While coronavirus will affect many people with wealth and priviledge, it is those with less access to healthcare and secure work who will be most impacted both economically and socially. Even if they avoid the virus itself, the increasing casualisation of the workforce may leave those on low incomes unable to provide for their families.
While Australia has put in place unprecedented social policies including JobKeeper and JobSeeker as well as other various supplements, they are not intended to extend beyond an initial period. The government has recently made changes to the criteria and timeline of the payments, but is it enough? Sentiment on social media from cursory research shows many people believe those breaching self-isolating orders are selfish. But without the data to know for sure, is it possible those people face not being able to pay rent, the mortgage or buy food for their families unless they go to work? Is it possible those who are most disadvantaged are seeing greater economic impacts due to the higher number of cases in their area; The Age thinks so. We know that the key hotspots in Melbourne are the most disadvantaged council areas. It isn’t difficult to understand why this is happening.
While those lucky enough to be able to work from home share their feelings about having to supervise their children who are either unable to attend childcare or doing remote, online learning, it is clear vast sects of our community have greater challenges to manage.
Panic buying of groceries peaked in the first lockdown in April 2020, but a surge of panic buying hit Melbourne and regional Victoria last week when stage four measures began. Although supermarkets report this has subsided and supplies of key items will be managed and available to all.
The widespread economic, social and political impacts raise a key question. How can we as communities be more resilient? Are communities coming together to help each other during this difficult time? Will the pandemic create a permanent shift in the social order and end neoliberalism?
The mental health impacts from this pandemic will be unimaginable, but it remains to be seen whether this will generate change, or whether the status quo will remain uncontested.
Part two will examine the way the pandemic is changing, or not, community resilience.