Former policy advisers, entrepreneurs, and academics unite in issuing stark warning about Britain’s post-lockdown prosperity

2020-05-07 17:13:00 +0100

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Academics working on health, economics, and climate have issued a joint call on the government to urgently change course in the battle against both Covid-19 and climate breakdown. 

They said that politicians in Britain should not aim to return to “business as usual” which, in the words of one of the participants, Sir Michael Marmot, was “damaging the very fabric of our society.” 

They stated that underfunding of the NHS and inequality have impoverished the British people and made a successful recovery from Covid-19 very difficult to plan for. They added that carbon emissions must be slashed if Britain is ever to be placed on a secure and prosperous footing. 

The group, convened by the cross-party organisation Compassion in Politics [1] and featuring former government advisers and entrepreneurs as well as professors, met only a day after it was announced that the UK’s coronavirus death-toll is now the highest in Europe [2]. 

The group was unanimous in echoing the call made by the Committee for Climate Change and more than 200 of the world’s foremost economic experts for a green post-covid recovery [3] and the continuation of what the International Energy Agency projects will be a record decline in fossil fuel use this year [4]. 

The panel [5] included Deputy Chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change, Chair of the Carbon Trust and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, Baroness Brown of Cambridge; first elected Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, CBE; Senior Lecturer, at the School of Law, King's College London, Dr Ewan McGaughey; Director of The UCL Institute of Health Equity and adviser to the World Health Organisation, Sir Michael Marmot; and Professor of Economics at Imperial College and a Fellow of The Institute of Fiscal Studies, Professor Carol Propper, CBE

Sir Michael Marmot, said:

“When a care worker is paid less than the minimum income necessary for a healthy life...there’s something really really really wrong. That’s rentier capitalism that’s damaging the very fabric of our society. We now recognise that we need those supermarket checkout people, they’re absolutely vital.

“I did a calculation during the Brexit campaign that the amount of money that was avoided by tax avoidance by multinationals was pretty close to that 350m a week lie on the side of the bus. If you included tax avoidance by multinationals you could well put extra money in the NHS.”

Baroness Brown, said:

“The Commission on Climate Change has been very clear that where high carbon industries are getting government support that it should be a condition of that support that they provide plans with measurable targets about how they are going to dramatically reduce their CO2 emissions over time. Clearly they won’t be able to do that immediately, but we need to see their decarbonisation plans if we’re going to put government money in to support them. We’ve seen the French and other governments do that already. There are some good examples to follow and we’d like to see the UK doing it.

“I really really hope that actually we’ve all learned, and our governments have learned, that we need to make sacrifices now for predictable risks in the future. The scientists had predicted this was coming and we were underprepared and that’s very comparable with the situation with climate change.”

Commenting on the dangerous levels of poverty and inequality in the UK, Baroness Brown added:

I’d like to see a real focus on stronger requirements on the rented sector, making sure we have homes that are cheap, carbon efficient to heat and stay cool in the summer. It’s shocking that in this country we still have people who die because of cold in the winter and increasingly we will have more people.” 

In agreement on the dangerously low levels of NHS funding Professor Carol Propper, CBE, said:

“So essentially what we’ve got is a backlog of cases building up. And those aren’t just waiting list cases for hips and knees, but those are cases in cancer, cases of people who’ve had minor strokes, cases of people who’ve had minor heart attacks and are going to have another one...We entered this pandemic with low funding for the NHS. We already had a shortage of 50 thousand nurses before we even got to the pandemic.”

“We’re in a crisis in the NHS and that crisis is going to have effects.”

A recent survey conducted by Opinium found 48 per cent of the public agree that the government should respond "with the same urgency to climate change as it has with Covid-19" [6]. 

Commenting on the first elected Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, CBE, said: 

“I think national and world politicians generally...are still putting back to normal at the top of their agenda and back to normal is back to the bad old ways...So I do think they’re way behind the curve and it’s encouraging that finding has come out.” 

Today’s discussion came as the government begins to talk about how to start moving out of lockdown, despite the fact that surveys have found the British people are firmly opposed to any steps which risk lives and further burden the NHS. Analysis based on the findings of a survey of 2,250 UK residents aged 16 to 75, conducted by Ipsos MORI, and published by King's College London at the end of April found nine out of ten people support the lockdown measures, including seven out of ten who strongly support them [7].

The authors of the report said:

“In 25 years of studying public opinion in the UK, [they’ve] hardly ever seen seven in ten Brits strongly support anything. The major exception is the nation’s longstanding and deep love for the NHS – which points to one key reason behind the level of compliance.” [8]



Video clips are available here - 

[1] Compassion in Politics is a cross-party organisation working to put compassion, inclusion, and cooperation at the heart of politics. Find out more here: 

[2] UK covid-19 official death toll passes 30,000 - world's second highest

[3] Building back better: A net-zero emissions recovery

[4] Global energy demand to plunge this year as a result of the biggest shock since the Second World War

[5] Full Panel:

The Baroness of Cambridge, Julia Brown. She’s an Engineer and crossbench member of the House of Lords. She’s also the current  Chair of the Carbon Trust and the former Vice-Chancellor of Aston University. -

George Ferguson, CBE is an entrepreneur, former president of RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects and as the first elected Mayor of Bristol, he secured Bristol’s status as European Green Capital 2015. -

Dr Ewan McGaughey is a Senior Lecturer, School of Law, King's College London. He’s written both on measures that could have been taken to prevent the epidemic and extensively on a Green New Deal -

Sir Michael Marmot is Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London as well as director of their Institute of Health Equity. He is, of course, the author of Fair Society, Healthy Lives  - the Marmot review - which was  first published ten years ago and then reviewed earlier this year. -

Professor Carol Propper, CBE, is Professor of Economics at Imperial College Business School and of the Economics of Public Policy at Bristol University. Finally she is President Elect of the Royal Economic Society. -

[6] Compassion in Politics: austerity polling

[7] The three groups reacting to life under lockdown

[8] Three ways people are reacting to coronavirus: ‘accepting’, ‘suffering’ and ‘resisting’