princessemmablog

A Work in Progress

The Complicated Process of Unlocking

on April 14, 2021
Waiting to get into Primark in Norwich- Sky News

This week saw a significant lifting of lockdown restrictions in England. As well as continuing to meet our nearest and dearest outside, some of the things we are now able to do include go to the shops, have a haircut, have a pint in the pub- outside, of course- visit the gym, go for a day out to the zoo or a theme park, or attend an indoor parent and child group. For many it feels like a welcome step on the road to recovery.

I saw a fair few judgy social media posts yesterday, however, which put me into reflective mode. People loftily saying they couldn’t understand why on earth people felt the need to rush to Primark (“I bet they’ve sold out of leggings” said someone rather cattily) ; that they for one wouldn’t be rushing to visit the shops/go to the hairdressers/pub/insert whatever activity they are not interested in here.

This made me check myself, as well. Although I haven’t posted publicly, I confess that I, too, have harboured some similar thoughts. From the privileged position of being able to afford a holiday in the UK, and not having any loved ones abroad, I have pondered in a rather judgemental way about why some people are so keen for a trip abroad this summer. In a work context, too, I have been tempted to make comparisons with other organisations; to be critical of other peoples’ decision-making, whether I perceive that to be too ‘gung ho’, or too risk averse.

Whatever the context, if it doesn’t match up with the position that we have decided we are comfortable with, the temptation is to make ourselves feel better about our own choices by criticising other peoples’.

The fact is, however, that although we have all experienced a collective trauma, we have all experienced it in different ways. And there is no doubt that some of us have been shielded from its effects more than others.

For some, their very personal experience of the loss of a loved one, or prolonged shielding due to chronic illness or disability, is understandably the lens through which they are looking at the world at the moment. For others, having to stay at home has not meant staying safe and comfortable, but instead has meant stress, danger, or mental heath crisis. Workers from many sectors have not been able to work from home. For those already on a low income, being furloughed has meant being unable to make ends meet. Some of those who are self-employed or own their own businesses in badly affected sectors have fallen through the cracks of government support altogether.

We have witnessed first-hand at the Princess Project how disadvantaged communities have disproportionately experienced the effects of covid. Many families that were already on low incomes have had to make impossibly hard choices every day: between buying food, and nappies, or paying the rent or utility bills. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Little Village, a London-based baby bank, found that across the UK, 34% of children in households where there are children under 5 are now in poverty. More than half of the worst-off parents have had to borrow to cover basic costs such as housing and food in the past year.

Interestingly, the Little Village report also looks at the 2020 British Social Attitudes survey. Whilst 98% of people think that it’s important to reduce child poverty in Britain, a majority lay the blame for that poverty on parents themselves- 75% think that drug and alcohol problems are the underlying cause, and 63% believe that children are in poverty because their parents choose not to work. We humans really are a pretty judgemental bunch.

If our personal experiences of the pandemic differ so widely, surely it shouldn’t surprise us that our coping mechanisms for both lockdown, and emerging from it, will differ too. A long-awaited trip to Primark may be the only way that a mum on a low income can afford new clothes for a child that’s been growing like a triffid during lockdown, or a lifeline for a fashion-loving teenager who has been denied so many opportunities this year and whose mental health is suffering as a result. Or it may just be that people are craving a bit of normality, and a trip to the high street gives them that.

We can never can fully understand someone else’s story, or the decisions they make- that’s why judging those decisions is a dangerous game. That person who looks like they have it all together on social media is really hanging by a thread. That ‘perfect family’ is really anything but.

What is becoming apparent is that emerging from lockdown is going to be infinitely more complicated than entering it. Some may be keen to exercise any new freedom immediately, and to the full. Others may be more cautious. Both are OK. I think we take the moral high-ground about the choices we make at our peril.

Maybe (and this is very much a note to self as much as a call to action) we could all commit to thoughtfully making the decisions we think are right for us, our families, or the teams and organisations and businesses we lead, and supporting our friends, loved ones and colleagues in their decisions, even when they look different to ours. I think that’s the only way we will be able to emerge successfully, together.

References:

It takes a village: how to make all childhoods matter (Little Village/JRF, February 2021)
Caught in a (Covid) trap (Karl Handscomb and Lindsay Judge, Resolution Foundation, November 2020)
Call for a stronger social security lifeline for our children (JRF/Save the Children, July 2020) British Social Attitudes, series 37 (The National Centre for Social Research, 2020)



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