04 April 2020 (5-minute read)
Much has been said in recent days about the country’s collective spirit in adversity. The first shared purpose is to stop the spread and harm of COVID-19. Now respected voices are expressing a second national concern: What happens next? Will we return to business as usual after such an upheaval? Many will work for such an outcome. Here we look at growing demands for the country to adopt an economic and social model that properly values the essential workers we all depend on.
On 4 April, Hannah Malcolm, a young theology student, last week invited the audience on Radio 4 to “acknowledge whose labour is essential and whose is not” (1) (Audio Link).
Among those Hannah mentioned were rubbish collectors, care workers, cleaners, farm workers, NHS and supermarket workers. She said their roles were evidence of our “inescapable mutuality”, effectively challenging listeners to deny its existence.
Is this just a young person’s politics or idealism? Is it born mainly of religious conviction? Or a practical proposition for a sick society? At Citizens Advice we don’t do politics or religion. We keep idealism in its place. But Hannah Malcolm speaks powerfully to us.
Insecurity blights lives
In recent years our research has often highlighted the insecurities that blight the lives of so many. Coronavirus has exposed this in a harsh light. It is ‘inescapable’ that those in low-paid, insecure jobs are both most affected by the crisis and at highest risk of infection.
Some practical people may still be sceptical. We’re pleased to refer them to one of the world’s leading business media, The Financial Times.
A precarious army
In a free-to-read piece on 1 April columnist Sarah O’Connor covered all the arguments for change. She writes of “the plight of a precarious army labouring round the clock” (2). She says: Once the economy has recovered, these jobs need to be made better. Insecure contracts and loopholes should be replaced with permanent jobs, better wages and more training and accreditation. This would not be costless. Admittedly, some companies in low-wage sectors such as food, care and logistics would simply make less profit.
The FT View
Sarah O’Connor is comprehensive and persuasive. But, again, is this just a single columnist’s view? No. On 3 April The FT View opinion was: “Radical reforms are required to forge a society that will work for all” – extract below (3).
1 Hannah Malcolm, Thought for the Day, BBC Radio 4, 04/04/20 (available to 4 May) 2 It is time to make amends to the low-paid essential worker, Sarah O’Connor, Financial Times, 1/04/20 (Free to read) 3 Virtue lays bare the frailty of the social contract, The FT View, Financial Times, 03/04/20 (££)