The Week, 3 December 2021

3 December 2021
By Charlotte Pickles
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As the world continues to scramble to understand Omicron, today brought some welcome news about booster jabs: they work. A University of Southampton study has found that booster jabs increase immunity, with mRNA vaccines, those being used for the UK programme, providing the biggest increase in antibodies and T-cells. And while we don't yet have data on vaccine efficacy against the newest strain, there is cautious optimism that they will continue to mitigate against severe, and fatal, cases of the disease.

In other health-related news, this week saw the publication of the Government's much delayed and anticipated adult social care white paper. The publication was supposed to lay out a plan for fixing the delivery problems — workforce shortages, quality issues, barriers to access — which, alongside September's funding plan, would address the social care crisis. 48-odd hours on and the general consensus seems to be: positive and welcome vision, lacking the funding and strategy to deliver it. If you missed our analysis you can read it here.

Also this week, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published research on housing and loneliness (Those little connections: Community-led housing and lonelinesss) — I'm sure readers of The Week will appreciate the link to the above item. As the new study states:

"The places we live in – whether our neighbourhood, our street or our homes – can have a profound effect on our general wellbeing. Our quality of life can literally be designed in – or designed out – of our homes".

The research finds that community-led housing (CLH), that which puts residents in the driving seat, can help reduce loneliness and increase both people's sense of belonging and trust in their neighbours (i.e. social capital). Unsurprisingly, therefore, it also found that residents of CLH offer each other ongoing mutual support. The researchers recommend that CLH models are supported, and that lessons from them should be applied to non-CLH housing to help tackle loneliness.

Finally, I also want to mention Kate Bingham's Romanes Lecture, which although given last week, I only got round to watching on Monday so am taking the liberty of including. For anyone interested in (a) machinery of government, (b) civil service reform, and (c) how well prepared we now are for the next pandemic, this is a must watch. While recognising the incredible efforts and success of the Taskforce, Dame Bingham is scathing about the lack of science, tech, industrial and commercial capability in government (official and ministerial); the civil service's approach to risk, performance management and innovation; and their attitudes towards the private sector. This is what she had to say about civil service culture:

"While I was in post, I saw an almost obsessive desire among officials to avoid any suggestion of personal error or scope for criticism, and a concern amounting to paranoia about media handling and the possible public reaction. This created groupthink, and a massive aversion to risk, which in turn held back innovation and the pace of execution."

Perhaps the most worrying part of the lecture was her damning assessment of our preparedness for the next "war". Lessons are not being learnt, and processes, attitudes and approaches remain that will limit our ability to protect ourselves in future. There is, however, still time to implement the "fundamental re-set" she calls for — and our March report on how government can build resilience for future civil emergencies would be a good place to start!