Building Back Better or Building Back Broken?

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“For every steel shutter lifted and window board removed, many remain as a symbol of livelihoods lost to the virus.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 13/07/2020 [Online] Available: https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/ewan-gurr-building-back-better-or-building-back-broken/   [Accessed: 2020, Jul 14] 

As the vision of a new normal embeds itself as reality, I am concerned about the new society we have created for our children, disabled people and senior citizens. Today is day 115 of lockdown and, having been optimistic about the language of enabling an economy for everyone and building back better, I saw the manifestation of this new normal in the praxis of our new society on a recent journey into Dundee city centre.

My first stop was the TSB in Meadowside. As I approached the door, my entry was prohibited by the outstretched arm of a visibly obtuse and paranoid masked man. A distant receptionist, having observed me with my young son and how jarred I was by the lack of civility displayed in our welcome, ushered me in and interrogated the urgency of my enquiry before directing me to an arrow-defined assault course which led to an adviser behind newly-installed plate glass.

To me, this is a minor inconvenience but I wondered about those for whom this new normal is profoundly abnormal. A sucker for optimism, I admit I was hoodwinked by language of building back better. Now I ask myself; better for whom exactly? For our disabled citizens navigating a new world created without their consultation, young children whose parents had the arduous feat of explaining lockdown to them or the lonely folk we are talking to about the benefits of continuing to work from home?

Dr Sally Witcher is Chief Executive of Inclusion Scotland and recently wrote: “I don’t want to build back better, to build backwards, but to build forwards and from the bottom, not the top.” Last week Sally, who is a disabled person and wheelchair user, told me: “The current situation has entrenched existing inequalities and created new ones but I think most have just had a wee taste of what it’s long been like for many disabled people, being unable to go where they want whenever they want to.”

Inclusion Scotland published research in which one disabled person said: “Shopping can be difficult as major supermarkets have huge waiting lists for delivery service and I have nothing to prove I should be a priority.” Yet, Sally pointed out: “Shops don’t seem to have considered those unable to stand for long periods who are now expected to queue to get into them or visually impaired people unable to see arrows on floors and who use touch to navigate.”

Are we building back better or building back broken? For every steel shutter lifted at shops and window board removed at pubs, many remain as a symbol of livelihoods lost to the virus. Current guidelines forbid those with mental ill health from meeting their therapist but they are permitted to order a pint outside a pub. What is the point of suppressing a physical virus if we are only trading it for a psychological one?

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