In the early days of COVID-19, Guardian reporter Laura Spinney asked if COVID was a consequence of the economy, and not the other way round.1 Regardless of which came first, there are differing points of view about the road to economic recovery. One broadly says government should stand back leave it up to the private sector. Some are disputing this “government stand back” position, particularly when it comes to housing and health services.
Katy Klingopulos, who practices law in England, argues that it is unreasonable to expect the housing industry to supply “social needs” housing for people who cannot compete in the private market. As part of her argument, she sets out the business reasons for holding land approved for development off the market. She identifies roles that government, the housing industry and housing providers could take to build “social needs” housing. Read more in pbctoday: Social housing provision: Reconciling social need and commercial risks
An opinion piece written by Sonia Sodha in the Guardian calls for providing low rent housing to all young people in the UK. She argues that the economic effects of COVID-19 have hit young people particularly hard (losing work, missing education opportunities, using up savings with no opportunity to replace them) and that guaranteeing low rents for five years would help them to get on their feet. She also demonstrates that isn’t a radical idea if one looks at England’s history of public housing over the last 100 years. Read more here: Want to fix the housing crisis? Give young people the right to a subsidised home
A third group takes a rights based approach. The five authors have current or past connections with the UN. They argue that engaging the private sector to provide public services undermines individual rights, particularly in times of a crisis such as COVID-19. They provide examples from several countries to demonstrate that human rights have suffered significantly at the hands of private interests. The specific nature of the COVID-19 response highlights limitations in access to water (for safe hygiene practices), to housing (to follow social isolation and lockdown guidance) and to health services (including testing to control the spread of the virus as well as health care for people who are infected with the virus or need care for other medical reasons). The authors call for more investment in pubic services and a wholesale change in the way they are delivered. Read more in The Guardian: Covid-19 has exposed the catastrophic impact of privatising vital services
Finally, if one is in any doubt that the private sector will act in the public interest, here’s an article in the Guardian about the UK’s COVID-19 testing and tracing program. It amply demonstrates why seeking a private sector solution in a crisis can be a bad idea. This story reinforces Klingopulos’s theme that the private sector is designed to return profit to its investors, not provide public services. As a public service provider, the private sector simply can’t do the job: The government’s secretive Covid contracts are heaping misery on Britain