The COVID-19 Pandemic and British Exceptionalism: Explaining Policy Failure (80492)

Session Information: Health and Public Policy
Session Chair: Sean Creaven

Saturday, 25 May 2024 14:10
Session: Session 3
Room: Room 603
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation

All presentation times are UTC + 9 (Asia/Tokyo)

The COVID-19 pandemic elicited a policy response from the UK government that may be described as “British exceptionalism”. The concept of exceptionalism here denotes a pattern of government decision-making (and non-decision-making) that diminished the efficacy of NPIs that would suppress the virus. This was detrimental to the cause of public health protection, leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths. The negative consequences of policy failure were exacerbated by the weaknesses of the UK public health system (NHS) generated by decades of under-resourcing under successive neoliberal governments. The chief aspects of British exceptionalism were: (1) eschewal of border defence; (2) deferred lockdowns and fast-tracked re-openings; (3) communicative ambivalence with regard to public-health protective messaging; (4) tardily developed test-and-trace systems; and (5) failure to encourage or mandate public mask-wearing. Many of these policy failings were not unique to the UK, if considered on a case-by-case basis. However, taken as a whole, in extent and degree, they were. Hence British exceptionalism. This paper will address these key elements of the UK government’s pandemic response. This is as these unfolded from February 2020 (on the eve of the British pandemic) up until mid-July 2021 (when the UK government declared its end). The negative consequences of policy failure will be set out alongside an explanation of British exceptionalism. The paper will argue that this is attributable to neoliberal ideology, the protection of corporate interests, Brexit nationalism, and the peculiarities of a British model of capitalism based on international trade and labour market precarity.

Sean Creaven, University of the West of England, United Kingdom

About the Presenter(s)
Dr SM Creaven is senior lecturer in sociology/criminology at UWE Bristol, UK. He is also programme leader of sociology courses at UWE. He is currently finalising a book on global political economy. His recent research has been in pandemic sociology.

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Posted by Clive Staples Lewis

Last updated: 2023-02-23 23:45:00