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Public wants a fairer, greener Britain after Covid, report finds

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have, “transformed the national mood,” according to the findings of a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Green New Deal.

The ‘Reset’ report, which surveyed over 50,000 people in the UK, found an “overwhelming public appetite for a fairer, greener, kinder Britain after Covid,” in contrast to the perception of a public rife with divisions between young and old, left and right, and Leave versus Remain.

The 78-page report published this week states: “the public are way ahead of ministers in the boldness, scope and scale of change they want to see, with ambitious ideas about the future of work, public services, community, nature and local life. The Government has a far stronger popular mandate than it imagines to use this moment to transform Britain.”

Some of the report’s headline findings include:

  • 82% of the public think delivery drivers and supermarket workers should have better working conditions, whilst for NHS and care workers this figure rises to over 90%.
  • Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed were in support of rent caps so that housing is affordable for all, and 82% argued for more flexibility regarding working from home.
  • 57% of people support some form of monthly guaranteed income, with 50% also in favour of a reduction in working days in a bid to boost employment.

One effect of the lockdown was the heightened importance it gave to the natural world. According to the Reset report, nearly half of the public (47%) noticed that they could hear more birdsong, whilst the overwhelming majority of people chose a green space when asked to name an object that described their community.

Furthermore, in the report’s poll, 45% of the public said they wanted to see more green spaces in their area, with this desire increasing in London, where the figure rose to 57%.

But the report makes clear that its title – ‘Reset’ – is more than a cliché. There is a whole field of social science dedicated to so-called ‘transition moments’, which the coronavirus crisis has undoubtedly been. The buzzword of discussions about the virus has been ‘unprecedented’.

The report says that research on the “‘Habit Discontinuity Hypothesis’ demonstrates that it is much easier to change a habit following a disruptive life event, like moving house or changing jobs. During these moments our habits are not fixed and we work out new ways of living.”

One way in which the pandemic could prove this habit discontinuity thesis is in travel and transport. 30% of those asked said they were planning to spend less time commuting to and from work in the future, whilst 78% supported changes to the transport system overall, including greater investment in walking and cycling facilities such as cycle lands and pedestrianised zones.

The report’s authors suggest that, “perhaps the defining experience of lockdown was to spend much more time at home, with more time interacting with nature or hearing the sounds of nature”.

The report found that 73% of people polled believed that improving the environment and green spaces will impact positively on people’s health, whilst two-thirds want the reduction in traffic during lockdown to continue; participants felt safer when exercising with less traffic and enjoyed the reduction in pollution.

However, the report also highlighted the inequality in access to green spaces; 33% of BAME respondents felt they couldn’t access a green space within easy walking distance of their home, compared to 18% of white people, whilst overcrowding in green spaces and parks was much more common in London than in other areas.

The coronavirus crisis heightened people’s awareness of the link between human health and the health of the natural world, with 53% of those polled believing that Covid-19 is a warning about our damaging relationship with nature; additionally, two-thirds of people agreed that we should pay more attention to what scientists say in the future when deciding on how to act on the climate crisis.

Looking ahead to the future, the report notes; “With a likely rise in unemployment in autumn 2020, investing in nature could be an even more important source of new jobs that serve local communities while simultaneously addressing the wider environmental crises. In evidence submitted to us, the Wildlife and Countryside Commission propose the development of a “National Nature Service”, which would ‘create tens of thousands of jobs, inspire the next generation of conservationists and help us “grow back better” from the crisis.’”

The APPG’s report calls for “a real Green New Deal,” criticising Boris Johnson’s £5 billion “new deal” which (after adjusting for a larger economy) represents just 1/200th of the cost Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s after the Great Depression.

This “would mean a rewiring of the British economy to be fairer and more climate-resilient – and it would mean investing enough money to transform life in Britain so that we can meet the challenges in front of us.”

“From what the people of Britain have told us, ministers have a mandate for change that is considerably more far-reaching than anything we have seen to date. That is both the challenge and the opportunity which this report offers to the Government.”

The APPG on the Green New Deal’s next report will be published in October.

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) is Environment News Editor at The Oxford Blue for Michaelmas 2020. He is in his second year studying History and Politics at Balliol.