Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The thing you most want to hear during lockdown

How strictly have you been onserving social distancing? We've done our best to follow the rules, we've had a couple of 2m+ chats with friends met whilst dog walking and that is about that. Like many people we've been doing Zoom chats. I'd never heard of Zoom before the Lockdown, it now seems that everyone is using it. My last chat with my 89 year old Auntie before she succumbed to covid19 was a Zoom chat, as was her wake. I joked to my family that I hope I never have another Zoom chat in my life once the lockdown is lifted, I really hate just about every aspect of big group chats on line. That is what pubs and parties are for. Don't get me wrong, it has been great to catch up with friends, but once this current situation is over, I rather hope it will be like wearing flared trousers.

When I started to write this blog, it was entitled "Why I hate Zoom". Then I realise that I don't hate Zoom, I just hate the circumstances that have caused me to use it. If my kids were living in the USA and Australia and we were all having the time of our lives, I'd probably love it. As it is, when I use it, I just realise that it is a symbol of what we can't do, that we really enjoy. Life is a bit strange, it is like we are living Groundhog day. Every day, we do the same things in a slightly different order. The highlight is the daily press conference from number 10, when the latest hapless minister shares the death toll, tells us how many people got the bus yesterday and gives us some good news to soften the blow, such as that shoplifting is down or that the A43 roadworks have been completed.

I must confess to complete incredulity when the Transport Secretary told us that the A43 roadworks had been completed seven months ahead of schedule last week. I just wonder who advises him? Whilst I'm sure that for some people this is a matter of huge importance, for the majority of citizens of this kingdom, a road that runs from Ardley in Oxfordshire to Stamford in Lincolnshire, via Northampton is fairly near the bottom of the list of things that keep us awake. This isn't Tory bashing. Rishi Sunak gets it. If you are announcing that 600 people have died, then if you say that you will pay their wages, so they won't default on their mortgage it is good news. Hearing that there is a loan to keep your business afloat is good news. That is the sort of good news we want to hear.

I was chatting with another business owner yesterday, when I went to collect my guitar from storage at the studio. He has received no aid from the council, as he is self employed, he's yet to receive a penny of his furlough money, his bank won't lend him a 'bounceback loan'. He's operated a business from the site for 13 years and tells me that he's paid over £200,000 in business rates. He hasn't had a bean in support. He asked me how he was meant to support his wife and children. It was not a question I could answer.

So what do you most want to hear in lockdown? That really is very simple for most people. I don't mean the superficial stuff, such as that the pubs will open in July or that we will be able to go on a cruise to the USA in September. What we want to hear is that the Government is doing its level best to keep us safe in a time when there is a deadly infectious virus on the loose and that we will not find ourselves thrown out of house and home because we can't pay the bills. The lack of PPE, the lack of testing and tracing and the lack of a strategy to eradicate the virus scares me. As to our financial wellbeing, I think that, in the short term at least (who knows what state the economy will be in in two years time), I think my business will survive. But after my conversation yesterday, I am very worried that many won't. Whilst the government scheme was rushed out and it was clear that there would be winners and losers, they have had a couple of months to analyse things in greater detail. What they need now is a modified scheme to help those businesses that have fallen between the cracks of the schemes and aid on offer.  My friend was forced to close his business and he has had no income since March. There are lots of highly paid civil servants, on guaranteed salaries and rock solid pension schemes devising these schemes. The least they should be doing is ensuring that hard working people get some support when they need it most. This is not sentimentality, this is common sense, as the independent, self employed sector is what will lead the bounceback when we finally come out of lockdown. If the people who run these businesses have been bankrupted, then it will be very hard for the economy to recover and for them to start paying taxes and generating wealth again.

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