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03/06/2020

Are we the Goodies in this episode?

“G – you need a helping hand, O - you know we’ll understand, O – we’re with you right to the end, Everyone needs a friend, Goody, Goody, Goody…” In the words of The Goodies, and by way of a tribute to the late Tim Brooke-Taylor, it seems that some of us will do anything, anywhere, anytime. 

If there is one message that has rung out during the lockdown, it’s that a number of people have adopted this as their mantra. They have been setting off to work not knowing if that will ultimately kill them or their families. The rest of us have joined the weekly cheers for healthcare workers (and all the others keeping our basic services going) who are looking death in the eye every day.

Is it a choice to bring in a pay cheque, a sense of obligation, or a human need to ‘do stuff’? How many of us are selfless enough to do the extra shift? Conversely, how many of us wouldn’t dream of working longer than our standard 9 to 5 without overtime payment agreed? Is one a group of angels, the other selfish demons?

Currently, our angels include those working in the NHS and nursing homes, in supermarkets, in schools that are supporting key workers’ kids, and driving buses.

I think we can list an increasing number of key workers in food production, distribution and sales, together with various administrators – our friends at HMRC or colleagues at MHCLG, PINs or local authorities.

But we shouldn’t forget either the households where cleaning, cooking and domestic chores all need repeating more frequently as the rest of us face what might be a long summer. It’s worth looking behind the virtue to scratch at the realism.

You may well be practised at balancing home chores with work and other responsibilities, but finding the strain kicking in. You might be part of a liberated household where domestic chores are shared, including teaching offspring who are not at school.

“How many of us wouldn’t dream of working longer than our standard 9 to 5?”

Before Covid-19, many of us liked the idea of equality but 75 per cent of unpaid care and domestic work was picked up by women. Indeed, if women around the world received even a minimal wage for the unpaid work they do at home the bill would run to trillions.

As most of us try to do our jobs from home are we also sharing fairly the additional support we may be providing to our children, elderly relatives, friends and neighbours? I get that there is a time and place to wave the equality flag – but in my view that is all the time, even now. I hope this epidemic will provide the chance to bring about a monumental change in the way we live and work.

Perhaps along with finding a Covid-19 antiserum, getting our economy back into the black should also include a new approach to working regimes. We could value more of those ‘key roles’ and also encourage a proper work-life balance for everyone, so that domestic activity previously conducted under the radar is given more kudos. We could see more job shares or condensed hours. Of course we will still have to pay the basic bills, but a fundamental review of values might not be a bad thing.

Covid-19 has already claimed thousands of people. Some have been in the spotlight and are well-known faces; multitudes are not. So whether it’s one third of The Goodies, the Portuguese nurse working for a pittance, or the Nigerian doctor supporting his family back in Abuja, or the driver of the number 11 bus, they all did what they could and gave everything.

Perhaps an ethos of ‘anything, anytime, anywhere’ is too much for many people, but let’s be grateful that it’s clearly the mantra for some and that it might seep into our collective consciousness post-Covid-19.  

Dr Louise Brooke-Smith is a development and strategic planning consultant and a built environment non-executive director

Image credit | Zara Picken

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