Working Paper

Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste: Opportunities to Reduce Social Disadvantage from COVID-19

Published: 2020

Non-technical summary:

This collaborative, multi-disciplinary paper by social policy experts from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (Life Course Centre), led by Director Professor Janeen Baxter, explores how COVID-19 has brought opportunities to address long-standing problems in health, labour markets, the tax and transfer system, gender equality, education, housing and criminal justice in Australia.

Far more than a health pandemic, COVID-19 has changed almost all aspects of how we live and work. Australia is not alone in this situation. COVID-19 has global reach and no country is immune to its impact. We do not yet know the full extent of these changes and it will be some time before we, and others, are able to reflect on the full impact of COVID-19, whether it be in terms of health, employment, industry closures, domestic violence, social isolation or mental health. It is much too early to outline these impacts with any confidence. But what we can do at this early stage is to reflect on the opportunities that COVID-19 presents for examining some of our taken-for-granted rules and regulations about living and working.

In this paper, Life Course Centre researchers share ideas on potential opportunities for rethinking, redesigning and reworking social policies to address disadvantage. They present a broad range of ideas covering both opportunities that may arise coincidentally and others that will require purposeful policy and institutional redesign. The paper presents an optimistic, forward-looking counterpoint to what has undoubtedly been a catastrophic global social, health and economic event.

There will be other pandemics and other global shocks. What we learn, and do, today will have significant bearing on future preparations and responses. The examples in this paper are just some of the ways we might leverage the COVID-19 crisis to build a better society.

An updated version of this paper has been published as Baxter J, Cobb-Clark D, Cornish A, Ho T, Kalb G, Mazerolle L, Parsell C, Pawson H, Thorpe K, De Silva L and Zubrick SR. (2021) Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste: Opportunities to Reduce Social Disadvantage from COVID-19. The Australian Economic Review, 54, 343-358. DOI: 10.1111/1467-8462.12428