Covid has caused loneliness, isolated us all in our homes, kept us away from each other. Get people back into work to improve their mental health.
School closures have caused social inequity and the sooner we get the kids back into schools the better to close that gap.
We were never lonely before? There was no social inequity before? Really? Return to a system which was broken in the first place. Perfect.
Samaritans reports that in 2018 6859 suicides in the UK, which was a rise of 10.9%, with men three times as likely to commit suicide and four times more likely in Ireland. Key trends include a rise of 23.7% in the under 25s and 52.7% in Scotland. The full report is here.
In fact, the same report shows that educational pressures are one of the main causes of suicide among young people as well as work.
And why is this there is lonliness and inequity? Because the economic system we live in doesn’t work for everyone. It is unjust and unfair and unless we start to talk about it, things will carry on getting worse. Yougov says 1 in 10 people dislike their jobs, whereas other sources say that figure is 39.7% or 60% . It doesn’t make much to understand how that might link to the rise in suicide and mental health issues.
Add to that a rise in zero hour contracts, particularly impacting on women, giving no security, no benefits, no sick pay, no maternity pay, no predictable working patterns making child and elder care more and more difficult.
Even the most conservative of those figures means a lot of unhappy people. Covid and lock-down has been a chance to see the rot, to do something about it.
Let’s remind ourselves how we were lonely before lock-down. How we never had chance to see friends, to spend time with our kids, how elderly parents were put in homes which were the best we or they or the state could afford, but were not their own. Because we didn’t have time did we? We worked long hours, commuted long distances, then we had to shop and buy stuff to look right and fit in with work. We had to work more to pay for the clothes to look right at work and all that time we were working we were tired and not seeing the people we loved. We sat at our desks all day and didn’t move and felt stiff and got sick and no matter how hard we worked we still felt we didn’t have enough and so we worked harder and paid more to fill in the holes in our souls. We paid for massages and retreats to fix us in one hour or two days so we could get back to the crazy treadmill which kept us from ourselves, from our loved ones and from the land.
So our kids missed us. They went on screens to get their attachments there when we were home but not home because our head was still in work and we were checking emails on our phones while they tried to talk to us and then gave up. Our kids missed us at the school gates, the easy comfort many of us had in childhood of mothers talking while the kids played. They missed us doing simple things with them, the walks home telling about our days, the hand- holding, the time to stop and stare. We missed sports days and harvest festivals and it hurt us and made them cry and then give up and shrug that my mum/dad never comes because they have to work.
So our kids went onto screens and learned about trolling, and looking good and being cool and fitting in and they didn’t go outside, they didn’t climb trees or ride bikes so were pale and unfit and disconnected. And they went to school where teachers were doing their best but were under so much stress from performance data and targets that they didn’t have time to chat or listen or hang out. And school trips, which was where I first heard The Doors played by my sociology teacher on field trip, or where I fell in love with Shakespeare and connected with my teachers and fellow pupils, well now there is no time for trips in school time, because they have to work so hard, so hard.
And of course some kids were never going to succeed no matter how hard they worked because their parents cared but were on shitty, zero hour contracts and so were never home. Or because their parents were addicts, or violent or depressed or ill. And because whilst we may live in a democracy it is far more democratic for those of us who are already OK. If you are ill or addicted or sad or angry, it’s pretty much your fault and you are on your own because all the funding for support services were cut in 2008 when you and I had to tighten our belts, when there was no money for the poor but lots of money to bail our banks.
Or they fail because because schools are designed for a certain kind of intelligence which can fill your head, but not teach you how to till the soil, to grow the food we might soon need to eat as a no deal Brexit looms.
Because the education system is designed to train children from age 4 to sit still, work from early till late, work to a bell, rush, be up in their heads and in competition with each other.
Pupils do not learn how to look after the elderly, the frail, their own health. They do not learn about the corrosive effects of capitalism on the nation’s mental and physical health. They do not learn about the colonization and genocide perpetuated in search of oil, of lands, of sovereignty. They do no learn enough about how their consumer habits are eroding the only eco-system we have.
Also, putting the pressure on young people to educate themselves out of poverty, or the parents pressured to earn themselves out of poverty alienates and abandons the individuals and families concerned, leaving them to sort out ‘their’ problems, when they problems are systemic. The system makes wealth for the few, creates capital which can be invested so people can live off their investments, for the few. As my mum used to say ‘wealth goes to wealth’ and it is true. No amount of zero hour contracts or excellent teaching is going to end systemic poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation calls for an increase in benefits for those in poverty. The podcasts at the end of this blog argue for universal basic income, this is a systemic problem, as well as individual one.
- There were 4.1 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2016-17. That’s 30 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30.1
- As a direct result of tax and benefit decisions made since 2010, the Institute for Fiscal Studies project that the number of children in relative poverty will have risen from 3.6m to 4.3 million by 2020.4
- Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one member works.5
- Child poverty has long-lasting effects. By GCSE, there is a 28 per cent gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers in terms of the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grades.9
But we rush these children through a government designed curriculum where some have to fail and feel bad about themselves and hopeless and lost and so they have to struggle to make ends meet and so might just say yes to that offer of easy cash, or that shady deal or that depression or that overdose. And so that others will get results so they can work so hard that their screens become their closest friends and they see their colleagues more than their family. So they can get results so they can get a good job and a good car and a good house and be good consumers and not see their kids, or their us their parents, or the sky or the trees or take a breath.
And we want to go back to this. Do you?
We were lonely before. We were isolated from our loved ones, our communities and our eco-system before. There was social injustice and poverty before.
Covid could be the tipping point into something new.
Wiser people than me have spent decades studying how we could do this differently. Listen to Upstream podcast episode 1 and episode 2 on universal basic income and then Helena Norberg-Hodge on one way we might do things differently.
I can can’t yet see a clear way forward, but I sure as hell don’t think the answer is to go back.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves about how things were and use this as a time to rethink ourselves into a world which has at it’s heart sustainable well-being for every child, adult, elder, for every river, land and creature, for without these things, what really is living all about?