We’re leaving the house for essential supplies and for a single daily dose of exercise.
We’re queueing up in lines, two metres apart, outside supermarkets, many of us wearing latex gloves, some wearing masks. Most of us are working from home; our kids are being home-schooled; our elderly relatives in care homes are in complete quarantine. Social media has found itself to be (suddenly, mostly) a force for good, for bringing together, not tearing apart. We’re tuning in each teatime to the Government’s Coronavirus briefings, and applauding the NHS along with our neighbours into otherwise empty streets and cities.
It’s astonishing how quickly these things have become normal parts of our daily lives. What seemed remarkable is now commonplace. I tell my grandson that his grandchildren will marvel at his outlandish stories of The Year the Whole World Stopped.
It will take some time, but the world will, eventually, start up again.
When it does, it’s likely to be a changed place for a while. The way we think about things, what we value, who we value, may have changed, perhaps temporarily, maybe for good.
We may also find that some of the pressures and priorities in our working lives may have changed.
When we left that previous world, the ‘normal’ one we now realise we took ridiculously for granted, we were about to jettison a decade of austerity. There were parts of the country with effectively full employment. The additional arrival of Brexit meant that the Government was encouraging us all to see individuals with health conditions and disabilities as well as economically inactive groups as the people we would need to rely on to drive our economy forward in the next few years. That was to be our focus.
Seetec Pluss was on its own journey to consolidate our health and disability offer throughout the business. We were building on the foundations of our robust Disability Confident programme. Our Challenge Fund project for the Work and Health Unit had shown that 84% of the people we supported because their jobs were in jeopardy as a result of their mental health or musculoskeletal condition were able to stay in work. Along with other organisations and movements, we were making it okay to talk about mental health, about neurodiversity.
Here was our ‘No-one Left Behind’ agenda in full swing. This was our new normal.
Now, the talk is of recession. Many companies and industries are struggling to stay afloat. The cost of the Government’s Job Retention payment scheme may top £30billion. In Ireland, where Seetec has a major employment contract, there is talk of a potential 20% unemployment rate coming out of the Coronavirus pandemic. In the UK, 12% of young people under 30 are already unemployed.
When we do finally emerge from lockdown, the large-scale unemployment challenges we’ll face and the drive for a quick fix of the economy may mean there is a risk that some of the focus of politicians and commissioners may understandably drift from the agenda we had all been pursuing in our previous ‘normal’ world.
And yet, if there is one message above all that we’ve all been forced to recognise as countries everywhere battle to manage the virus that is currently dominating all our lives, it is that we are as strong as our weakest links. We depend on each other. There is such a thing as society, and we all have a stake. We all have a value.
For those reasons alone it feels important to ensure that, in the work ahead of us to rescue and rebuild our economies and our workforces, we are as focused as we were in the old world on ensuring that no-one is left behind.