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COVID-19 silver linings: Life Course Centre researchers outline opportunities from pandemic for major social reforms

19 October 2021

‘Never let a crisis go to waste’ is the message from Life Course Centre researchers investigating the potential for major social reforms arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID-19 has undoubtedly been a catastrophic global social, health and economic event, they are presenting an ‘optimistic, forward-looking counterpoint’ to the pandemic by examining ways to leverage the crisis to address long-standing inequalities and disadvantage in Australian society.

“COVID-19 has upended almost all aspects of our lives and rewritten many of the long taken-for granted rules and regulations governing how we live and work,” said Life Course Centre Director Professor Janeen Baxter. “This presents unique opportunities for major long-term reforms including rethinking and reworking social policies to address disadvantage and build back a better and fairer society for all. Some of these may arise coincidentally and others will require purposeful policy and institutional redesign. COVID-19 responses have shown that innovative, previously unthinkable, fast-moving interventions can be achieved and widely accepted. There will be other pandemics and global shocks. What we learn, and do, today will have significant bearing on future preparations and responses.”

Life Course Centre researchers have identified opportunities for lasting social reforms to address disadvantage in areas such as health, employment, education, taxation, gender and housing. Some examples include: telehealth; digital learning; flexible working arrangements; working from home; local manufacturing; domestic tourism; tax and transfer reforms; investment in social housing; valuing front-line teaching, medical and care workers; and collaboration and coordination across governments and government agencies.

The paper, ‘Never let a crisis go to waste: Opportunities to reduce social disadvantage from COVID-19, is authored by research leaders from across the Life Course Centre. It originated as a Position Paper for the Committee for Economic Development in Australia (CEDA) last year, was then published as a Life Course Centre Working Paper, and this year in The Australian Economic Review.

It is also the focus of a special Life Course Centre webinar on Wednesday 20 October 2021 to mark Anti-Poverty Week 2021, where some of the authors will outline select reform opportunities.

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course is a national research centre focussed on investigating the factors underlying deep and persistent disadvantage, and developing innovative new solutions to address it. The Centre is administered by the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland and is a collaboration with The University of Sydney, The University of Melbourne and The University of Western Australia plus government, non-government and community partners.