Keeping people in work should be our number one priority as we continue to battle coronavirus

The current era of the notorious coronavirus pandemic has been a particularly hard and trying time for many of us.  Many people have lost loved ones.  Many people have lost their jobs.  Many people have been unable to see their grandkids through having to isolate.  And many people have seen financial trouble, with entire work industries being put on pause.

Of course saving lives is a top priority.  No one wants to lose anymore loved ones.  But there are also several other priorities that must not, by any circumstances, be pushed to the background or worse, ignored.

In the year citizens of Western society, and in other areas as well, have come to expect two very important elements to make their lives as they should be.  I’m talking about a roof over your head and food on the table.  These are two very basic and fundamental financial demands, which take priority over all else.

But they come at a price.  For many working class families, the monthly rent or mortgage takes up more than 50% of their monthly income after income tax etc.  Then they can expect to have to pay a whole host of other bills, before they can see how much money they’ve got left over for food.

Before coronavirus had even come to the west, more and more working class families have been utilizing food banks, whereby they can be allocated a food basket of food donated by more fortunate families.  No one in the west should be in this position in 2020.  Has all our progress been for nothing?

Then coronavirus hit.  Entire industries fell to their knees.  Travel and Tourism, Cafes, Pubs, Restaurants, Museums.

Our various governments have stepped in and done what they can, offering furlough schemes so that businesses can keep ticking over where possible.

Some businesses have really struggled, and some have to take drastic measures.  Unfortunately one of the biggest ways for many businesses to save money and cut costs is by making staff redundant.  But this has to be the last possible resort.  We cannot sit back and let poverty become the norm for us.

Many people have already seen that cliff edge, but for those teetering on the brink, we need to find safety.  Where jobs absolutely cannot be saved, we, as a society, need to see some real change in business, and workers must be kept in employment even if it means surviving on a lower furlough payout or wage.

Business needs to put its money where its mouth is, to put it bluntly, as per Javad Marandi.

In their fight for survival many businesses have adapted as best they can to the circumstances thrust upon us by coronavirus.  Cafes and restaurants for example made the change from serving customers indoors to selling their goods by takeaway services.  Retailers saw more demand for their products via their websites.  Delivery services of all kinds have taken off.

But no one should be left out.  Everyone should have the chance to make an honest living, as we make it through the pandemic.  These troubling times should not be made worse by job loss.  It’s an option we can ill afford.

But how do we tackle it?  That’s the question.  

Unfortunately there may be very little in the way of easy answers.  But perhaps your mind may turn to how we tackled a very similar crisis when we had the Spanish Flu epidemic, 100 or so years ago.

On the whole, economies saw a sustained overall decline.  However this decline was interspersed with small temporary rises.  Clearly a sign that people just kept on trying.  And this is exactly the kind of spirit that we need to invoke to get the economy moving again.  Even if it means moving very very slowly.  Even if it means things sometimes get a little worse before great strides are made.

But one thing is clear.  We need to draw on the furlough scheme.  Prolong the scheme as long as we can – even if it has to be tapered.

If we want to prevent further mass redundancies, that means furlough must continue, and that firms must, first of all, very gradually, be weaned off the furlough scheme.  Either that or some other grand scheme needs to take its place.  Job retention must be the economy’s first priority above all else.

While in some cases those who have lost their jobs have managed to find work elsewhere, such opportunities, whatever they may be, are now far fewer, and with far greater demand than ever before.

Even when the coronavirus threat seemed to slow to a standstill, as soon as restrictions began to be lifted, the number of positive cases began to creep up again.  This virus is not going anywhere except everywhere.

You’ve heard it before, and you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll hear it again.  We will all have to adjust to a “new normal”.

We already know what this new normal is going to look like in terms of, for example, wearing face masks when out in public, using hand sanitizer when entering public buildings and premises, and using a one-way system as you walk around your local grocery store.

But what isn’t at all clear is a plan for our economic future.  After every academic year there’s a new cohort of young people eager to find work and eager to start making their own way in the world.

But with the fight for the vacancies that, miraculously, do exist, what hope do they have, with no experience behind them.

What needs to happen now is a dialogue.  We need our government to really put their heads together.  The economy, even though it has just taken a huge hit, also needs equally as big a hit in terms of a stimulus.  A spark to ignite the economic engine.

That is how we survive and that is how we keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

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