In the middle of the Second World War, the British government -- with an eye to the future -- decided to review all of the programs it administered. Robin Sears writes:
At the time, the U.K. had seven government departments overlapping on a multitude of often conflicting pension and social benefits policies. Sound familiar? Beveridge took little more than a year to analyze and study the holes in a threadbare safety net. He produced a report that literally changed the face of health and pensions around the world. Working with a series of fellow bureaucrats, they together consulted dozens of experts and citizens and produced a final report to ecstatic reviews. It sold 600,000 copies in weeks.
Beveridge pushed his study boundaries far beyond a tidy-up, recommending the creation of the National Health Service and an entirely new social safety net. His recommendations helped form the basis of our own systems, and many others around the world. It was his vision of rebuilding back better after the war. Its impact took decades to unfold, but the Beveridge Report is still regarded as one of the foundational documents for our social infrastructure in the advanced democracies.
Sears suggests that, as the pandemic recedes, we do the same:
Royal commissions are often sneered at as expensive, time-wasting political delay devices. But we have had several great commissions in the recent past, ones whose impact were felt for decades. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, widely pilloried at the time, is now seen as a catalyst to unlocking Canadians’ new focus on Indigenous reconciliation.
We have learned many cruel lessons from the pandemic about preparation, education, co-ordination and adequate funding. But we have also made our support systems more complex and overlapping, with no obvious strategic vision to guide them. Add the challenges of a federal state, and we stand on the verge of losing the pandemic peace. New thinking on housing, education, health and innovation exists in unfinished pieces in many places, but again we have no strategic plan on what would make a unified social infrastructure for Canada’s 21st century.
We need to ask -- and answer -- several questions:
Should it include a guaranteed monthly income? Can we find alternatives to surging hospital costs? How do we replace the 19th-century straight jacket that traps each level of education? How do we ensure that each of the social determinants of health and prosperity are addressed in a coherent whole, and not a tangled plate of policy spaghetti?
The worst thing we could do would be to enter the next pandemic -- and there will be one -- without a plan to deal with it and the social strains it will impose.
Image: ET Canada