Social Protection and Health Care as a Social Common

COVID-19 reveals the undeniable fact of our interdependence and some hard truths about our economic system. While this is nothing new, it will now be difficult for all those who preferred to ignore some basic facts to go on with business as usual. Our economy collapsed because people cannot buy more than what they actually need. But as the economy grows the more people get sick and need help. And our universal welfare systems never excluded so many people as they do now. The many flaws in the dominant thinking and policymaking do not only refer to our health systems, but are almost all linked to the way the neoliberal globalization is organized. Turn the thinking around, forget the unfettered profit-seeking, start with the real basic needs of people and all the so badly needed approaches logically fall in the basket: the link with social protection, with water, housing and income security, the link with participation and democracy. In this article, I want to sketch the journey from needs to commons, since that is where the road should be leading us to. It goes in the opposite direction of more austerity, more privatization, more fragmentation of our social policies. It also leads to paradigmatic changes, based on old concepts such as solidarity and a new way to define sustainability.

The COVID-19 crisis is revealing in many aspects. All of a sudden, one does not have to convince people anymore of the importance of health care and social protection. Surprising as it may sound, for many governments and for many social movements, social protection has not been one of the priorities in their agenda. Some think the private sector will take care of it, others think they have to respect the international fiscal directives, and still others give priority to environmental policies with maybe some vague demand for basic income.

If this current crisis could re-direct past thinking into a clear demand for health care and social protection, leaving aside universal basic income and privatizations, one would be able to speak of the silver lining of this coronacrisis. However, in order to so, many traps have to be avoided.

In this article I will briefly look at what sideways can better be left behind, what a forward-looking policy can look like and how it can lead to a perspective on social commons and system change. This implies an intersectional approach to health, social protection and several other sectors of social and economic policies. It is the road to the sustainability of life, people, societies and nature.

Red the Article of Francine Mestrum in ‘Development’