Or are we just too exhausted and dejected, and did Covid actually shine a light for many on what matters?
In this world it appears you can say blue is green and that can warrant serious discussion these days so it was not a surprise to see a report about a study by a group of finance experts purporting to say that people have been slacking off due to the pandemic [no doubt due to working remotely] and that furlough has harmed the economic recovery.
The study itself, by the Bank of International Settlements, is more measured, although you have to wade through an awful lot of pure economic stuff about bonds and the like before you get to the people side right at the end.
While the report has a graph showing that some of the countries which supported workers most generously through the pandemic are facing greater difficulties recovering from it, that is by no means the only reading of the data. The report also talks about things that have affected labour market shortages, including an ageing workforce, health issues and workers wanting to work fewer hours or perhaps in less contact-intensive sectors. Another issue mentioned is how low wage growth [particularly in relation to inflation] may have prompted more job mobility.
It’s always worth reading the actual reports rather than relying on press interpretations as much of the press seems to be in revisionist mode at the moment, questioning furlough and suggesting anyone not working 9-5 in the workplace is a bit of a slacker. That is, they seem not to be looking at the evidence, which often says different things on different days, only what they want to believe. In a world of survey-itis, it is probably best practice to err on the side of the weight of the evidence.
Generally, reports questioning furlough don’t look at what might have happened without it and tend to be obsessed with the Swedish model [although not so much when it comes to welfare support]. Without furlough there would surely have been mass unemployment, with all that that brings in terms of personal misery, particularly given we know that many people in the UK had very few savings even before the pandemic. Maybe people would have been more likely to take jobs, any jobs, as a result of desperation, but countless companies would have crashed and would need to be rebuilt. Food banks would have been absolutely overwhelmed, given basic benefits have been so cut to the bone through the austerity years. We’d still have had the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis, sparking inflation and rising interest rates, but even more people would surely be in absolute poverty. Maybe people don’t matter to economists, though. It’s all about the money, money, money, after all.
Then there is the bit about labour shortages and people working fewer hours. This has been extrapolated by some to suggest employees are just not pulling their weight now. It’s hard to know where to start with that one. While there have been increases in people dropping out of the workforce or reducing their hours [permanent early retirement seems to have been mainly for wealthier people], a lot of this is likely to be related to health issues [our survey shows this is a big factor] either for the person in question or a dependent or waiting for health or social care support. Not only that, but growing inequality is storing up massive health issues for the future. You can’t skip meals regularly without it having a long-term impact on your health.
What’s more, many people are carers these days and, with the social care infrastructure collapsing, that means more expectations are put on informal carers. Mental health issues for young people have accelerated as a result of Covid. Then there is the impact on mental health of coming through a pandemic, widespread grief, Long Covid [which is really not spoken about enough], Covid doing the rounds still and taking a lot of people a while to recover from and so on and so on. The list is a very long one. You surely cannot expect everyone to bounce back just like that from what we have been through, however it was managed or not managed.
Most of the people I speak to in higher education [my other job] are exhausted. The same goes for many others. They’ve pivoted and adjusted to every single change and worked while homeschooling throughout the last years. They are crawling their way to Christmas in a very difficult economic climate.
The pandemic has also made us reflect on what matters really. And no matter how you try and sell five days in a concrete block, staring at a screen, many of us have concluded that work is not high on the list. Yes, we need it for an income, but the people you care about come first, which should obviously include yourself, although self care tends not to be at the top either. The younger people I talk to have almost opted out. They see very little positive on the horizon. They are not skiving. They just need there to be a vision of something better.