Locking down

Different people with different lives will experience this lockdown in different ways, reflects Alison Johnstone.

For some, adjusting to working from home has been a challenge, but for others there is a chance to connect properly with family, to get around to neglected tasks around the house or garden. For others, enforced isolation may exacerbate existing health conditions and concerns.

The intention of course is to keep everyone safe, and while that’s true for those of us stuck at home, the last ten days or so have shone a light on those who are clearly at risk, working on the front line on behalf of us all.

Those people may well be stressing about potentially bringing the virus home to the vulnerable family members they live with.

We are starting to understand the worth of the real key workers. I joined the moving tribute to those who care last week, applauding not just NHS staff but all those who work on the front line, and those carers who work so hard.

These are the same workers who have been undervalued for far too long. They are the public sector workers who were punished by the years of austerity through real-terms pay cuts.

It is incredible to reflect now and think that the people who were devalued by the last decade of austerity are the same nurses who are treating our sick, the paramedics responding to emergencies, the community police officers keeping us safe.

The council staff, too, who collect our recycling, provide home care for elderly neighbours and maintain our infrastructure. The cleaners and shop workers who keep our supermarkets open.

The First Minister told us that 34 million items of personal protective equipment have arrived during recent weeks. Healthcare workers and other emergency staff are raising concerns that this equipment isn’t reaching the frontline. The staff who are going the extra mile for us all must have the necessary equipment readily available to allow them to do their jobs safely.

That has to include home carers and people who work in care homes with some of our most vulnerable older people. And while shop workers are now trying to keep customers six feet apart from each other, they themselves aren’t necessarily able to maintain social distancing.

What’s worse is companies who weren’t prioritising the health and safety of their staff. There was some confusion over what was and wasn’t categorised essential work, as some businesses attempted to operate as normal despite clear instructions from UK and Scottish Governments.

The advice is that businesses should close unless they are essential to the health and welfare of the country.

But we saw non-essential businesses like Wetherspoons arguing they should stay open, the whisky and spirits sector insisting it should continue to operate and many more local examples. I heard concerns from call centre staff in Edinburgh whose employer demanded their workers continue to come in.

Even among those businesses deemed essential, there are stories of people being told they must turn up for work even when they are in the more vulnerable groups, such as over 70 or with underlying health conditions. There are people who have had to self-isolate with symptoms being told they must work the hours lost or take them as holidays.

It’s never been more obvious that we have an economy that all too often puts profits before well-being.

If we really want to show gratitude to our NHS heroes, then the best thing we can do is keep ourselves and others safe, however we are experiencing this strange new world.