Back to the future: the shape of things to come in the post ‘Covid-19 crisis’ world.

By nature, I like to think that I am an optimist. I expect some close family and friends might disagree, especially based on my obsession with canned Heinz baked beans and sausages in the run up to lockdown. However, I happily agreed to sit down and write an ‘inspirational’ piece on how the future might now look, beyond a lecture on the merits or pitfalls of working from home or the not particularly original insight that social distancing presents challenges to businesses like pubs.

The trends we identified pre-crisis, in our opinion, remain intact and if anything, have accelerated. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, these focus on disruptive technologies, increasing automation, cybercrime and consumers shifting away from the middle ground, to high-end or low-end goods and services as inequality prevails. The drive for further automation will be relentless. The increased costs associated with home delivery, through extra inventory and transportation costs are but one example of why logistical and retail companies will continue to champion the rise of the robots.
Simultaneously, anyone driving to Barnard Castle and successfully passing their eye test may well have passed fields of flowering asparagus or wilting fruit, reflecting just some of the agricultural sector’s challenges in its search for effective automated solutions to bringing in some of the more labour-intensive harvests. Jethro Tull’s seed drill and the wider agricultural revolution in 18th century Britain proved a major turning point in history, allowing the population to grow far in excess of earlier peaks and sustain the country’s rise to industrial pre-eminence.
This, in turn, highlights that in a post Covid-19 world the challenges that existed at the end of 2019 are still a clear and present danger today. Beyond Brexit, the events of the last few months and the rhetoric surrounding them, suggest that a new cold war is in place; for now still mostly in words, though with the menace of louder actions to follow. The United States is currently the global superpower and China its young pretender. Students of history might predict that any period featuring a declining superpower and a rising star is likely to prove uncomfortable. Alongside increased protectionism and attacks on global supply chains, it would seem hard to disagree.
We have also witnessed a strange mix of extremes of community spirit and co-operation, coupled with examples of extreme selfishness. Suddenly the vulnerable next-door neighbour, the postman, the nurse, the farmer, all matter. At the same time inequalities in society have become more exposed, whether it is access to superfast broadband, to enable efficient home working, or the lack of even modest savings in the bank to prevent hunger and the fear of homelessness. Governments and central banks must now walk a tightrope to ensure that increased taxation and quantitative easing are not seen to favour the few.
In summary, even an optimist concludes that the next decade is going to be tough, with a tsunami of challenges that will test our resolve, both individually and as a nation. Policies that focus on social cohesion and in the case of business, work practices that harness technology responsibly, will be pivotal in ensuring that we remain in this together and emerge stronger. Maybe now is the time for a new deal and above all else, hope. Now, where did I put those gloves, I have some strawberries to harvest…

Written by

William Reid
Head of Charities