COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”

An almost entirely deserted Liverpool Street station on April 2, 2020 – a previously unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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In Sunday’s Observer, the paper’s chief political commentator Andrew Rawnsley related how, a few weeks ago, a group of civil servants at the Cabinet Office were “told to find a way of re-opening nightclubs in a coronavirus-safe way.” Although they were, in Rawnsley’s words, a “bright group”, they couldn’t overcome the fundamental  — one might say fatal — flaw at the heart of the exercise. “The socially distanced nightclub is a contradiction in terms”, as Rawnsley put it, adding, “Nightclubs, by their very nature, are all about social intimacy.”

Rawnsley proceeded to explain that he was telling this story “to illustrate just how very desperate the government has been to release Britain from every aspect of lockdown and return us to something that resembles the pre-coronavirus world as closely as possible.” Our leaders, as he put it, “dreamed of returning to that prelapsarian age in which you could eat out with your family, go drinking with your mates, commute to work, celebrate a religious festival or jet off to a holiday somewhere reliably sunny without having to worry about catching or spreading a deadly disease. While never quite saying it explicitly, their ambition has essentially been to get everything open again.”

This indeed seems to be the case, and it is typical of a government made up largely of inadequate ministers who are only in place because of their enthusiasm for the insanity of Brexit, and who are led by the laziest example of a Prime Minister in living memory, that the nuances of the challenges facing us — and the unexpected opportunities for a less chaotic and more environmentally sustainable world — are being ignored.

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The Death of Empathy in Cruel, Heartless Britain

Last Wednesday, while George Osborne was delivering his Autumn Statement, taking aim at the most vulnerable members of society once more, with another savage attack on the welfare state, I was in central London, and I returned home after he had made his smug and visibly heartless performance in the House of Commons, when the Evening Standard was already announcing his new attack on the poor and disabled.

The Standard‘s headline — “George Osborne hits welfare for poor and raids pensions of rich” — was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Chancellor’s statement, but it failed to dent the prejudices of the two women next to me, who were returning home, presumably from their office jobs. As they idly perused the paper, they complained about the amount of money the unemployed receive, followed swiftly by a complaint that they then sit around at home doing nothing. There was no mention of the fact that most of what the unemployed receive from the government goes to their landlords, or that there is still only one job for every five people who are unemployed, let alone the fact that a large proportion of benefits are actually paid to working people who aren’t otherwise paid enough money to survive on. Why let anything that might lead you to regard the unemployed as fellow human beings interfere with some knee-jerk bigotry?

Complaining that they too were suffering, they then spent the rest of their journey home — disturbingly, to Brockley, where I also live — rather undermining their case, by talking about party dresses and which gyms they attended. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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