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Covid-19 has transformed the welfare state. Which changes will endure?

“Suddenly everything drops out from under you,” says Will, a 30-year-old Londoner. He has had paid jobs in arts marketing since he graduated from university. The pandemic upended everything. Redundancy loomed. Rescue came in the form of the British government’s furlough scheme, without which he would be jobless and penurious. The experience has made him more supportive of the welfare state—and even of grander schemes, such as a universal basic income (ubi).

Crises, such as wars or economic collapse, reveal societies’ strengths and weaknesses, and change thinking about how they can and should be organised. The pandemic has forced a re-evaluation of the social contract, in particular how risk should be divided among individuals, employers and the state. The covid-19 fiscal stimulus packages have made even the interventions of the global financial crisis seem like minnows. The expansion of the welfare state has been the greatest in living memory. Government bail-outs of citizens, rather than banks, could mark a new chapter in its history.

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