Coronavirus: Re-assessing Society's Values
By Andre Wallace-Loizou:
As we head into the third week of the UK wide lockdown, the financial security of many in our society continues to be uncertain. Following the advice of the government, unless categorised as a ‘Key Worker’ the British public have been instructed to work from home. As a result, many employers have requested that employees take leave and some workers have even had their contracts prematurely terminated.
This crisis has had an extreme impact on people working with limited employment rights. There are 974,000 people on 0-hour contracts in the United Kingdom, whose income will be severely affected by the reduction in hours (ONS, 2020). By Wednesday 25th March, the Department for Work and Pensions said that 477,000 people had applied for Universal Credit in just nine days, providing some indication as to how many people have lost a major source of income (The Guardian, 2020).
The almost immediate halt to people being able to work means a major drop in spending. Major industries like manufacturing, aviation and some service industries such as travel and retail have come to a standstill, with some even requesting government funding to ensure their survival. Rolls Royce, a car and weapons manufacturer have requested that the government provide Virgin Atlantic a bailout of £500 million in order to help the business stay afloat. Interestingly, Virgin Atlantic’s most recent financial report declares an increase of revenue from previous years to £2.8 billion (Virgin Atlantic, 2018). Despite this, last week Richard Brandson requested that staff take unpaid leave and put themselves forward for the NHS volunteer scheme. On the other hand, Amazon, Ebay and other online retail supermarkets are experiencing a rush in demand. Delivery firms and the NHS are in major demand of employees and volunteers as they attempt to cater for a surge in need.
This pandemic should force us to ask serious questions about the structure of our society and examine how we treat and protect each other from financial hardship. Why should a pandemic that requires our society to put our health before profit, result in so much economic hardship for so many families and communities? Shouldn't the UK, the 6th richest country in the world (Investopedia, 2020), be able to provide a safety net for communities that can no longer work, but still must pay to maintain basic human necessities such as food, housing, utilities and education? Why must our health service, that prides itself on being free and available to all, rely on good will and volunteer support to be able to cater to the health needs of our society during this emergency?
When we emerge from this crisis, we must do so with a new vision for our society - increasing the way in which we value each other and the job roles that have only recently been labelled 'key workers'. If in times of crisis, we can recognise that these roles are fundamental to the protection and health of our society, then why are they paid so little? A recent financial times article stated that, “40 percent of childcare workers aged 25 and over, who should be covered by the minimum wage, are paid below it. Almost 60 per cent of those who provide care for people in their own homes in England are on so-called “zero-hour contracts”, which do not guarantee regular hours or incomes. Workers in fields and food factories often have to accept temporary employment contracts with fewer rights and no security. Many delivery drivers are classed as self-employed, so they are paid per “drop” and receive no sick or holiday pay" (Financial Times, 2020).
We must re-shape our thinking when we discuss who is creating the wealth and the value we place on different types of labour. Our value, whether it be social or economical, needs to be re-thought and reflected in the wages of those who commit themselves to providing these services.
Financial Times, 2020. It Is Time To Make Amends To The Low-Paid Essential Worker | Free To Read. [online] Ft.com. Available at: <https://www.ft.com/content/2b34269a-73f8-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
Investopedia, 2020. The Top 20 Economies In The World. [online] Investopedia. Available at: <https://www.investopedia.com/insights/worlds-top-economies/> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
ONS, 2020. Office For National Statistics. [online] Ons.gov.uk. Available at: <https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/emp17peopleinemploymentonzerohourscontracts/current> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
The Guardian. 2020. Coronavirus Forecast To Cut UK Economic Output By 15%. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/mar/30/coronavirus-forecast-to-cut-uk-economic-output-by-15> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
Virgin Atlantic, 2018. Virgin Atlantic Ltd 2018 Financial Results. [online] Corporate.virginatlantic.com. Available at: <https://corporate.virginatlantic.com/gb/en/media/press-releases/2018-financial-results.html> [Accessed 7 April 2020].