I have tried really hard not to be critical of government, politicians, authorities or the public throughout the Covid – 19 pandemic. I will try to stick to that principle in this post but I am finding it difficult at the moment. It is the end of November 2020 and we in England are just about at the end of a national lockdown and about to go into a tiered system of rules designed to control the spread of the virus.

I have no objection to a tiered system; it makes sense that different areas should have different controls in place according to need. It doesn’t matter to me how many tiers there are or what the rules are for each tier, as long as it is all clear and rational. Arguing about the detail is wasted effort, there are no right answers to the questions of structure and content, only opinions. What I am struggling with is the process of moving in and out of tiers.


Any process that involves punishment and rewards must be seen as just to be acceptable. There can be no doubt that moving up a tier is a punishment and down a reward. This is so because a change of tier involves a change of rules that impact on the freedoms and rights of individuals and communities. Once again, I see nothing wrong with having the process in principle, there must be one. What is wrong is the part of the process that decides which tier any community should be in.

There are two ways in which this part of the process offends justice. Firstly, the decision is being made using criteria that are not transparent. Without knowing exactly what the criteria are, there is no way of knowing whether they are fair, or whether they are being applied fairly and equitably. Communities don’t know whether they are about to be moved or why. There is no need for criteria that are opaque and complex. There are no criteria that are perfect or right every time in every situation. We don’t need perfection, we do need predictability and clarity.

Setting criteria is a matter of judgement, doing the best you can to make them easily understood and reasonable. Yes, people will argue that other criteria would be better, that the chosen ones are the wrong ones, but that is no different than the choice of tiers and rules. What matters is not what the criteria are but that they are clear, concise and reasonable. Currently, we are being told that the criteria are multiple and flexible, that they require careful analysis and judgement by experts to reach balanced conclusions. In other words, ‘it’s too difficult for you, trust us and we will sort it out’.

The second point is linked to the first. In the absence of explicit criteria for moving between tiers, the public have no means of controlling their behaviour so that they can influence whether they are punished or rewarded. They can do as they are told in the hope that the result will be as desired, either avoiding being punished and going up a tier or being rewarded by going down a tier, but they cannot judge for themselves and act in their own interests or predict the likely outcome. They don’t know how well they are doing; they don’t know at what point they will be judged to be deserving of punishment or reward or how that judgement will be made. Unfortunately, this is treating people like children, not adults, a ‘mummy knows best’ approach.

With the best will in the world, if adults feel that they are being treated like children, if they feel that they may be unjustly treated, they will not accept it for long. The majority may go along with it for a time but that can’t last. As examples emerge of errors of judgement and inexplicable decisions being made, acceptance will dissolve and resentment will take its place. Large numbers of people will be tempted to ignore the rules and the outcome will be loss of control.


I am aware of the possible challenge of ‘that’s easy for you to say, what would you do then?’ As I have said, there are no perfect criteria but that is not the point. Let me use the speed limits as an analogy. In built-up areas we commonly have a speed limit of 30mph, on motorways it’s 70mph. I know that, if I drive at more than 30mph I am liable to be punished and if I stay below that speed, I won’t. I am in control of my speed; I have data available that shows me how fast I’m going and I can accelerate or brake to change my speed. As an adult, I make my choice and suffer the consequences. The criteria are clear and the outcome predictable.

I know it’s not exactly the same but, how would that look for Covid? We could have one simple, measurable criteria for determining whether a community is punished or rewarded. Making the data available on a daily basis for everyone to see would show us how we’re doing and whether we need to do more to avoid punishment or get a reward. We then have a choice, do the wrong things and get punished or do the right things and get rewarded. It really isn’t rocket science, we all know that mixing increases the risk of spreading the disease, we either mix more or we mix less, it’s the same as the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal.

Because this is happening at the community level rather than the individual level, it seems harder. But communities are very good at regulating individual behaviour, either formally or informally. We could give community leaders the powers to introduce local rules in the form of by-laws, issue prohibition and improvement notices to shops, offices and hospitality venues. All they need is the right criteria and the necessary monitoring data to enable them to make the right decisions for their local area. If they get it wrong, then the community suffers but, at least it is the community that made the decisions. More adult behaviour.


I don’t doubt the good intentions of those in the unenviable position of having to make these decisions. I am sure that they believe they are doing the right thing based on the advice they have received. I would just like to be treated like a responsible adult, given the right information and trusted to make the right decisions or, if I get it wrong to suffer the consequences. Like many others, I am doing that anyway and taking care of myself and those around me regardless of the complex, obscure and unhelpful tier changing process.