The new normal

It’s a beautiful day. The June bank holiday is upon us. The fourth bank holiday since the start of the first restrictions. We got through St Patricks Day, Easter Monday, and the May Bank holiday. We can get through this one. All we need to do is stay home and follow the guidelines.

Liffey 9

None of us knows what lies ahead. So far this has been a surreal year. But as we work through the stages to bring society back to normal, have we given any thought to what that normal should be. Do we really want to go back to the way we were?

Can we, as a nation, build a better society. One where home working is the norm, for those that want it. Where family is respected, where every child is cherished equally. A country where house prices are affordable for those who have the resources to buy and where rents are manageable for those who don’t. A country with good quality housing stock which every citizen can rent from the state, regardless of income, at a fair price, with security of tenure.

Imagine a country with a workable health service. One where waiting lists are short and everyone, regardless of income, is guaranteed treatment when they need it.

Imagine a society where our workers are valued. A society with full employment but on a living wage. Where the employer looks after their staff as well as their shareholders.

At the start of this pandemic, we proved, very quickly, that it is possible to live differently. The old normal has been thrown out. Can we make the new normal better?

The most important lesson for us all from this pandemic is that society cannot function without our nurses, cleaners, shop-workers, bin collectors, post persons, delivery drivers. The list is endless, but we all know who they are. We have been applauding them but now we need to value them.

It is well documented that Ireland has huge inequality in the distribution of wealth. Our so-called full employment (before this pandemic) is a joke. Jobs that don’t pay a living wage should not be classed as full-time employment. Jobs that require a subsidy from the government in the form of FIS or HAP or any other government assistance cannot seriously be regarded as proper employment.  And for any government employee to be eligible for income supplement from another government department is an absolute disgrace.

The most damming of all is the current argument about the Covid-19 payment of €350 per week. I would love to see some of its detractors give up their salary and expenses and try to live on that income level. The government were correct in bringing in the payment. It has saved many families from financial ruin, but they should be careful in how they phase it out. As a nation we bailed out our banks (and Europe’s), now it’s time to bail out our citizens.

As a nation, we should also consider some form of active protest or boycott of those businesses who do not value their staff. Companies making large profits but not paying their staff a living wage and even worse, making deductions from their minimum wage for food and uniforms. If an employer requires its employees to wear a uniform, then the employer should pay for it. Those at the top need to remember that they are kept in that position by the staff under them.

I am going to spend this weekend in my garden and in my friend’s garden, enjoying this beautiful weather. Whatever you do this weekend, stay safe, 2m apart and spare a thought for those who are grieving. 1,639 families in Ireland are missing their loved ones this weekend, 360,089 worldwide. Don’t become one of them. Stay Home, Stay Safe.

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