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"Need or Want: What Matters Post- Covid 19?"

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Part 2: Use of Time: Work & Leisure: Saturday 16th May

Aims and Format of Conversations

This is obviously just a tiny part of the beginning of a huge global conversation. Many parallels are currently being drawn between the urgency of the Covid-19 response and the urgency with which we should be responding to the climate crisis.

The aim of these conversations is to provide an opportunity to:

  • Share any positive changes in attitudes or behaviours as a result of lockdown

  • Build community resilience through practical actions

  • Improve climate literacy by promoting discussion around climate change issues

This is a deliberately focused activity. Each session is 1.5 hours. In the first half each person will have the opportunity to share responses to the questions relating to the session. The second half will be opened up for discussion. It will be helpful to take notes in the first half to refer back to in the second. Please have a pen and paper.

Please note: Since the 3 topics (Consumption; Use of Time; Nature & Environment) are interdependent there will inevitably be overlap in each conversation. The following quotes are intended to provide context and provoke thought. They are not intended to restrict discussion in any way.

A feedback form will be emailed out afterwards. Thank you!

"Need or Want: What Matters Post-Covid-19?"

Part 2: Use of Time: Work & Leisure

“A kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had.”[v]

“For those middle classes “marooned at home with restless children”, the overwhelming question is what to do with all this time, when it can’t be used on going out, consuming and forms of social exchange. Streaming and video games pick up a lot of the slack. But other alternatives to consumerism have had to be found, which often morph into production: cycling, baking, gardening, creative activities...Then there is the question of how to value work, once the labour market is no longer the main basis for the distribution of social recognition, and the state has effectively nationalised much of it. Capitalist societies are now virtually united in recognition of the fact that workers in essential services, such as supermarkets, postal, care work, utilities maintenance and above all health, have been taken for granted and underpaid for too long…Pay differentials can be debated and criticised more openly and widely under these circumstances, and it seems a uniquely good opportunity to raise the question of progressive tax increases on income and wealth. For the time being, there is a palpable sense of solidarity between public and ‘essential’ workers, and it is worth trying to remember how it feels.”[vi]

Media analysts and insiders warn the pandemic will have a long-lasting impact on the country’s cultural life, predicting that changes in consumer behaviour expected to take more than five years may have happened in five weeks, with many people unlikely to entirely return to their pre-lockdown habits…. Netflix has been among the biggest winners, with its soaring share price meaning the company is now worth more than the oil multinational ExxonMobil.”[vii]

“Germany’s labour minister wants to enshrine into law the right to work from home if it is feasible to do so, even after the coronavirus pandemic subsides…He said initial estimates suggest the proportion of the work force working from home has risen from 12% to 25% during the virus crisis, to around 8 million people…We are learning in the pandemic how much work can be done from home these days.”[viii]

“British farmers turn to homegrown force to bring in the harvest…With Covid-19 keeping eastern Europeans away, furloughed British workers are signing up to fill seasonal vacancies – but will there be enough of them?” [ix]

“The outbreak will force some industries to manufacture new products or introduce new working practices that might otherwise have taken years to adopt. One example is the German automotive sector, which was already shifting towards electric vehicle production…“If governments decide that they want to invest into that sector by pushing electric vehicles then you see that will accelerate structural change in that industry.”…Meanwhile, customer demand will force more food, clothing and luxury retailers online, while more white-collar workers will be encouraged to work remotely.”[x]

“With Government efforts to limit immigration and end the UK’s reliance on overseas workers, new legislation is on the horizon for 2021 which will make it harder for social care companies to recruit from abroad… As a consequence of coronavirus, tens of thousands of staff within the airline and hospitality industries have been furloughed, many for an indefinite period of time. A new talent pool has opened up. There is an opportunity for social care providers to try and attract the current surplus of workers towards social care jobs to help fill the many permanent and temporary vacancies in their sector. For those social care organisations who are deeply invested in this sector, there is a real opportunity to re-write what a career in social care means, bringing to life its benefits and rewards to attract individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have considered a career in the sector. The time to act is now.”[xi]

“Coronavirus is a public health crisis causing a global economic crisis. Like all emergencies, it collides with existing health and socio-economic inequalities, which mean that although many people all over the world are now riding the same storm, they are doing so in very different boats. This is particularly the case for women the world over who, although significantly less likely to die from the virus, are already bearing the brunt of the ensuing economic crisis. In the UK, women are the majority of frontline workers (77%), the majority of low paid (69%), and the majority of people with caring responsibilities, paid and unpaid. Women do, on average, 60% more unpaid care work than men, leaving them with less time for paid work. This means they are more likely to be in poverty, more likely to rely on public services and social security, and more likely to be exposed to the virus…BME workers are over a third more likely than white workers to be in precarious work, demonstrating their increased risk to loss of hours and earnings. Pregnant women have been all but forgotten by the government’s response, whilst we are already seeing an increase in domestic abuse. For women in refuges, prisons or detention centres, social distancing seems near impossible.”[xii]

“Almost half the global workforce – 1.6 billion people – are in “immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed” by the economic impact of Covid-19, the International Labour Organization has warned…Of the total global working population of 3.3 billion, about 2 billion work in the “informal economy”, often on short-term contracts or self-employment, and suffered a 60% collapse in their wages in the first month of the crisis. Of these, 1.6 billion face losing their livelihoods, the ILO warned on Wednesday…The pandemic has laid bare just how precarious, just how fragile, just how unequal our world of work is. It is commonly said that this pandemic does not discriminate, and in medical terms that is right. We can all be struck by the pandemic. But in terms of the economic and social effects, this pandemic discriminates massively and above all it discriminates against those who are at the bottom end of the world of work, those who don’t have protection, those who don’t have resources and the basics of what we would call the essentials of a normal life.”[xiii]

Questions to Consider

  1. Has what you value in terms of work and leisure changed as a result of our current circumstances?

  2. If applicable, are you more or less efficient working from home? Do you feel more isolated, missing relationships with colleagues or customers? How have these relationships been different if you’ve been working from home?

  3. Do you plan to continue some of these work practices when ‘normal’ life resumes? Are these things that others might find useful to adopt?

  4. How have you been spending your time in lockdown? What have you appreciated? Are there things you have missed – pubs, cafes, cinema, etc.? How do you feel about doing these things again? Have you been surprised by what you’ve missed/not missed?

  5. How does the way you’ve used your time link to potential for adopting more sustainable lifestyle practices?

References [i] [ii] Ibid. [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii] [viii] [ix] [x] [xi] [xii] [xiii]

Responses from Participants Involved in Online Conversation

“A kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had.”

New York Times 27th March 2020

“It was a wide-ranging conversation covering: the way the general public has not been kept well-informed of the situation in care homes, the depersonalisation of death and the fact that in the media there is an emphasis on statistics with the suffering that goes with isolation, lack of human contact and the tragedy of dying alone barely mentioned. The suitability of the term “social distancing” was questioned and the suggestion that a preferable term could be “physical distancing” so as not to diminish the need for maintaining social contact. Participants described their experiences of: providing support to workers on zero hour contracts with minimal or no employment security; working from home; volunteering in a local Food Bank; being a retired GP and wanting to volunteer in a care home setting - the sense of frustration at being willing and able to help but not allowed to do so; changes to parenting due to lockdown; being off work from social care and having time to really appreciate nature. There was discussion about the reduced sense of pressure that has come with lockdown, the decreased fear of “missing out,” more time to connect with places close to home and the natural environment as well as the way in which a sense of a separation from these can be a significant cause of unhappiness and drive people towards excessive consumption. It was agreed that this conversation was, in the words of one participant, ‘a bit like composting’; through sharing thoughts and ideas at this time in this way, a sense of shared values and community was strengthened and will hopefully continue to grow.” R.H

“It was great to hear others voices and stories. It’s always good to be exposed to new ideas. Keeping the conversations going and airing ideas feels a very important part of moving into the new paradigm that these times demand. I am concerned that some of the environmental awareness gained might be overwhelmed and forgotten by the rush to return to ‘normality’ if we are not vigilant.” L.A

“I’m very aware now of what ‘key work’ is and who is fundamental to our society - often those who are underpaid like the bin man, the postal service, those at the till in the shops, carers, nurses. It seems to have stripped away and made clear what jobs are vital and those that are periphery and actually often just propping up our economy and ‘growth.’ In terms of time, I’m valuing relationships much more - picking up the phone to speak with people, calling family and valuing our immediate family life. It feels more precious. I’m also valuing time spent using and learning practical skills - gardening, cooking, making things, learning more about nature and wanting the kids to learn more about these too.

How have I spent time in lockdown? Home schooling and doing creative things with the kids that I never normally have time to do with them as I have often felt time pressured. We have more time for baking and painting. We go on daily walks which have been vital for our mental health and well-being and which I’d like to continue post lockdown. I do think a slower pace of life is better for being able to live more sustainably, such as being able to grow some of our own veg, make our own bread, do less and travel less. I feel the kids have become much more creative and resourceful over this time, coming up with ideas of things to make themselves and entertaining themselves, which hopefully can be nurtured post lockdown.” J.G

“Coronavirus is such a new experience I appreciated the chance to reflect with others outside my usual circle. I found it interesting to hear what others had to say, especially those who come from a more raw perspective than those of us comfortable in retirement.” D.G

“I feel that informal learning together is an element of any community that functions well as it brings people together, validates people’s experiences and raises awareness of how what’s happening personally and locally is part of a global experience. It can be empowering and is good for well-being…Various types of accessible engagement in this type of learning is important (e.g. as has been explored in the Melting Pot and other contexts across Scotland). I found the conversation very valuable and really enjoyed it!” K.B

“Being retired I would suggest you still need a "Work Ethic" for example get up early as one gets far more done and it is generally more rewarding. Setting a timetable or task list - and regularly refer to it! I appreciate that any day may be one's last - for whatever reason - so make it count. The things I miss are the social interactions and the U3A groups I belong to. Some are still available via links but one misses personal contact and the chats over a coffee! I'm pleasantly surprised by the general quietness when out in the streets. I appreciate nature much more and the sense of less pollution. As long as I feel fit and well, I plan to continue with all the activities I currently enjoy doing - many which are along the sustainable lines. "Making do and mending." J.B

“Many interesting points were raised. I was relieved that the lockdown has been, in some ways, similarly transformational, as it has been for me: the slowing down of society, not missing 'entertainment' and increased connection to nature. It gives me hope that something might actually change…I want the conversations to go somewhere. Maybe that could be part of this, to pick out the points that can lead towards some kind of future action or project; to hold that as a joint intention.” R.M

“I haven't greatly missed entertainments or eating out, visits to pub etc. but I do miss the direct contact with live people. Virtual only partly replaces this… I feel huge concern about the social inequalities, especially the miserable situation of so many people who are approaching end of life in care homes, and frustration about my inability to influence things that concern me greatly. I worry that the extraordinary opportunity that the epidemic presents will fail to be used by nations to mount a radical programme to halt climate change.

A few thoughts on challenges to radical changes in the way our economy works…

The rich and ultra rich are isolated from any real experience of hardship and the behaviour of many of them seems to be motivated by the desire to preserve and increase their own wealth, even if this means “getting our economy going again” at the expense of further large and avoidable losses of people’s lives. It seems to me that a major challenge, if one is to engage the efforts of the very wealthy in the change to a more equitable and environmentally less destructive economic system, is to assist them to realise that there are benefits for their offspring. Like having a habitable planet to live on when the big bosses have passed on. It's great that there seems – at least among the people that I meet – to be such an appetite for change away from the way things have developed since the 1980's, but I do wonder how reliable the various surveys etc. will prove as a guide to what happens when [and if] we begin to be substantially free of the threat of microbial epidemic for a period of several years or more. I say if, because I believe that it isn't a foregone conclusion that this will happen any time soon.

Public Health Scotland has just published its first statistical report on the Covid 19 epidemic. One striking graph shows that the toll of infection is strongly related to the Scottish Index of Deprivation, a measure of income, education, use of health and social services etc. Close to home, just as in low-income countries round the world, more deprived equals greater danger of illness or death from Covid 19. My point is that, for the poor, the changes brought by the epidemic are not about the joys of birdsong and beautiful skyscapes. They are about hunger, fear and deep anxiety for the future. We shouldn't assume that everyone will be longing for the new, post epidemic world, since for so many the lockdown is associated with misery…The New World will have to find convincing ways of offering the underprivileged something much better if it is to gain widespread support among the less well off.” B.M

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