Going back to normal would be the worst outcome of this crisis

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This global pandemic, and the consequent unprecedented changes to how we live, has laid bare the inequality that exists in our society.

Covid-19 has given inequality a human face when previously it was understood by many in the form of stats and figures, news reports, policy documents, while many more were oblivious entirely.

Workers who have often been considered to be at the bottom of the hierarchy – perhaps because their job is stigmatised for supposedly being unskilled or low paid or not requiring qualifications – are now completely essential to get us through this crisis. Retail staff, cleaners, public transport operators, fruit pickers, delivery drivers, nurses, social care staff, hospital and GP staff, refuse collectors (plus many more hard workers) are now carrying a terrible burden for the collective good.

They have always been our key workers, we just never recognised them.

These workers are facing the virus head on, often with little or no protection, to carry out their essential jobs to keep all of us going. They are also on the lowest wages, in the most insecure financial positions; their industries have often faced years of stagnant wages, staff shortages, underfunding, belligerent companies.

Two examples stand out to me: nurses and retail staff.

You can’t overstate the importance of nurses and doctors at this time. It’s nice that we’ve been applauding our health heroes, but this must be followed up by actions from the government and all of us too. The government must provide adequate PPE for a start; and we can follow the advice – stay home, save lives – to help mitigate the impact on our NHS.

Shop workers are terrified. And with good reason: researchers at Aalto University in Finland created a simulation which showed how quickly and vastly Covid-19 droplets can spread in a supermarket from one cough. Many shops have imposed restrictions, but retail staff have no protection and are completely exposed to the virus from the public.

I’ve worked in retail for nearly a decade, I’ve seen the best and worst of the public, and I know from experience that the attitude of some towards retail staff is that they are lowly and subservient. Right now, these workers are risking their lives – and their families – every day to keep us stocked up; they are paid in pennies and get no recognition. We owe them a huge debt.

You learn a lot about who you are in a crisis, the good and bad. Tens of thousands of people have rallied to help the vulnerable and sign up to volunteer. But this extraordinary situation has exposed an ordinary reality of a stratified society where those at the bottom, barely getting by, must sacrifice themselves for the benefit of those privileged enough to be bored at home (with some not even staying at home).

BBC’s Emily Maitlis summed it up best when she said myths about this pandemic needed debunking and it was “not a great leveller”.

In many ways, the worst outcome of this crisis would be everything going back to normal. When we meet again – there has to be change.

It must be about more than policy; we need to rethink our attitudes and reconsider what, and who, really are essential in the running of our country and do everything we can to support them.


* Chris Park took an MLitt in Media and Communication in Glasgow and is a member of the Liberal Democrats

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  • “there has to be change”

  • I had occasion to spend time in hospital recently after an accident. The care I received was excellent. However I was appalled at the attitude of many of the other patients who were entitled, condescending, awkward and racist. They spanned all social classes but many were from the lower “downtrodden” end. They treated all the staff like dirt and seemed to have no appreciation for the fantastic care they were receiving at other people’s expense.

  • Peter Martin 10th Apr '20 - 2:18pm

    @ Chris Park,

    “……..we need to rethink our attitudes and reconsider what, and who, really are essential in the running of our country and do everything we can to support them.”

    Some of us have always thought that many working people are badly treated and taken for granted. Exploited even. That’s we’re involved in politics – albeit in a different political party! Maybe we shouldn’t be?

  • Peter Martin 10th Apr '20 - 2:54pm

    @ TCO,

    “They (ie racists etc….) spanned all social classes but many were from the lower “downtrodden” end…..”

    So what? Those of us who come from working class origins, who do get out and about now and again, do know that many of the most objectionable people in society aren’t particularly well off. We’ve worked with them, played football with them, spent time drinking in the pub with them etc etc. So we don’t view the working classes, or especially those Marx might have termed the lumpenproletariat, through rose tinted spectacles.

    On the other hand we know that most people are perfectly fine. They are the ones that matter and as the OP suggests they are working flat out at the moment doing essential jobs keeping society intact.

  • Steve Trevethan 10th Apr '20 - 3:21pm

    Perhaps Mr Johnsons’ hospital experiences might improve his attitude and performance as a citizen and national leader?

  • Steve Trevethan

    Anyone that wants a fellow human being to suffer is just a revolting specimen of humanity.

  • @Stephen Howse ” older men (who should have been at home isolating anyway, but that’s by the by) being rude and aggressive towards staff. Just zero awareness or appreciation of what those younger workers are doing for them. But then the post-war generation is the most selfish, entitled generation in history, isn’t it?”

    Absolutely. And it is the Boomers. My parents’ generation who experienced life before the implementation of the welfare state seem to be more grateful.

    The worst thing I had to listen to was the man opposite spouting “Why can’t I be in an English hospital with English food? I don’t want all this foreign muck.” This whilst being tended to by three nurses of African origin.

  • Steve Trevethan 10th Apr '20 - 4:25pm

    Might those who have starved the N H S of staff, equipment and money have caused avoidable suffering?
    Ditto those who ignored the messages from “Excercise Cygnus”?
    What are the similarities and differences between wanting one fellow human being to suffer for a purpose and causing so many to die and suffer avoidably, either through ignorance or as an (unstated) aspect of policy?

  • Oh come on – please stop this villification of large groups of people. You do realise that you are attacking me, a baby boomer?

  • Peter Martin 10th Apr '20 - 5:26pm

    @ TCO,

    “But then the post-war generation is the most selfish, entitled generation in history, isn’t it? ”

    And your evidence for this assertion is?

    Why would you think that any particular generation of people was either better or worse than an other? There are such a large number of individuals in each generation that their positive and negative characteristics must surely average out to be almost the same.

  • Paul Barker 10th Apr '20 - 5:38pm

    There are many other sorts of “Normal” that we shouldnt be going back to either, Chemical & Noise Pollution for example. Both affect the poor more than the well-off & both are caused more by the well-off than the poor, big, noisy Cars & big noisy Airports being top of the list.
    Lets take the New quiet & Lower levels of pollutants as “The New Normal”, to be maintained as The “Economy” recovers.

  • Peter Chambers 10th Apr '20 - 5:51pm

    So it is asserted that a pandemic is not a Great Leveller?
    Plague – along with war, revolution, and state collapse – is indeed a leveller. But it is level-down, not level-up. Simply, the very rich have more to lose in the first place. It is no wonder that the political entrepreneurs in the USA are saying what their pay-masters are telling them what to say,

  • Dilettante Eye 10th Apr '20 - 7:29pm

    “Lets take the New quiet & Lower levels of pollutants as “The New Normal”, to be maintained as The “Economy” recovers.”

    Yes, that should be our starting point for economic recovery, though weaning folk off their air-miles is going to be a bit of a trauma for some ?

  • Peter Martin 11th Apr '20 - 8:21am

    @ Stephen Howse,

    “Have you *seen* where all of the housing and wealth are accumulated?”

    It wasn’t quite so straightforward for us all as you might think. I do remember paying 15% interest rates shortly after getting married. I’d budgeted for 9%. My wife was pregnant, jobs were scarce and money was tight in the early 80s. My weekends were spent keeping our old car on the road because I couldn’t afford to put it in the garage.

    Look, I’d be happy to ban second homes (I don’t have one) and impose a wealth tax on all properties over £300k (mine is worth less than that). The rise in property prices is a deliberate act caused by a desire on the part of government to minimise its own borrowing and encourage everyone else to do the borrowing to keep the economy moving. They, both New Labour and Tory, might pay lip service to the idea of affordable housing but what they really want is expensive housing to act a collateral for the high level of private debt in the bubble economy.

    It’s a class issue. It’s not a generational conflict. But whatever you want to call it the coronavirus could well be the needle that pricks the bubble. I really don’t care if my house halves in value as a result. I only have one to live in so it really doesn’t matter at all.

  • Yes, we must learn from and build on the changes that have occurred following the onset of Covid 19. The most important is to counter climate change. Memories are short and this is a long term issue that demands our full attention. Now we have all altered how we live, change must be to live on our one planet sustainably.

  • A quick comment on civil liberty,human rights, government competence and dodgy.

    1. In Scotland,a top class respected human rights lawyer, John Scott QC. , has been appointed to review Police Scotland’s handling of new measures introduced in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Scott will chair a group tasked with providing independent scrutiny of how officers and staff are applying new legislation, following concerns the powers could be misinterpreted. The rest of the UK should do the same.

    2. The UK Health Minister Matt Hancock gave a stumbling interview on the Today programme this morning. He was weak on the provision of protective clothing for NHS staff….. and on a comparison with the German performance on testing. In the words of the song,’ When this bleeding war is over….’, there should be a high powered Royal Commission into the competence of dealing with Covid-19. Ed Davey could press for this now.

    Pandemic planning criteria , including protective clothing, was published after the Coalition Health & Social Care Act, 2012. To what extent was this carried out and was it fit for purpose? Again, Ed Davey could demand this now ?

    3. Johnson (or whoever ?) should fire the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Robert Jenrick seems to suffer from the tell’em but don’t do it yourself virus. In the words of Voltaire after Admiral Byng’s execution, it would ‘encourage the others’.

  • Well Said, Chris, at his outset: ” In many ways, the worst outcome of this crisis would be everything going back to normal. When we meet again – there has to be change.” And the change should be UBI. Why do so many respondents think up so many little ideas of how impossibly expensive it would be. And why do they think the cost is the prime consideration? Surely the main point of UBI is the liberation it offers to all those now shackled and wounded by the uncharitable stringencies of the “Benefits” system?

  • Stuart Kelly 11th Apr '20 - 1:04pm

    I agree with Roger. as a party we need to be saying some big things when this pandemic is over.
    three things that I believe the public will want to hear –

    1st – A fully funded NHS, this will mean a dedicated health tax with all health and social care spending taken out of NI and income tax and instead incorporated in a separate tax.

    2nd – Residents in my ward are already commenting on improved air quality and a bluer sky due to the reduction in traffic and pollution, environmental politics will be front and centre

    3rd – when industry and commerce began to close down many people found they were only one or two pay checks from financial ruin, the idea of being able to survive on UC or sick pay has been shown to many to be an illusion. A universal Basic Income will now get a fair hearing.

    I don’t know the ins and outs or detail of how a health tax, improving the environment and UBI would work, I don’t have to. I do know that the principle behind each and what they are trying to achieve will resonate with people.

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