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NZ‘s strong sense of unity shown during lockdown could be lost

The strong sense of unity felt throughout New Zealand during lockdown – and rarely seen outside of times of war – could be under threat as the country faces grim economic realities and the people face disruption in their personal lives, top social scientists have warned.

A at the University of Auckland outlines the potential fallout for society as job losses put financial pressure on communities and strongly points to the need to promote social cohesion.

Koi Tū director Sir Peter Gluckman said the high level of trust in government seen so far will likely begin to waver as the country transitions out of the acute phase and as the implications of a prolonged recession become apparent.

“Already, we‘re seeing a rise in tension between conflicting economic and health interests. Sectors are starting to compete for attention. Some are in hurry to return to a pre-Covid life; others see the opportunity for a major reset.”

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He said many lives had been fundamentally changed by Covid-19 and the new normal was full of uncertainty.

This could create anger, frustration, depression and increased levels of anxiety to occur and persist for some time, possibly for years.

“That is where social cohesion will start to break down and the mental wellbeing of many will be further affected.”

How the government makes decisions and whether they are divisive and made through a top-down, partisan process or through a constructive and inclusive process will significantly impact on whether people work together or against each other, he said.

Professor Spoonley, an affiliate member of Koi Tū, said enhanced cohesion – like that seen during the lockdown – is often seen in the initial response to major crises as communities pull together against a common threat. But as the situation evolves over time, social cohesion can be lost, and in fact may become worse than before the crisis.

“We cannot be complacent. Social cohesion is a major asset for New Zealand. A cohesive, safe and Covid-free country will enhance New Zealand‘s global reputation and help project our place in the world – with positive flow-on effects for our economy.

“But once lost, it becomes extremely difficult to restore, especially when there is both increased uncertainty and new forms of inequality.”

The latest paper has been written by Gluckman, Paul Spoonley, Anne Bardsley, Tracey McIntosh, Rangimarie Hunia, Sarb Johal and Richie Poulton and informed by a larger group of mental health experts. It is the second in the Koi Tū: The Future is Now Series looking at the long-term issues for New Zealand from Covid-19.

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