Just 6% of UK public ‘want a return to pre-pandemic economy’

Only 6% of the public want to return to the same type of economy as before the coronavirus pandemic, according to new polling, as trade unions, business groups and religious and civic leaders unite in calling for a fairer financial recovery.

The former head of the civil service Bob Kerslake, the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the heads of the Trades Union Congress, Confederation of British Industry and the British Chambers of Commerce are among 350 influential figures wanting a “fairer and greener” economic rebuilding, and believe there is no going back to the past.

Their call comes as a YouGov poll shows that 31% of people want to see big changes in the way the economy is run coming out of the crisis, with a further 28% wanting to see moderate changes and only 6% of people wanting to see no changes.

It also showed 44% of people were pessimistic when they thought about the future of the economy, while only 27% were optimistic. Forty-nine percent thought the crisis had made inequality worse.

Labour peer Lord Kerslake said: “As the country begins to emerge from the crisis, it is becoming clear that people want a better future, not simply to return to where we were before. As with big crises in the past – from wars to the Great Depression – it was universally agreed that there was no going back.

“And so we have to ask deep questions about what kind of society and economy we now want to build. The moment we are in is a challenge to us all: to governments, businesses, civil society and citizens. But it is a challenge to which, together, we can rise and build something better.”

The research, commissioned by the New Economics Foundation, was released at the launch of their “Build Back Better” campaign. Other signatories include David Walker, the bishop of Manchester, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the bishop of Dover, senior rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, and the heads of Oxfam, Shelter, Save the Children, the Trussell Trust, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Frances Morris, director of the Tate Modern, has also signed up in a personal capacity.

The campaign is calling for an economic recovery that provides more funding for the NHS and social care, tackles inequality, creates good jobs, particularly for young people, and reduces the risk of future pandemics and climate emergencies.

Miatta Fahnbulleh, chief executive of the New Economics Foundation, said: “The crisis has revealed a number of harsh truths – that our health and social care services had been under-resourced, and that longstanding inequalities have left too many people vulnerable. But we have seen what can be achieved when we are faced with a crisis – government can spend wisely, at speed and at scale.”

It comes as the Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, directly challenged the prime minister on his pledge to spend billions on the country’s economic recovery, considering the scale of “inaction and broken promises” in the last 10 years of Conservative power.

Starmer pointed out a raft of existing regional inequalities in spending per head for education and health in light of Johnson’s promise to “level up” the economy.

Speaking ahead of the prime minister’s planned speech on the economic recovery on Tuesday, Starmer said: “For much of the country, the Tories’ record on building and investment has been a lost decade.

“Much hyped plans such as the starter homes initiative – which built zero houses despite having GBP2.3bn allocated to it – barely made it beyond the press release. It’s been talk, talk, talk rather than build, build, build.

“Our recovery from the coronavirus crisis needs to match the scale of the challenge. It must be built on solid foundations. It has to work for the whole country and end the deep injustices across the country.”

The National Audit Office assessed the starter home scheme, which was to provide 200,000 houses for those aged under 40 with a 20%discount. They found legislation to take the project forward was never passed and not a single home of that type was ever built.

Using Treasury figures, Labour poured more cold water on the pledged economic bounceback by highlighting the fact that seven of England’s nine regions had experienced a reduction in public capital investment per person over the past 10 years.

In Yorkshire, the east Midlands and the south-west, investment per person is still less than half that of London. Labour also claimed that all regions had seen a decrease in both health and education investment per person.

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