A CONSENSUS is emerging across the land that the brutal authoritarian policies of this Government are completely disproportionate to the threat of ‘the virus’ and are causing immense long-term damage to the economy and the people. Perhaps one of the worst aspects has been the divisiveness that has permeated British society during 2020, easily the worst year of many millions of lives. But definitely not all lives.
First, let us consider the ‘hit parade’ for various vocations in the early part of the summer.
Straight in at number one would be the civil servant or similar public sector bureaucrat. Happy days were here again! ‘Working’ from home on full salary with none of the hassle or expense of commuting. Gold-plated pensions. Plenty of time for gardening, DIY, sunbathing and hobbies. My goodness, what’s not to like? ‘Let’s crack open another bottle. I’ve saved £500 this month on travel.’
Not far behind would be the private sector technocrat who can work very effectively from home, such as an IT coding, network or database specialist. Many should bless the development of the internet and connected technologies. Full salary and no travel costs. No irritating management presence.
At number three would be a private sector professional such as an accountant or lawyer. Ostensibly, able to work productively in a quiet space at home for much of the time. Except that eventually some direct input and guidance from clients and colleagues is required. Which is perhaps not a significant problem in the short term given reliable access to Zoom calls and mobile phones.
At number four would be the private sector person at home ‘on furlough’. Having 80 per cent of your salary paid by the Government while you stay at home decorating, gardening, enjoying the sunshine and watching Netflix. Lovely!
Way down the bottom would be any private sector self-employed artisan (whose work requires a combination of practical knowledge and manual skills) or similar small business owner. Many suffered a truly disastrous and soul-destroying spring when everything shut down and the entire country was stricken with government-induced fear. No work, no income, no furlough; poverty beckoned.
But I would not be surprised if there are big changes in store for 2021.
Shooting up the rankings go the artisans. They have the hands-on skills that everyone always needs, come what may, short of a nuclear war. Plumbers, sparks, chippies, brickies, roofers, ground workers, mechanics, plasterers; anyone with a demonstrable practical skill. The demand for their services is not going away. Many are now swamped with profitable business that has stacked up since the first half of the year.
Hanging in there quite comfortably are all the pure IT specialists. If they are any good, they will still be required well into the future, arguably indefinitely. Applied IT skills meeting real and persistent business needs will continue to attract top dollar for obvious reasons.
Most of the public sector professionals enjoying remote/occasional home working will still be fine but perhaps only for the time being. The brutal fact is that the private sector pays for the public sector. So hard times for the private sector must, sooner or later, affect the public sector. Budgets and jobs will have to be cut.
For a significant minority in accountancy and similar professions, I suspect that 2021 will herald the beginning of many grim conversations with the HR manager. Along the lines of ‘We simply don’t have enough business right now to justify your services. It is definitely nothing personal. Good luck. The door is over there.’ Many highly qualified professionals are ‘value added’ – required only when the business environment is buoyant. I suspect that will be far from the case in 2021 and beyond.
For many private sector employees currently ‘on furlough’, their gardening leave lifestyle is going to come to an abrupt end sooner or later. Probably March 2021, unless Boris and Rishi decide to shake the magic money tree yet again. Many will find that they have no viable jobs to go back to, and if not, universal credit and misery are probably their next steps in life. Unlike the public sector, the private sector just cannot afford to carry any ‘passengers’; it really is that simple.
What are the wider implications? I would love to be proved wrong but I fear that we will soon be visited by a depression in four interconnected rising dimensions: unemployment, debt, inflation and taxes. For many citizens accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle, this is not coming back any time soon.
Austerity, such a dirty word in political circles, will soon need to be embraced at a personal level. Taxes will have to rise so wise folk should stash away some financial acorns while they can. Reduce monthly outgoings. No more luxuries until the credit cards are settled. Stop dickering with the ‘Just Eat’ app. Re-learn how to cook with fresh vegetables. Use up all leftovers. Shop more often at Aldi instead of Marks & Spencer. Browse charity shops for second-hand bargains. Borrow books from the library instead of buying on Amazon. Plan holidays in Northumberland, not the Amalfi coast. Rootle around in the bargain shelf at the supermarket. Fall in love with Wetherspoons again. Welcome to my world.