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Legal Responses to COVID-19 – Justice and Social Responsibility
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The effects of COVID-19 are visited disproportionately on the already disadvantaged.

This important text maps out ways in which those already disadvantaged have been affected by legal responses to COVID-19. Contributors tackle issues including virtual trials, adult social care, racism, tax and spending, education and more. They reflect on the implications of COVID-19 and express concerns with policy and practice developments and with the neutral version of the law and the economy which has taken root.

Drawing on diverse resources, this text offers an account of the damage caused by legal responses to the pandemic and demonstrates how the future response can be positive and productive.

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As 2020 drew to a close, the possibility of a significant expansion of capital gains taxation seemed imminent. The clues were there. In July, after the impact of the pandemic had fundamentally changed daily life, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, requested a review of the tax from the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS, 2020), which is an independent governmental advisory body that has the purpose of advising the Chancellor on ways of simplifying taxation. The report was released in early-mid November, and contained recommendations to increase rates of taxation, and to reconsider certain reliefs. A week later, the Chancellor released a Spending Review, which was, he assured, focused on increasing (and not decreasing) spending (Sunak, 2020). Thus, he enhanced investment in the NHS, and protected it (for the moment) from further cuts. Considering these moments in history together, it is fair to deduce that the Chancellor will need to find the money to pay for a significant increase in spending. Capital gains taxation, given the attention it had received since July 2020, seemed the obvious target.

It is also a moving target, and it is challenging to pin down the exact moment in time that could be designated as safe to pause, and to reflect on the way ahead for taxation in the aftermath of the pandemic. One lesson from recent, trying times is that nothing should be taken for granted. Even more unanticipated events might occur which would prompt the Chancellor to consider trying something else. The risk of waiting for activity to pause, before reflecting, is that assumptions of what should be taken for granted remain unchallenged.

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During troubled times, events that captivate for a minute may quickly be replaced by other, even more troubling developments, and perhaps forgotten. Nonetheless, the quote at the start of this chapter, coupled with Emily Maitlis’ now famous Newsnight speech about how COVID-19 is “not a great leveller”1 offer a metaphor for what the contributors to this book are arguing – the different effects of, and responses to, COVID-19; the fragmentation of the global, and anxieties about the local scale. At heart, we are concerned with the idea of the public, and the presentation of the public as a homogenous community equally affected by COVID-19. Just like the supposed equal effects of the rule of law, we know that the idea and constitution of the public as well as the rule of law are riven with inequalities. We know that class, gender, race and wealth are cleavages in the supposed homogeneity of the public. And we know that the effects of COVID-19 are visited disproportionately on the already disadvantaged.

Despite – and, perhaps, because of – the economic packages in place to support businesses and others during the pandemic, there are anxieties over how the coming economic crisis caused by the resultant swollen sovereign debt will affect the public. After the last great economic crisis following the bank and market meltdown in 2007–08, austerity measures were put in place. What might be termed ‘austerity law’ emerged as the need to repay sovereign debt dominated discussions of the economy.

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