There comes a time in the life of a nation when a great crisis challenges a thoughtful government to reimagine not only its own vision of itself as a governing body, but also its vision of the kind of nation it hopes to govern for the future.
It is the opportunity for a time of radical reassessment. And this calls for courage, imagination and a readiness to set in motion practicable actions; actions which will have transformative outcomes in serving the wellbeing and flourishing of all.
My Lords, the United Kingdom is not short of people who are hungry for change and with good ideas. It is short of discerning the ways of achieving sustainable change and stability. This report hints at it. Therefore, let us keep to task.
In the first half of the last century the crises we faced were two world wars, a pandemic, and the Great Depression of the 1930s. The result of brave and radical reimagining were some of the blessings we enjoy today: the development of the “welfare state”, a phrase coined by Archbishop William Temple, instead of Beveridge’s “Social Insurance”; the great liberalising Education Act; and a National Health Service whose continued safety has been a key part of our Covid-19 response.
In the early years of our present century, we have experienced two crises which offered similar moments for reflection, action and reform. It could be argued that the financial crisis of 2007-8 was an opportunity missed for radical reform. Austerity was the wrong medicine and it was applied for far too long.
The second crisis is the Covid-19 pandemic. May we all learn the lessons and act on them. I am glad that our NHS is now the National Health Service and Social Care. A full implementation of the Dilnot Report is a must.
Thankfully no-one now talks about “there is no money tree”. The furlough scheme and support for people’s livelihoods has lifted our gaze to the horizon of hope. “We’re all in this together”: in word and deed in ordering our society, our politics, our economy, with the wellbeing and human flourishing as our aim.
As the late Lord Jonathan Sacks says in the introduction to his book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times: “We need some kind of moral community for there to be a society as opposed to a state.”
Even before the financial challenges of loss of livelihoods over the past year due to the various lockdown restrictions, the statistics of food banks have told their own story of poverty, hunger, income inequality and the need to change.
And just as the Covid-19 pandemic is a global challenge, food poverty is truly global. Certainly poverty, and food poverty in particular, had long pre-dated the problems of the pandemic, and the House of Lords report refers to the staggering increase in foodbank use.
This crisis of food hunger is real. Marcus Rashford’s campaign calls us to slay this dragon together, for the sake of our children. Well done Marcus! Research has consistently shown that children need a good diet to be able to learn effectively.
When children come to school without having eaten properly, they are less likely to learn, to thrive, to progress, and their future chances will be impaired. That’s why breakfast clubs were set up, so that those who were not getting a proper diet could be given the necessary advantages to help them flourish.
Her Majesty’s Government has learnt during the Covid-19 challenge that big government solutions are important for big problems. Can the lessons learnt be applied to government action for the health and wellbeing crisis?
I pray that they can, and they will – and may it be soon – promising less and delivering more.