THE message from our medical experts leading the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic has been crystal clear in recent days: we have come too far together to drop our guard now.

Infection rates remain significantly high enough that any relaxation of the stringent lockdown measures could set us back months. The further costs to human life would be catastrophic.

There are, however, hopeful signs. Real and significant progress is being made and at the time of writing the First Minister is expected to set out the potential next steps to exiting lockdown and the challenges and options that could bring.

In my last column I discussed the role of the city’s Covid-19 Recovery Group and how leading figures from business, academia, the third sector and the trade union movement would help us plot our path to rebuilding our city economy.

I chaired that group’s first meeting last week. The scale of our task is extremely sobering and in the weeks ahead we will continue to gather the evidence as to just how significant that might be.

I have also spoken about how we cannot simply return to “business as usual”. It’s crucial Glasgow’s approach to post-lockdown focuses on renewing our communities as well as recovering our economy.

We may be the powerhouse of the Scottish economy, a city with a highly skilled and educated workforce and a growing international reputation. But we’re also a city with some of the greatest social challenges on these islands and we should never lose sight of that. The approach which the UK, Scotland and Glasgow takes in response to this pandemic cannot and must not consign another generation to the ravages of austerity and social and economic isolation.

As Covid-19 has taken hold, poverty, poor health, generational deprivation and the brutality of welfare reforms have not suddenly stopped hammering the most vulnerable in our communities. In fact, they have intensified.

There is alreadyevidence that the fall-out from the pandemic will push even more people into an abyss of poverty that will be very difficult for them to escape.

People who have perhaps had low-paid jobs but had been just about getting by may now be forced into a harsh reality of deprivation and despair, struggling to access capped benefits and having to wait weeks for any lifeline.

Evidence is already emerging of an increase in homelessness applications from people with precarious incomes and tenancies making homeless applications. Our teams working on the frontline with women and families at risk of violence and abuse are preparing for an upsurge in cases post-lockdown.

And the trauma of the pandemic and lockdown will undoubtedly have lasting mental health implications for many within our city. For these reasons and more we must begin planning for Glasgow’s social as well as economic recovery.

I’ve been working with colleagues Cllr Ricky Bell, the City Treasurer, and Equalities Convener Cllr Jen Layden to plan a Social Recovery Taskforce, one that will replicate and intersect with the work of the economic recovery group.

Just as we have with the economic group, Glasgow has strong networks, relationships and partnerships within the third sector, equalities groups and in our communities to quickly mobilise the thinking and response needed to support our citizens through this crisis.

We will need a genuine team response, one the council can help resource and bring together but with a collective role. And their work must not be seen as something removed from economic efforts but as both a complement and a challenge to them, with organisations like the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector providing a bridge between them.

The Glasgow City Government is fully committed to do what we can, with the remit and resources available to us, to help our communities pick up the post-pandemic pieces. We remain committed to trying to increase the household budgets of low-income households, preventing homelessness and providing targeted support for the most vulnerable.

Now, more than ever, the health and well-being of our communities is paramount.

But national government, both in Scotland and the UK, has a critical role. We have already made some clear asks of Holyrood.

But Westminster is where the majority of powers to strengthen the safety net for many thousands of our citizens lies. They have another opportunity to listen to the voices of experience and reform a benefits system that is too harsh, too limited and too punitive and offers little scope to escape cycles of poverty and despair.

A five-week wait for Universal Credit; the two-child cap and rape clause; the benefit sanctions regime: these are at odds with everything a compassionate society should stand for. The assistance that Glaswegians and communities across Scotland and the UK will need in the months and years ahead cannot be an extension of austerity. It will require freshness and flexibility.

The consequences of not doing so will be cataclysmic.