Society won’t change after crisis – but Gummer warns of big tax bills

PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 April 2020

Ben Gummer was the minister in the Cabinet Office in 2017. Picture: ROBERT THOM/UK GOVERNMENT

Ben Gummer was the minister in the Cabinet Office in 2017. Picture: ROBERT THOM/UK GOVERNMENT


Former Ipswich MP and cabinet office minister Ben Gummer is following the coronavirus crisis with particular interest – as a politician involved in planning the government’s response to a flu pandemic and as a historian who studied the effect the Black Death had on Medieval society.

And while he warns taxpayers will have to pay the bill for the government measures to prevent the economy for crashing for many years, ultimately the pandemic will not change the shape of society fundamentally.

Back in 2017, before he lost his seat in the May general election, Mr Gummer chaired a COBRA meeting which looked at the government’s response to a flu pandemic. The findings of that meeting were included in a government report published later that year which warned that a flu pandemic could cause between 20,000 and 750,000 deaths in the UK and lead to widespread work absences.

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For him that work was underpinned by the research he did while writing “The Scourging Angel,” before he became an MP. It is a book about the Black Death and its effect on Medieval society.

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There were major changes to society after the Black Death hit Europe in the 14th century – but Mr Gummer said that during his research he came to realise that most of the changes had already started before it hit the continent, and probably would have happened anyway, albeit more slowly.

And he does not believe the current pandemic will change society: “I think a pandemic like this might speed up some changes that would have happened anyway, but it won’t fundamentally change society of its own account.

“We are in strange times at the moment, but when this passes I think people will go back to life as it was before. I don’t think this will fundamentally change society – although it will take time to get back to normal.”

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But Mr Gummer warned that there would be a price to pay for the strong action by the government to support the economy – supporting businesses and introduction furlough schemes to ensure workers were able to be kept on their payrolls.

He said: “I’m afraid we will be paying for this for many years. The National Debt will be going up and that will have to be serviced. That means we will be having to pay more taxes and will not actually see any benefit from that.”

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