Covid-19: Economy - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:35 pm on 4th June 2020.

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Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 1:35 pm, 4th June 2020

My Lords, I want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harries, in speaking about vision. The word “economy” comes from two Greek words: “oikos”, meaning household, and “nomos”, meaning law. Its literal meaning is “the law of the household”. A good economy is meant to be like a well-run household, where things are shared fairly and where everyone is catered for according to their needs. In a family, it is unthinkable that some are fed while others go hungry. Moreover, each member gladly makes the sacrifices necessary to contribute to the whole. These ideas of a common good, belonging to each other and mutual responsibility were a unifying force in the post-war consensus that created the welfare state. They had their roots in Christian social teaching.

As has been said, our last crisis did not lead to such a vision. After the financial crash 12 years ago, the banks were bailed out with public money, but it was paid for by reducing public services. Now, correctly in my view, the Government are paying for citizens to be furloughed and for increased health measures, but we do not have the unifying vision which will help us rebuild our nation, nor the will to pay for it proportionately.

What can we learn from this crisis? First, we need something more than a safety net. A safety net is not a vision; it is a last resort. We need a vision for a society where everyone is raised up and where everyone recognises their responsibility to the whole, as in a household.

Covid-19 is not indiscriminate. It disproportionately affects the BAME community and the poor, it reduces opportunities for the young and it highlights deepening inequalities in our society. Wealthy people can work from home; poor people cannot. But Covid-19 is nothing compared with the environmental challenge the world faces. Simply getting the economy up and running in the next year might help balance the books, but it will be a disaster for the next generation. We need an economic reset that is based around the common good and the well-being of the planet: anything less will not be economical.