The one constant in all this madness is uncertainty. When will it all be over? When will we be safe? What will our organisations, our communities, our cities, our nation be like when the crisis is over?
What will I feel like?
Will I cope?
Will I be different?
I was sent this poem by someone as words of encouragement;
If once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you’ll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbours of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you’ll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won’t know why and you can’t say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You’ll never be quite the same.
I found it helpful – helped me not fear the changes I am feeling about myself as I try to cope with this experience. It reminded me my ‘island’ is a much, much more privileged place than many and my task is do what I can to help other people whose ‘islands’ are not so.
But what about not my own island, but the island which we are all citizens of – not just the physical island but the interconnected communities of which, one way and another make up our lives. How will they look when this is all over? What are the drivers of change which will shape the ‘next normal’?
It’s going to be different for everyone. The move into post lockdown is likely to be gradual and impact different demographics in different ways. People who have been ‘shielded’; and the over 70’s generally may see their isolation requirement lasting until the end of the year. Those not shielded but with underlying issues will have some tough choices to make about when to leave their island. I am one of them and I struggle with the thought. For all of us, restrictions of some sort will be in place until the end of the year and a vaccine is unlikely to be available much before early 2021.
The recession, suggested by some to be the deepest ever, will be worse than 2008, with 35% reduction in the economy and any form of secondary lockdown or restrictions will continue to what is being seen as a liable to be ‘w’ shaped recovery. Depending on what happens in the first dip, the categories of employment impacted will change.
What we do know is the big lesson for 2008 was getting people into jobs when huge numbers of those jobs were insecure, not full time, low paid and with little opportunity for progress did not help the economy. And more importantly, we know austerity is never the answer. A paper from the Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence shows that those most damaged by austerity will also be most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic – disproportionately young people, frontline workers, women. The Scottish Governments Improvement Service paper published last week ‘Poverty, Inequality and Covid 19’ shows how many of those whom Cyrenians and others like us already support will be impacted more than others.
We can only predict the journey but we can be pretty certain the impact of all this will be more people at risk of sinking into poverty, and liable to slip into homelessness, including people who have never used services like Cyrenians. They will be in a very different island to the one they were in when this crisis began. How do we let them know we and folk like us are here, and what it is we can offer? Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone coined the phrase ‘Happy, Healthy, Hired and Housed’ – how do we continue to collaborate across sectors, building on what we have begun in this crisis, to make Putnam’s words a reality for those for whom the end of this crisis is a cliff edge?
Our society will be radically reshaped post-crisis, and we need to be ambitious in calling for what is necessary – to stop people being swept into poverty, to prevent homelessness, and to make sure people have the support they need to lead flourishing lives. Affordable housing with rent caps, jobs which pay wages to live on, a universal basic income; these are all possible, and maybe now is the time to make them happen… Yes, we will be different because of the time we have spent on the island of ‘coping with the pandemic’. But we have choices about what the difference looks like; not just for us, but for those about us. Big political choices and small personal choices; all of which can build a better island – together, for us all.