Demos under lockdown


Squashed in the box room, trying to ignore the shouts of children outside. Huddled over a makeshift workstation in the kitchen while your partner works on the sofa. Alone in a silent home. Terror-scrolling through social media in search of updates. Sitting by the window looking at a street you won’t step out into for months. Standing on a bus that you wish wasn’t crowded, as you make your way home from the hospital. Kipping on a friend’s sofa because you’re stranded by travel restrictions.

Our lives, disrupted, look very different from each other’s. And yet the connections between us feel more obvious and unignorable than ever before. Golden threads connect us: the food supply chain, our healthcare system, volunteering networks, driven by service and compassion. And dark ones, too: our reliance on others’ hygiene, the knowledge that anyone who passes by you could be the one to pass the infection on. The knowledge that it could be you at the start of a chain that infects tens of thousands.

It is utterly trite to say that I have never lived through anything like this. None of us have. I find my thoughts spinning out of control. The fear for loved ones whose health problems used to cross your mind every month or so, but now sting you whenever you pause. I used to find it hard to balance work and family life when each was housed in a different building. Now, on top of one another, work will only win before 7am and after bedtime. I can only imagine how much harder it must be for those without a garden or in an overcrowded flat.

For those of us lucky enough to be free of immediate worry about our health or finances, our thoughts naturally turn to service. What can I do? We wish we had trained as medics. We wish we had factories that could make ventilator parts or hand sanitiser, or restock the supermarket shelves. That’s why we’ve seen such an outpouring of organised help and volunteering to get food and company to those isolated in their home. It’s why all the messages from government are about staying home to protect others, not yourself. Hundreds of millions of people around the world are compelled by a basic human instinct to help others at a time of crisis.

Demos is a research charity. My team of 20 wonderful wonks, experts, campaigners and thinkers are all motivated by a belief in public service. It’s why we’re in policy in the first place. But we don’t build ventilators. We build policy answers to policy problems, in partnership with the citizens we serve. That means our role in the Covid-19 crisis is not on the front line. 

Our first duty, like every other citizen, is to stay at home, and keep our families safe. But we know there is more we can and must do to help Britain cope now, and thrive again soon.

There are three things we can do:

  1. Put policy into action: We’ve been working all week to take one of our policy pilots national. 10 Today is a radio show designed to get older people active for 10 minutes a day. We’ve built it and tested it – and from next week it will be running on national radio. Look out for more details from us soon on social media.
  2. Keep keeping on: None of the problems Britain faced a month ago have gone away. Climate change, the impact of technology, rebalancing our tax system, reimagining the future of our towns: this work may not be top of the agenda right now, but once this crisis is over, they will be again. So we see purpose in pressing on with our work. All our current projects will go ahead, as planned. Some will be delayed a little and of course, all of our usual engagement with the public will now happen online. But this year you can still expect radical proposals from Demos on the future of the food system, our investment industry, regulation of the internet, and more. 
  3. Rethink Britain’s future: This is a transformational moment for our society and for our politics. We can’t yet know what impact this will have. Will working from home become a norm or will we all learn to value offices as a place of sanctuary? Will our beliefs about who matters most in a society shift? And will that shift how pay or taxes work? Will lives lived online be better? Or worse? How will misinformation spread? Will we learn to love experts again? Will communities pull together across religious and racial lines, or will times of desperation drive people apart?

At Demos, we are obsessed with what people think, how they live their lives, how they navigate complex problems, and how their opinions are formed. So over the next few months – however long this lasts – we will be working with partners to track and understand how Covid-19 is changing lives.

And that will mean we are ready, when this is over, to draw together the people’s ideas about what comes next – how our society, economy and democracy should be reshaped and rebuilt for the next generation.

And while all this is happening, we want to keep in touch with you. Demos has nearly 30 years of research and policy making under our belts. We inspired personal budgets in healthcare, flexible working and shared parental leave, and specialist schools. We’ve published writers from Mariana Mazzucato to Roger Scruton. We’ve covered topics from parks to parenting, from space to social care. 

So while this lockdown is in place, from tomorrow, we’re opening our archives with a Demos Daily: sharing an article, blog, report, or research paper every day. Some will make you chuckle with anachronisms (like “teleworker” or references to MySpace). But all will make you think. If you’ve got any special requests, do let us know.

Keep safe.