Covid-19 Anniversary Blog Wrap Up – Is there hope for the ‘roaring 20s’?

Covid Anniversary Blog

It is my sincere hope that this will be the only time that the ISR blog marks the anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. Certainly things do look positive – at least here at home.

The UK has been riding high in the vaccine charts since January and the anticipated full capacity crowd at the indoor world snooker championships this weekend, indicates that we may well be on course for a resumption of our ‘normal lives’.

Of course the big question now is ‘what is normal?’

The anniversary blog and the associated ‘Anniversary Edge Talks’ suggests that we can all expect at least some aspect of our lives to be permanently altered – in both good ways and bad.

Over the last two months, the blog has highlighted a number of things.

First, that lockdown, although intended to make us ‘safe’… it is also inherently unsafe.

The last year has exposed digital poverty and its cascading impact on educational attainment for those already in deprivation.

The impact on the economy, particularly the arts, hospitality and tourism is likely permanently to reshape these sectors.

The pandemic has also created a ‘gender gap’ and increased reported incidences of domestic abuse.

Our civil liberties have also been curtailed in a way that would have been unimaginable 50+ weeks ago. Fake news, and the lack of constructive opposition on the handling of the pandemic have also left many of us feeling frustrated.

Add in the sense of ‘history repeating’, and we have felt out of control; without a voice.

Yet the blog also illustrates that the altering of practices to adapt to lockdown has had some silver linings. Third sector groups, churches and businesses have all had to innovate to stay alive, in many cases with surprising and positive results. Many of us have learned to ‘switch off’ and take up new hobbies and interests, ‘discovered’ TV’s golden age and got active!

We have also seen that the world doesn’t stop because of a pandemic, as illustrated by the escalation of hostilities in the former Soviet Union and the grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal. Covid-19 clearly is no respecter of global events.

Thus as we move into the recovery phase, the blog will continue to reflect on the long-term impact of the pandemic, both positive and negative, economically and socially.

Alongside the blog will resume the showcasing of research and knowledge exchange outcomes from Edge Hill academics and partners, and comment on current events.

So for now, we are signing off what I hope will be the final Covid-19 ISR blog, with a big thanks to all our contributors and readers.

Here’s hoping for the belated start of the ‘roaring 20s’!

Prof Jo Crotty is Director of the Institute for Social Responsibility and a Professor of Management at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 1st March 2021 by Jo which can be found here.

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The problem is often the solution: The future of video-based learning

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago, in March 2020, we saw a global adoption of an online video-based learning approach in the higher education sector as a strategy to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infection and to prevent person-to-person transmission around university campuses.

Since then, we’ve found ourselves switching between online and blended learning to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on students’ higher education experience. However, most educators still retain the use of video-based learning to support in-person instruction and more importantly, to offer greater flexibility to students who are forced to stay at home on medical grounds.

Many have postulated that video-based learning is here to stay in this new era of learning. It is not easy to turn back to the traditional face-to-face teaching model when both educators and learners have been provided a glimpse of the future and experienced the convenience and the flexibility of video-based learning.

Video-based education supports the context of ubiquitous learning, allowing students to learn at anytime and anywhere. This means that students can take fuller control over their learning journey, with the options to review, rewind, and revisit any part of the video whenever needed. This is in fact, a tangible benefit to students who have additional childcare responsibilities or family duties.

Nevertheless, even with the flexibility that video-learning can offer, many are concerned about the lack of guidance and interaction between instructors and students in a virtual video-based learning environment. There is often an underlying assumption that a face-to-face lecture is more superior to online video-based learning due to the fact of having teacher-student direct interaction, which may be scarce or even not present with remote video-learning. Without the physical presence of an instructor, video-based learning requires much more self-discipline and self-motivation from students to stay away from distractions while learning and to seek support when needed.

But, the problem is often the solution. In the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a renewed interest in video-based research with a strong emphasis to improve student engagement and learning experience. Pedagogical strategies that have been found effective in the past, such as peer coaching have been brought back and incorporated into video-based lessons to encourage knowledge exchange and to influence students’ motivation in learning. Different video styles and presentation platforms have been explored and compared to develop best practices in video-based learning that not only produced videos which motivate students to watch again, but also raise learning outcomes. The option to follow up a video with a brief online assessment may also provide educators more opportunities to gauge students’ level of performance and offer individualised feedback, which we know is a powerful key.

Video-based learning should not be seen as a quick-fix for COVID-19. While we observe an important transformation to remote learning at the dawn of a new learning era, perhaps listening to what students are saying about their experiences and documenting what is working and what is not will help us to find creative solutions in addressing and improving the learning experience in the future.

Angel Tan is a PhD Student in the Department of Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 27th May 2020 by Angel which can be found here.

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‘Follow the Science’: Is it time to reaffirm the intellectual virtue of inquisitiveness?

Covid Anniversary Blog

Last April I wrote a short piece for ISR discussing my views on what appeared to be systemic post hoc errors in statistical and reporting practices on COVID-19 mortality. I also suggested that proportionality should be an important principle helping the Government to strike the right balance between respect for civil liberties and the legitimate aims for the protection of public health.

Over the last year it seems that ‘proportionality’ and critical thinking have been side-lined. Yes there have been heated debates from all sides. Yet, the debates on ‘risk’ have often framed within intense moralising discourse where counter-narrative views, no matter how well-founded or evidenced, are often side-lined, marginalised, or couched within political arguments of left and right.

Yet scientific and/or normative views are not independent ‘facts’; they operate within contexts. Nor are they neutral, although often presented as such; cue the Government’s mantra: ‘following the science’. Science is framed and influenced by human beings with biases, agendas, inbuilt design flaws and perception.

Even the WHO has acknowledged that high mortality areas in the world attract more attention in the media. Those who have recorded fewer deaths and infections, and the reasons therein have received comparably less airtime. Subtle, nuanced and insightful research tends to get side-lined within the sea of talking heads and the incessant flow of 24-hour news and sensationalist soundbites. And Abbasi (2020), executive editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote a charged and critical piece highlighting the problems with science ‘being suppressed for political and financial gain’.

Sociologist Professor Robert Dingwall (2021) has recently suggested, ‘science and policy are supposed to be driven by rationality and evidence, not personal anxieties’. Whatever mess we have gotten ourselves into, applied hope in the endless possibilities of human reason should be a central strategy for any remedy to our current societal predicament. Consequently, what is much needed is a reaffirmation of the intellectual virtue of inquisitiveness.

It is only by ‘educating for good questioning’ that we can begin to cultivate intellectual virtues like inquisitiveness. This is no trivial thing. Education is the living heart of a thriving democracy and, if we value our wonderful British way of life, we should do our best to preserve, nurture and advance it.

Eri Mountbatten-O’Malley is a Fellow of the Centre for Welfare Reform and senior lecturer in education policy at Bath Spa University. He is a former GTA at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 29th April 2020 by Eri which can be found here.

Twitter@EriMOMalley

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Are there really any Positives from the Pandemic?

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago I suggested that COVID-19 might help us become more empathetic towards the life experiences and challenges of vulnerable groups and recognise the opportunity to transition to a more inclusive and sustainable world.

Many people – including several authors of this blog – have seen the pandemic as an opportunity or a lesson for the transition to an alternate world.

Take for example the environmental crisis. During lockdowns, we have witnessed some unexpected positive pictures: wild animals roaming in cities, clear waters in Venice’s canals! Our interest in the environment has also increased. The global number of online searches for “bird sounds”, “identify trees”, and “growing plants” have increased by a factor of two.

Other views, however, are more sceptical. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek doubts that the  epidemic will make us any wiser.  And Bruno Latour puts forward the hypothesis that “the pandemic prepares, induces, and incites us to prepare for climate change”. Both Žižek and Latour recognise that drastic changes are required to transition to an alternate world.

There is an autistic person with impressive achievements in climate-change activism. Starting from school strikes, Greta Thunberg has made a substantial impact on public awareness of the catastrophic threat of climate change.

However, there is also significant controversy around Greta as a public figure. Being young, female, and autistic, Greta Thunberg brings together several characteristics that tap into implicit biases about who should have an active role in public life and who should, and should not, be listened to.

For Greta “Being different is a gift… It makes me see things from outside the box. I don’t easily fall for lies, I can see through things. If I would’ve been like everyone else, I wouldn’t have started this school strike for instance.”

It is, perhaps, because of her autism that Greta extends her activism to the pandemic crisis. A few days ago, Greta urged governments, vaccine developers and the world to “step up their game” to fight vaccine inequity after the richest countries bought up most COVID-19 vaccine doses and those in poorer nations have gone lacking.

With regards to lessons learnt from the pandemic, Greta seems to align with Žižek and Latour.  “COVID-19’s impact on the world is first and foremost a tragedy,”. “The pandemic has no advantage or positive aspects … We shouldn’t be speaking of lessons that can be learned from it, because lessons sound like something positive, in a way.”

Dr Themis Karaminis is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader BSc (Hons) Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 15th May 2020 by Themis which can be found here. @CogNeuroThemis

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Civil Liberties ‘on loan’: Covid-19 and beyond, do the police need more powers?

Covid Anniversary Blog

The UK Government used the emergency powers through the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 to bring in the Coronavirus Act 2020. Similar trends were witnessed worldwide. The legislation has allowed police to restrict movement, prohibit events, detain people, enforce lockdowns and quarantine restrictions.

In the UK, more than 68,000 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for contraventions of the above have been issued for activity include illegal raves, parties and protests, businesses not enforcing face-covering regulations, or not adhering to the table service only rules.

Such restrictions on all aspects of our lives have had a huge impact on individual right to liberty and freedom of movement. However, there are serious questions how far the governments can go before it reaches the outer limit of the law.

Some have sought to protest this curtailment of liberty. For example, in Oakenshaw, near Bradford in England, one hair salon owner, Sinead Quinn, regularly defied the anti-lockdown rules and kept opening her salon, pasting a copy of the Magna Carta on her saloon door in defence of her decision to keep trading. She is facing Court appearances over unpaid fines amounting to £17,000.

Civil liberty and human rights have also seen an assault due to the increasing use of ‘surveillance technology’. Drones have been traditionally associated with police to catch or chase criminals and law breakers. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted an entirely new role for drones to enforce lockdowns, manage crowds or even disinfect public spaces.

Countries such as South Korea have been applauded for the use of drone technology to contain infection in crowded public places. But the issue raises serious concerns around privacy and consent. Drones can be linked to a CCTV network that are equipped with facial recognition  technology which can be used to identify individuals and shared with the government by drone manufacturers.

The use of such drones has already been challenged in courts in France and the United States on the grounds that such use can be prejudicial to human and legal rights. A serious debate is needed to objectively assess any cost-benefit of using such technologies including a robust review of any attendant ethical issues.

The right to peaceful protest was severely tested recently a peaceful vigil organised in Clapham Common in South London on March 13th for Sarah Everard, who was abducted and murdered by a serving police officer, which turned into violence. It is suggested that the change of tactics by the police to enforce lockdown rules and social distancing measures contributed to the chaotic scenes.

The Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill introduced in Parliament has already undergone its Second Reading in March 2021. It has been described as a “trojan horse” on account of controversial plans to give further discretion and powers to the police to intervene and shut down protests.

The right to peaceful and lawful protest is an essential feature of any democracy and needs to be protected at all costs. Right now, our civil liberties are ‘on loan’. Eventually we would like them back!

Paresh Wankhade is Professor of Leadership and Management, and Director of Research in the Business School at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 28th April 2020 by Paresh which can be found here.

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Surviving the Pandemic: How to Trade out of Trouble

Covid Anniversary Blog

The Sewing Rooms is a social enterprise that uses sewing skills to improve the resilience, health and employability of some of our community’s most vulnerable people.

At the end of 2019, we were celebrating our move to new premises and the many opportunities for expansion that came along with having a larger space in which to work.

To help fund our lease and the hire of several additional employees, we had taken out a social investment loan and were just hitting our stride, having won several national manufacturing contracts, when COVID-19 appeared on the horizon.

Watching in horror as the virus got closer and closer to home, which for us is Skelmersdale, in Lancashire, we were filled with uncertainty, fear and sadness. What was going to happen to our newly refurbished manufacturing department? What about our entire business? What about the community we serve?

By mid-March 2020, we were staring into the abyss. Our entire commercial manufacturing business had screeched to a halt. We had no income. With everyone’s lives on pause for an indefinite period of time, we had to make the painful decision to furlough our employees.

Reacting to the emergency helped keep the panic from overwhelming us. As always, social impact remained the purpose of our business. As soon as we heard of the shortage of PPE for healthcare workers, we knew what we had to do.

In just one month, we galvanised 60 volunteers, secured a grant from the Big Lottery and started making masks. We were able to support volunteers working in their homes by giving sewing machines to people that didn’t have one and organising a steady stream of drop offs and pick-ups of packages of fabric, completed masks and any essentials we felt our volunteers might need.

All the while we were making masks, my mind was racing. How could we ethically and sustainably trade out of this emergency? When we made branded masks for Peel Ports, I saw the opportunity.

With commissions for masks from organisations including Wyre Council, West Lancashire Council, All About Food, One Manchester and Age Concern, we were able to bring our furloughed staff back to work on 1st May. Thank goodness for our huge new work space! We turned each office into an individual work station, allowing each staff member to work on a single sewing machine and in necessary isolation. To date, we have made 70,000 masks, donating 35,000 of those to key workers and the most vulnerable.

Start-ups often use the word nimble to describe their development process. I think it better describes the social enterprise way of working. We constantly adapt to changing community and business needs and often at speed. I think that is part of the reason for our success in pivoting our business so quickly yet still sustainably.

Now, as the number of people who have been vaccinated rises, we’re very tentatively starting to think about what parts of our pre-pandemic business to restart. We have our work cut out for us – both figuratively and factually – but we survived! Now it’s time to look to the future.

Paula Gamester, co-founder of The Sewing Rooms CIC. Watch Paula speak about the journey that brought her to social entrepreneurialism and the insights she developed along the way.

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Covid-19, Brexit and a ‘Gust of Wind’: The Perfect Storm for Global Supply Chains

Covid Anniversary Blog

Almost a year ago I wrote a piece for the ISR Covid-19 blog on what might happen to business models due to the pandemic. Part of my focus then was about the role of global supply chains, and particularly how disruptions in those supply chains can have a detrimental impact on a business. I thought about this again when I saw the news footage of the Ever Given, carrying 18300 shipping containers, ‘stuck’ in the Suez Canal.

On the morning of March 23rd strong winds buffeted this massive cargo ship leading it to collide with the canal banks and getting stuck.

Whilst I know at an abstract level about the vast flow of shipping containers across the world, until this point I had no idea the sheer scale of traffic down this 120-mile corridor connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

An article from BBC News sums up the importance of this canal which transits approximately 50 ships and 12% of global trade daily. 369 ships were parked in a traffic jam behind the Ever Given stopping approximately $9.6bn worth of daily trade, or $400m and 3.3 million tonnes of cargo an hour. These numbers are vast and show the scale of movement of goods around the world and the vulnerabilities of key pinch points.

Anxious owners of the cargo on board (and stuck in the traffic jam around it) had to wait 6 days before it was freed. But the story doesn’t stop there. The long terms impact on the supply chain are expected to last for months.

But behind this global disruption were also the individual stories illustrating the impact on small firms. These include Jack Griffiths who is still waiting for their shipment of Snuggy Dressing gown/blankets.

The delay is also causing cashflow issues and the looming possibility of the seizure of cargo to pay the Ever Given ‘bill’. The Suez Canal Authority is also claiming $916 million in compensation.

The Ever Given saga also serves to remind us again how the global pandemic as well as more localised issues such delays at ports attributed to Brexit, and the on-going protests about the movement of goods in Northern Ireland. This leaves small businesses in particular, vulnerable to further disruption in supply, associated risks to their cashflow and added costs of sourcing replacements and/or failing to meet their contractual obligations.

The blockage of the Suez wasn’t really on most small businesses radar – a bit like a global pandemic! All business need to understand their supply chain, how vulnerable they might be even to ‘once in a lifetime’ events and what alternatives might exist. Supply chain resilience should now be on every business’s agenda.

Diane Holt is Professor of Entrepreneurship at Leeds University Business School. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 7th May 2020 by Diane which can be found here.

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Photograph: In this photo released by Suez Canal Authority, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is pulled by one of the Suez Canal tugboats, in the Suez Canal, Egypt, on Monday, March 29, 2021. Photo credit: Suez Canal Authority via AP.

Normalising ‘special’: Covid, online learning and those with special educational needs

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago, I was wondering how some educational practices could be changed in category from ‘special’ to ‘normal’ as a result of socially distanced practices, and what that might mean for our relationship with normality.

Online access to education had previously been campaigned for by disabled students with limited success, and where it was provided it was a ‘special’ accommodation. In response to Coronavirus, online access had become a ‘normal’ practice. The change in status of such accommodations, based upon evolving social practices, removes the illusion that barriers to access are the unavoidable and unfortunate consequences of an individual’s special educational needs or disability (SEND).

Instead, in mobilising our resources to make the world accessible to the majority, it appears many of the barriers that previously, and still exist are socially constructed, reflecting the social model of disability.

But, what has happened in the case of children with SEND accessing learning in the pandemic?

For some, school closures and online access have been a source of intense difficulty. Evidence provided to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for SEND shows that aspects such as differentiation and communication were forgotten for many during home learning activities. Supports were reduced or removed, and in some cases children’s hours of schooling reduced. The report explains that many stakeholders felt that learning for children with SEND was an ‘afterthought’, both during and after the school closures.

For other children, the evidence provided suggests that home learning provided relief from an environment that they never quite felt comfortable in. Shepherd and colleagues’ analysis of the perceptions of parents and carers shows that the lack of requirement for uniform, opportunities for developing independence, reduction of stress, and the flexibility brought about by online access were seen as positive outcomes. My own child reports the benefits of lockdown learning for him in this order: “No shoes, no uniform, no people, no sitting still or upright.”

It appears, then, that despite the rapidly changing categorisation of accommodations such as online access, the categories of ‘normal’ and ‘special’ in accommodations remained salient.

What fits into those categories has changed and changed again. The move to online access enabled some children with SEND to thrive whilst others were significantly disadvantaged. Perhaps, where accommodations are considered surplus or additional (‘special’), it can be easier to deprioritise them during times of threat and rapid change.

It might be useful to suggest that universal design learning could be a key factor in preventing children with SEND from being left behind or forgotten in times of rapid social change. In this context, all accommodations are normal. Where we always consider all potential pupils in our planning, instead of applying supports as extra/other, we promote inclusive learning environments that recognise and value human variation.

As Shepherd and colleagues suggest, what we have learned in the last year suggests that there is a post-pandemic potential for much greater flexibility and responsivity in education.

Michelle Dunne is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 29th May 2020 by Michelle which can be found here.

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Relax… World War Three is NOT Imminent – at least not yet

Covid Anniversary Blog

What with COVID, the death of the Duke of Edinburg and a football furore, you could be forgiven for not noticing the recent build-up of 80,000 Russian troops on the Russian-Ukraine border. Unsurprisingly, this has raised alarm within the international community, as an armed conflict between these two nations would have serious and inevitable implications.

Technically, Ukraine and Russia have been engaged in a conflict since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatist forces in Ukraine’s coal and gas rich eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known collectively the Donbas. This reflects the ethnic and cultural split that emerged from attempts to Russify the Soviet Union through the settlement of ethnic Russians within its 15 republics. In Ukraine, such Russification was enacted in the East where labour was needed to extract natural resources. Consequently, today Ukraine is split between the Russian-speaking so-called ‘red’ areas to the east and the ethnically Ukrainian ‘orange’ areas to the West.

At face-value such a troop build-up looks like Russia is preparing to formalise its incursion into the Donbas by forcibly annexing it. Yet this is unlikely to happen for the following reasons:

  1. In recent months a number of factors have led President Putin to reassert his ‘strong man’ image. He no longer has a friendly ally in the White House. In recent days we have seen the imposition of US sanctions against Russia in response to confirmed Russian interference in the 2020 US Presidential election. At the same time Ukrainian President Zelensky and Turkish President Erdogan held their own summit that condemned Russian aggression, creating (the appearance at least) of a Black Sea axis against the Russian Federation. Amassing troops is a way to counter both this axis, and a more hostile United States.
  2. Russia will hold elections for the State Duma (parliament) in September. While Putin needs a show of force to maintain his image, he does not need another war. The cost of such an incursion would be very damaging to the Russian economy still in the throes of COVID. Moreover, despite being the first country in the world to bring a COVID vaccine to market, domestic take up has been very low. He also faces public unrest in response to the imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny. Putin does not need to be fighting a war on multiple fronts as voters go to the polls.
  3. Ukrainian President Zelensky also does not need a war. He was elected president in 2019 on a promise to end the conflict in the Donbas which has created more than 1.4 million internally displaced persons, most of whom are women and children. Escalating this would not be in his interest.

Thus it is unlikely that we are on the cusp of an armed conflict in the Caucuses. Recent troop build-up is much more about domestic agendas than it is about foreign ambition. So we don’t need to hold our collective breath – at least not yet.

Jo Crotty is Professor of Management and Director of the Institute for Social Responsibility at Edge Hill University.

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What COVID-19 has taught us about human communication

Covid Anniversary Blog

We all know what Zoom calls are like. They’re just not the same.

Pundits talk about ‘zoom fatigue’ – this weariness that results from this unnatural form of communication.

‘But what’s so unnatural about it?’ supporters say. You can hear the words (usually), you can see facial expression (when not frozen), indeed you can stare at the face without embarrassment, unlike real life.

‘But what about the hands?’ I ask.

‘Who’s bothered about people waving their hands about?’ they reply.

But hand-waving, it turns out, is always more than that. These movements are iconic representations of thoughts, often with information not in the speech. These dynamic gestural movements work alongside speech in the communication of meaning.

A proud parent is describing how her son was playing football, she said ‘he was running up the pitch’, the iconic gesture represented the speed and direction of the movement – fast and zig-zagging, as he beat the defenders – a new Maradona, no less! The iconic gesture occurred at exactly the same time as the word ‘running’ itself. It was not an afterthought. Rather, the speech and the gesture originated from what the psychologist David McNeill from the University of Chicago has called the ‘growth point’ of the utterance. The speech and gesture are generated at the same time, in the prelinguistic planning stage.

But it’s not just about actions. After lockdown, a colleague was spotted breaking her strict diet by a mutual friend. ‘She was eating a sandwich,’ the friend reported. The iconic gesture represented the size of the sandwich, hands wide apart – too big for any diet. The size of the sandwich was not mentioned in the speech, but perfectly coordinated.

We process these gestural messages effortlessly in face-to-face conversation, our eyes track these movements and we decode the critical information and combine it with the speech information to get the full meaning.

‘But hang on, Zoom is for serious discussion, it’s for work,’ says the Zoom supporter ‘not for football and sandwiches’.

But these iconic gestures also metaphorically enact abstract meaning, showing where ideas originate from with gestures indicating position in the gestural space and how quickly they arise (speed of gesture trajectory), how ideas connect (the hands are good at representing positional information in both the physical and metaphorical senses), they tell you how far somebody is prepared to go and the nature of their ambition (distance; height).

In my book ‘Rethinking Body Language’ (Routledge, 2016), I outline the science behind this. The hands are apparently able followers of Lakoff and Johnson in their seminal book ‘Metaphors We Live By’, who demonstrated how much of metaphorical language is premised on a physical conceptual basis.

On Zoom, we see none of this. COVID-19 has reminded us of the essential multimodal nature of everyday human communication and how different modalities, including gesture, cooperate to transmit meaning about the everyday world of actions, of ideas, of interpersonal relationship.

With Zoom, we’re just left guessing, and that can indeed be very fatiguing.

Geoffrey Beattie is Professor of Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 11th May 2020 by Geoff which can be found here.

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Can you hear me now?

Covid Anniversary Blog

Perhaps second only to “you’re on mute”, the phrase “can you hear me now?” has become key to COVID-19 pandemic communications. Whether this phrase follows unmuting or is used as the go-to check-in question following the all too many incidents of unstable WIFI connections, the reality is that we all want to be heard.

When I wrote a blog on reflection at a time of COVID-19 a year ago, I spoke about the importance of intentionally taking even short periods of time to listen to ourselves, and to get our bearings in the moment to inform the future.

However, this past year has also demonstrated the importance of not simply listening to the voices in our own heads, but also to those around us.

Who hasn’t heard the tips that regularly get trotted out during communications training, especially when we are working remotely with a screen as a mediating device? Nod, make eye contact, summarise what the person has said. The truth is, if we’re really listening, the other person will know, regardless of whether we have been nodding and providing verbal cues.

I defended my Masters’ Thesis quite some years back in that old world called face-to-face. One of my three panel members held eye contact and stayed connected visibly throughout, one looked down at his notes more than at me, and I genuinely worried that my adviser, the Dean, had fallen asleep. His eyes were nearly shut; he sat very still, he offered no clues that anything I had said was registering. I finished speaking and waited. My panel immediately took turns to offer thoughtful observations and incisive questions, all leading to a successful defense. All three had been listening, and listening carefully. And, at least on the surface, listening differently. I knew they had been listening because of how they responded to what I said.

Sociologist Charles Derber, in his classic 1979 book, The Pursuit of Attention, references two ways we can choose to respond when we are listening to someone else. If we use the ‘shift’ response, we turn the attention back to ourselves, our needs and our priorities. When we use the ‘support’ response, we continue the focus on the other person and their topic. We give them our time; we give them our respect. For example:

“I’m struggling with my workload.” “Yes, I know what you mean. I have three deadlines this week that I’m not sure I can meet.” (shift)

“I’m struggling with my workload.” “Tell me more. What do you need to get done?” (support)

Giving others the space not simply to be heard but to be listened to will open up opportunities for the deep learning and the shared story telling necessary to navigate our way through the post-pandemic challenges that await us.

Perhaps the question should be not “Can you hear me now?” but instead, “Are you listening now – and how?”

Cindy Vallance is Assistant Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE.

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You Still Need Society! Authoritarianism and COVID-19

Covid Anniversary Blog

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided us with insights into different political regimes’ responses to what is now a prolonged, unpredictable, and difficult to manage crisis.

Parts of Eastern Europe had initially been considered as the models for how to respond to the pandemic. Nearly a year on, with cases surging and the state struggling to control the pandemic, this no longer holds.

In the Russian Federation, despite bringing the worlds first COVID-19 vaccine to market, the state has struggled to deal with the sluggish domestic take up and so it has failed to make a discernible impact on cases. This might be a surprise given the assumption that in authoritarian contexts, individuals are not only more accepting of restrictions of their individual freedoms but that the state is often more strict at enforcing compliance. One could have assumed that authoritarian regimes might have put to use their expansion of individual surveillance under the guise of combatting COVID-19, to encourage or even enforce vaccinations. Even if this failed, national pride at its scientific achievement would surely have had people queuing up to be vaccinated, but it seems not to be the case.

The nature of state-society relations might help us consider some of the issues impacting vaccine take-up rates. In the Russian Federation, political, legislative, financial and cultural limits impact the ability and reach of third sector groups to mobilise the public. In addition, the state’s, often arbitrary, use of institutions such as the judiciary, is unconducive to building public trust in such institutions.

Yet a successful vaccination programme requires both trust and mobilisation.

This is particularly true for mobilising and engaging hard-to-reach segments of society, a task and role that NPOs tend to perform much better than state institutions. Can third sector groups play a role in this process, given the restrictive context they operate in? If they do, will this enable them to receive concessions from the state with regards to the activities they can engage in? Could this lead to a reshaping of state-society relations?

A year on, answers to questions around the future shape of state-society relations in an authoritarian context remain unclear. It is too early to tell whether or not third sector groups in an authoritarian context such as Russia will be able to take advantage of arising opportunities to reshape their relationship with the state.

The imprisonment of critics such as Alexander Navalny suggests that the Russian state is not overtly open to reshaping state-society relations at the national level. However, as stated a year ago, things might play out different at local and regional levels – and thus present opportunities for change.

Dr Sergej Ljubownikow is a lecturer in Strategic Management at Sheffield Management School. He is an expert scholar in Russian civil society development and an ISR Visiting Fellow.

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A Year of Covid TV

Covid Anniversary Blog

In a year when we spent more time at home than ever before, television provided a crucial window on the world. Ofcom estimated in August 2020 that during lockdown people were spending an average of 40% of their waking hours in front of a screen. TV watching was up by approximately a third.

While this might look like a windfall for TV broadcasters, these activities coincided with a sudden recession which wiped out a swath of advertising money. This led to a frustrating paradox – more people were watching, but broadcasters could not make extra revenue from the larger audiences.

In any case, there was the significant problem of what to fill schedules with. Like in most industries, normal processes for TV production juddered to a halt. We quickly became used to seeing contributors to news or panel shows Zooming in from home, with the inevitable ‘hilarity’ caused by interrupting children or pets.

Though our usual expectations for what TV ‘should’ look like were upended, in some ways these new practices provided a heightened version of the TV experience. TV has historically operated using an aesthetic that combines intimacy – an emphasis on human connection – with immediacy – the feeling that we are we are watching things unfold as they happen. Zoom interviews combine the two, giving us a momentary glimpse into the private world (and at the carefully curated bookshelves) of contributors.

But there were still huge gaps to fill in the schedules. Research at the University of Huddersfield suggested that this did not go unnoticed by audiences, who found their usual menu of ‘event television’ (high profile new shows scheduled in peak time) replaced by repeats.

The launch of Disney+ in March 2020 was seen by many as another nail in the coffin of broadcast television. Indeed, streaming video on demand services added an extra 4.6m subscribers during lockdown. Research found that people were turning to drama boxsets to escape the tedium.

Adopting a ‘show must go on’ attitude, the UK television industry agreed protocols in May 2020 for Covid secure productions. The gradual resumption of regular programming – especially soaps – mirrored the slow return to normality experienced in daily life. The reliability and routine of television schedules, especially daytime television provided a source of comfort to those who suddenly found themselves adrift in furlough.

Meanwhile, daily televised briefings provided a much-needed demonstration of the power and value of broadcasting. Watching the Prime Minister and his associates (or in Scotland, the First Minister) deliver key messages became for many a grim ritual, but one enabled by broadcast’s unique ability to gather a nation together.

The impact of Covid on TV production and broadcast has been vast and painfully visible. But it can also teach us about the ongoing value and importance television has in our lives: as a source of information, of comfort, and of connection. The problem comes of course, when you find that you have ‘completed Netflix’, and what to do next!

Dr Hannah Andrews is Senior Lecturer in Media, Film and Television at Edge Hill University.

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Covid-19 and Sport: Some Positive Outcomes for Athletes and Athlete Welfare

Covid Anniversary Blog

As outdoor sports facilities open and organised sports clubs begin to welcome back members, it’s uplifting to note that there have been numerous positive developments in safeguarding children and young people in this sector recently. These include:

  • In its latest 10-year plan, Sport England, the body responsible for grassroots sport, have named safeguarding as one of their five main themes and have substantially increased investment into helping sports clubs and national federations create safer sports environments.
  • The ‘Safe to Play’ campaign, which aims to ensure young people know how to report a safeguarding concern, was successfully rolled out in tennis in England throughout last year’s lockdowns and is being expanded to other sports this year.
  • The government agreed last month (March 2021) to change the law around positions of trust to include adults in supervisory positions in sport, making it illegal for coaches and others in authority positions over athletes in sport to have sex with 16 and 17 year olds in the same way it is for teachers and pupils.

In addition, one of the most inspiring safeguarding development from the past 12 months has come from the young female gymnasts who spoke out against the toxic culture in their sport (see here). Researchers of athlete welfare like myself know how practices such as fat shaming, enforced training while injured, physical violence, and emotional abuse have become so entrenched in some sports that they often go unchallenged.

Physical and emotional abuse rarely attract as much attention or elicit the same emotion as sexual abuse, yet their consequences can be just as devastating. Working together and using the hashtag #gymnastalliance to draw attention to the impact of non-sexual abuse, which are by far the most prevalent forms of abuse in sport, these brave young women forced the sports authorities to act.

A review is now underway into abuse in the sport and British Gymnastics’ handling of complaints, and some athletes are suing the sports’ governing body for negligence and breach of duty. Such unprecedented action has sparked a global movement of athletes speaking out against the dangerous and degrading practices that have become normalised as part of many sports. Through collective action and dogged determination, these young athletes are opening up a positive conversation for long-term change. 

The restrictions placed on all our lives during the pandemic have (re)ignited people’s love of sport and physical activity and reminded us all of its importance for our mental and physical health. In particular, lockdown has encouraged teenage girls who were previously not active to do more sport and physical activity. If sport is to capitalise on this new-founded enthusiasm, it must ensure it provides everyone involved with a safe and positive environment. Thanks to the many young gymnasts who disclosed abuse over the past year, we are one step closer to ensuring this vision for sport.

Dr Mel Lang is Associate Director at the Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport (CPSS) at Edge Hill University.

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Third sector organisations: An oasis for asylum seekers and refugees in the wake of Covid-19?

Covid Anniversary Blog

Negative discourses around migration have created a hostile environment for asylum seekers and refugees. Having often had horrific and unimaginable experiences in their home country – and endured dangerous passage to claim asylum, refugees need places to feel accepted, recognised, to heal, reconcile in their host communities and to share their experiences of daily life and trauma with others.

Prior to the emergence of Covid-19, third sector organisations like charities, faith-based organisations and non-government organisations have provided asylum seekers and refugees with this ‘safe space’. These organisations have facilitated access to formal, informal and semi-formal social protection and are sites where asylum seekers and refugees gather together for information sharing, resources (i.e., food banks) and support. These locations also foster social connections among asylum seekers and refugees, which are vital to their successful integration and inclusion.

The forced closure of certain businesses deemed non-essential – including some third sector organisations – in response to the pandemic has potentially deprived asylum seekers and refugees of an invaluable and highly valued resource. The closure of third sector organisations during regional and national lockdowns has surely changed how third sector organisations provide asylum seekers and refugees with social protection.

As a result of Covid-19, asylum seekers and refugees’ access to third sector organisations for social protection has changed. The operations of many third sector organisations has moved to virtual environments, and while this has been positive through enabling asylum seekers and refugees to remain engaged in integration activities and receive support, virtual environments pose certain barriers. They inhibit casual social interaction and can burden those with low English language proficiency or poor internet technology skills. Additionally, in recognition of deprived asylum seekers and refugees’ often desperate need for material support, especially food, many organisations have delivered dry rations.

In the wake of Covid-19, it appears the third sector has come to the rescue of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. Third sector organisations’ active involvement in helping asylum seekers and refugees throughout the pandemic emphasises the importance of the third sector in supplementing social protection. Their efforts both before and throughout the pandemic should be acknowledged, and caution should prevail whenever considering withdrawing, reducing or altering the services of such organisations, especially in times of crisis.

Niroshan Ramachandran is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Social Sciences at Edge Hill University.

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Silver Linings: Autism, Covid and Digital Engagement during the Pandemic

Covid Anniversary Blog

While the pandemic has been detrimental for many, COVID-19 has also presented us with opportunities. One such opportunity has been to re-examine the impact that increased digital engagement has had on increasing participation in the autistic community.

Autistic people are advantaged by being able to engage digitally with friends, colleagues, classmates and educators. Among other benefits, the ability to remain in a familiar setting reduces social anxieties and sensory overloading. It may also aid communication for autistic people as there is more control over the digital environment, with less of an emphasis on nonverbal cues.

For years autistic people have advocated for more flexible working and educational environments that better fit their needs. We are now seeing an understanding that we all have individual preferences for work and education that can be accommodated with greater personalization, i.e. the ability to be online or in-person. Maintaining that understanding could make an enormous difference in the lives of autistic people in the future, with some saying that the move to online work models may increase neurodiversity in the workplace.

A move to online spaces may also benefit the way autistic people receive care. Diagnostic processes and the delivery of interventions for autistic people has long suffered from insufficient funding. Improving remote access to care has been accelerated by the pandemic, leading many mental health professionals to operate online, with research indicating that tele-mental health care can address the long waitlists and restricted hours of service that can impede services. Tele-healthcare may particularly benefit autistic people who may be less stressed in their home environments, while clinicians are also able to see the home setting and understand their client’s person-environment fit. For young children, autism interventions like the Denver Early Start model can delivered at home through parent-training programs that rely on telehealth support systems. Initiatives like these are particularly promising as research suggests long-term benefits from parent involvement in early interventions.

That said, digital advancements that may improve outcomes for autistic people are only possible with further changes that require structural changes in society. As suggested in a recent roundtable of autism experts discussing the effects of the pandemic on the autistic community, we must decrease the digital divide, and increase funding for autistic people to acquire alternative communication devices. In order for autistic children to benefit from telehealth initiatives and maximize caregiver involvement in interventions, we must find ways for families to receive financial reimbursement for their work as support staff.

Importantly, we must ensure that remote participation remains possible following the pandemic. It’s common to hear that now that there is widespread inoculation against COVID-19 that life can return back to ‘normal,’ i.e. in-person rather than online. Such statements are entirely subjective, and that for many, online engagement has not only become the ‘new normal’ but preferable to the former way of life. Listening to the needs of the community by including stakeholders in changing practice is vital is we are to preserve any silver linings from COVID-19.   

Dr Gray Atherton is Lecturer in Psychology at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 27th April 2020 by Gray which can be found here.

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After a Year, is it Time to Log Off?

Covid Anniversary Blog

In this morning’s tutorial with a postgraduate our conversation meandered here and there, touching on writing, juggling deadlines and inter-weaving theoretical ideas with the blessed Harvard referencing. It reminded me of the best things about being a university tutor – I was actually helping!

Except, I was sitting in my house with my laptop perched atop my knee and as I stretched my crumpled back, I thought how this was now normal.

Before the pandemic, tutorials would be prearranged on campus and less frequent.  Now, I’m constantly online, seemingly available and visibly accessible. In truth, I am troubled by this altered relationship with the digital world even with all its inherent affordances.  

Recently my research has been putting to work theories of new materialism (Albin-Clark 2020). Through this lens, we see the humans (me and my friendly postgraduate) in co-existence with a non-human world that we could trace from our laptops. Cables snake beneath my street, electrical wires stretch across rooftops powered from generators far away, flicking data along invisible networks. From this perspective, the material and social are in a complex assemblage when the human becomes displaced from the centre of the focus. This leads me to the question; what does the non-human world do?  

Without doubt our inter-relationship with the non-human digital world offers affordances, like convenience and accessibility. But there is more at work as using technology is embodied, your fingers tap at the keyboard and your heart rate spikes as you open your emails.

Yet what troubles are embedded in those affects? Our enticing, ever blinking devices blur personal and professional boundaries causing the working day to creep in earlier and slip later into the evening.  Our back and wrists ache, the reading glasses prescription no longer fit for purpose after a year of screen-bound life.

Now what I long to do is the simple act of switching off my computer and shift into an evening that is not a workplace.

I am missing those chance human encounters in my lockdown technologically entwined life, the material social assemblage of twinkly corridor tutorials. The students catches your eye, you gently touch their arm in greeting and the ensuing talk tunes you in, sparks your next teaching plan and eases troubles.  

So now I’m looking to re-entangle with natural world, so I just might refill those birdfeeders in my little back garden and stretch my legs in the Springtime air. I’m disentangling in stages from my non-human digital world, and so here I go – I’m logging off!

Dr Jo Albin-Clark is a senior lecturer in the Early Years Department, Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 28th May 2020 by Jo which can be found here.

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A Year ‘at a distance’: Is there hope ‘when this is all over’?

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago we started to experience changes to even the most menial of tasks, including the weekly shop. Stripes of yellow and black tape appeared on supermarket floors guiding us around (sometimes unfathomable) one way systems, and indicating where we should stand in a ‘socially distanced’ queue. Plastic screens that used to adorn checkouts in the 1970s were hastily (re)instated.. and then we were told to don masks and ‘shop alone’.

I wrote at the time that while this physical distancing was necessary in a pandemic, it also brought into focus the risk of our being distanced from each other in ways that the philosopher Gabriel Marcel, called our ‘unavailability’.

After many months of forced separation, there is clearly a longing to be physically together again.

We recall the delight that accompanied the announcement that there could be some kind of limited family gatherings over the Christmas period, and the profoundly moving scenes of family members being able to hold hands with relatives in care homes for the first time since the pandemic started.

But what of Marcel’s more richly nuanced idea of our being available to each other – our disponibilité?

The pandemic has allowed us to reflect on what it means to offer the gift of ourselves in hospitality to another. But more than this, it has allowed us to think about what this means in original, practical, ways and how we can maintain this availability over time. These are ideas that Marcel captures in what he calls our need for ‘creative fidelity’ in our relationships with others.

The tragedy of the pandemic is all too evident in the devastation of lives, communities and the economy. But it has opened up opportunities for us to forge new ways of being available to each other emotionally, spiritually, practically, and temporally, despite physical distance.

We ask whether the world will be the same once ‘all this is over’. Perhaps not; but I want to hold on to the idea that creative fidelity, and the idea of availability, are examples how we can have hope for finding new ways to be together again. 

Amanda Fulford is Professor of Philosophy of Education at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 20th May 2020 by Amanda which can be found here.

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Winners and Losers: A Year of Tourism During Covid-19

Covid Anniversary Blog

So now we know.  Figures published by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation show that the impact of COVID-19 on tourism has been devastating. International arrivals to the UK fell by 74% in 2020; levels not seen since the early 1990s. 1 billion international arrivals have been ‘lost’, along with export revenues of $1.3 trillion. Globally, up to 120 million tourism and hospitality jobs are at risk and international tourism is not forecast to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024.  

But while international tourism may be in the doldrums, the ‘staycation’ boom indicates that the desire to take holidays remains unchanged. Last summer tourists and day trippers largely shunned the cities and headed to the countryside and coast.  Britain’s much-mocked seaside towns had never been so popular.

One of the unexpected consequences of this staycation boom was a new form of so-called over-tourism, particularly at the seaside and our national parks.  We saw some extraordinary scenes, including a day in June when half a million people arrived on Bournemouth beach, causing the local council to declare a major incident. Meanwhile, those destinations traditionally associated with over-tourism – Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik – experienced a very quiet summer.   

As for this summer, another tourism boom is forecast due to the pent-up demand for travel. Once again it is likely to be those parts of the country that are traditionally most popular with domestic tourists – especially the South West and the Lake District – that do best, while resumption of international travel may take longer.

In the longer term, everything inevitably depends on the vaccination programme not only in this country, but also in potential destinations.  Whether by choice, or through restrictions posed in countries of origin, there will some parts of the world that will be effectively closed to tourists for several years. It’s also becoming clear that proof of vaccination will soon be as essential as the passport for those wishing to travel internationally. Anti-vaxxers will face a dilemma if they aspire to international holidays.  

With reported losses of $50 billion, one sector which is particularly dependent on the pace of the vaccine roll-out is the cruise industry. Cruise ships anchored off the British coast became a familiar sight during 2020 (at one stage, there were 6 such ships anchored in Bournemouth bay alone). It will probably take some time before consumer confidence fully returns, and when cruising does return to its pre-pandemic trajectory, new hygiene regulations will be central to the cruising experience. In the short term, the cruise companies are responding by developing new products such as low-density cruises, largely limited to domestic destinations. 

And what about the hopes that COVID-19 could bring about a reset in global tourism growth and a move towards more sustainable forms of tourism?  This looks increasingly unlikely and there is even talk of a new phenomenon of ‘revenge tourism’ as customers, deprived of opportunities to travel during lockdowns, splash out on extra holidays as a way of taking ‘revenge’ on the virus.

Thus combined with an inevitable ‘reshaping’ of the tourism industry in terms of jobs, attractions and destinations of choice, how we ‘do’ tourism is also likely to permanently change, and so the impact of Covid-19 will be felt for many years to come.

Dr Duncan Light is Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management at Bournemouth University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 13th May 2020 by Duncan which can be found here.

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Rebuilding after COVID-19: Is Now the Time for a Universal Basic Income?

Covid Anniversary Blog

Has the time finally come for a universal basic income (UBI)?  Many believe so, especially in light of the economic fall-out from the covid-19 pandemic. Experiments of basic income are running in many advanced welfare states. What for centuries has been an outpost of radical, even obscure, philosophical and economic debates could soon become a reality.

Historically, basic income has held little tract with mainstream European political parties.  Rather, its supporters were found across a range of radical traditions, such as anti-work theory and various strands of libertarianism.   Yet in an age of disruption, radical policies can take on an unexpected persuasion and, before long, appear the most pragmatic of choices.

Given its diverse support base, the problems that basic income can purportedly solve often appear breathtaking in range.  But its recent popularity can be explained by its convincing claims to solve four key challenges facing advanced welfare states: automation; labour market precarity; gender inequality; and the desire of many for a better work-life balance.

That these are profound and genuine challenges for societies is without doubt.  Yet that basic income is the policy answer is unclear; so let’s apply three tests.

  • Can UBI win widespread public support?

Basic income will require a higher tax settlement than at present and public enthusiasm for much higher public spending is largely undetectable.  Whilst opinion polls tend to show reasonably high support for basic income, once people are informed of the tax consequences support falls significantly.

Perhaps more fundamentally, basic income is at odds with social norms on welfare deservingness, with entitlement to social security largely wedded to notions of contribution or need.  UBI would go to those who do not contribute, as well as to those who have little need and so contrary to dominant social norms around the moral, as well as economic, value of paid work.

  • Can UBI to correct those problems its supporters identify? 

Here there is a case that basic income is not nearly transformative enough: Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for example, describes basic income as a defeatist proposal.  It does not seek to contest and correct the inequalities and problems its advocates identify.  It takes these inequalities as inevitable and, absent of an idea for how to truly eradicate them, offers a small income to compensate people’s losses.

  • What would be the impact of UBI on existing and alternative social policies.

It would for example leave less expenditure, and less public will, to maintain and expand existing social policies, and to develop new ones.    Equally, it raises the potential that basic income could be used as an excuse to retrench existing welfare arrangements in the future.

This is the real dilemma posed by UBI: what policies should be prioritised?  A basic income or better-funded childcare?  A basic income or reskilling and training programmes for young people and the unemployed?  If the argument can be won for stronger social investment, governments will not have the capacity to provide both basic income and more generous, expanded social interventions.  A stark and difficult choice would have to be made.

More plausible, credible and evidence-backed social policies exist as viable alternatives.  Whilst not as elegant or seductive as UBI, they offer stronger claims to winning public support and transforming societies for the long-term.  Now is not the time to trust in a single, simple solution for the most complex social and economic challenges.

Dr Daniel Sage is Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University.

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