Whatever happened to ‘building back better’?

People Hand holding seedling
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ViewsJune 14th, 2021

Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation, says that while talk about ‘building back better’ may be fading, the need to solve inequalities is as pressing as ever. 

A year ago the phrase that was on everybody’s lips was “building back better”. Or, if you preferred, you could choose from alternative phrases such as “resetting”, “renewing” and “restarting”. What all these phrases had in common was a desire to create a new and more equal society.

A year on from the outbreak of the pandemic, and talk of building back better seems to be fading. Instead we have the focus on getting back to normal, such whether it that is going to the pub, going on holiday or having a pre-pandemic-style dream wedding.

This is not the first time that a crisis is seen to bring opportunities. I remember the financial crisis in 2010/11 prompting many claims that this was the end of capitalism as we knew it. There were calls for a bright new future, based on a green new deal, greater equality and so on.  Instead what we got was a decade of austerity that did little to address the pre-existing inequalities and did a lot to make them worse.

Looking back, it is clear that the calls for transformation, both from the financial crash and the early pandemic, fail if they are too vague and too difficult to deliver.  This makes it all the more important that campaigners for greater equality in Wales to focus not on the catchy slogans but on the nitty gritty of things that make a difference to people’s lives.

These are the things that drove many of the inequalities exploited by the Coronavirus in the first place. Things like not having a secure home, children sharing bedrooms and not having access to open space things. Things like not having a decent job that pays a decent wage and provides some security. Things like being excluded from your community because of the colour of your skin or country of origin.

The calls to ‘build back better’ may be fading, but the underlying issues have not. Solving them is hard, unglamorous work that rarely lends itself to catchy slogans.  But they are no less important or urgent for that. 

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation

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