Ten questions on the next phase of the UK’s COVID-19 response
7. How will public trust and solidarity in the COVID-19 response be ensured?
Throughout lockdown, citizens have been expected to regulate their own behaviours - whether to self-isolate, whether to travel to work which cannot be carried out at home, whether to visit a pub or restaurant once they reopened. This places a high level of responsibility on individuals to determine whether their own actions are compliant, under the threat of enforcement, but without unambiguous guidance from the government - which creates a culture of ‘responsibilisation’.
The corollary of that culture of responsibilisation is one of blame: that it is the fault of the public for not complying with restrictions when infection rates rise again. Certain sections of the community have been singled out for blame: Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (particularly those from Muslim backgrounds, with a decision to impose a local lockdown in parts of Northern England the night before Eid al-Adha); young people socialising; and students returning to universities. This has led to pitting communities against each other - whether in sowing the seeds of intergenerational conflict between the younger and older, or encouraging neighbours to “shop” each other for not observing social gathering rules. Blame and the characterisation of the public as selfish or reckless will surely impact on trust and trustworthiness, and a sense of public solidarity, at a time when that is of crucial import.