Re-socialising Herbert

Herbert, not their real name, is a friend of mine who has had a mixed lockdown. Whilst happy to be away from people so as not to get the Coivd virus the effect of the isolation has been to make them very wary of re-connecting with the outside world.

Getting jabbed twice has obviously been important but due to relatively young age, Herbert has only very recently had a 2nd jab, whilst working from home since March 2020.

Herbert does go out but only wearing a mask. They’ve even been in shops though with little confidence and possibly too much fear, but that’s easy for me to say.

My point in posting about this is often the pandemic is talked about with regard to the couldn’t care less brigade who have carried on regardless, probably/possibly unvaccinated and maybe even tried to promote anti-vaccine propaganda. But there’s another side to this pandemic and it’s the far greater number in our society who to some extent may have shut themselves away too much. Fear, health issues, already being lonely, aged, disability will all be pointers to this all but forgotten but significant minority. An angry anti-vaxer ranting about their freedom being curtailed will always make better news than this mostly silent, pretty much ignored, and probably far greater proportion of our society.

It’s not going to be at all easy for people like Herbert to re-socialise, they won’t want to go to indoor places/venues where large crowds gather for a long time to come, they will continue to be very careful about who they let through their front door and their mental health will have suffered and will continue to suffer especially as their confidence will be very low.

Employers, those companies who have a statutory right of entry to people’s homes, and indeed anyone wanting or offering to visit private homes needs to consider these issues seriously and probably for a long time to come.

Why is England’s Covid messaging so all over the place?

I was in a local shop a couple of days ago and the chap in front of me asked, when he got to the front of the queue, whether he should be wearing a mask (he did have one on) in that particular shop. The answer was that whilst the Government says you don’t have to we really do want all our customers to wear masks to help protect each other and the staff. The chap agreed but then went on to make a more general comment. He said that he could not get his head around government messaging on the subject as it seemed all over the place to him.

That comment made me think back to something I’d seen or heard, only a few days prior, on a media platform (can’t recall which) where a journalist had been tracking what differing Ministers had been saying about Covid and the ‘freedoms’ we were supposed to be getting. The conclusion was that the messaging was in fact all over the place and Ministers were in effect contradicting each other by giving out sometimes significantly different information/opinions. When you add into that the deliberate misinformation that can be circulated on social media, is there any wonder folks struggle to know what the powers that be are actually saying to us?

On many matters, the bad information, the misinformation, and even the deliberate lies don’t actually cost lives but with Covid they do! So why can’t our leaders at least sing from the same hymn sheet? To me, the answer is that Government Ministers don’t actually have an agreed message to give out; they really are just doing their own thing, giving personal opinions, or pieces of propaganda based on what their own political sect thinks. It’s like Brexit all over again but this time people’s lives are at stake! I really am beginning to wonder if the Conservative Party is slowly but surely turning itself into a political force akin to the US Republican Party where real facts mean nothing but opinion, no matter how ill-informed or off the wall, is treaded as fact.

I really can’t think of a previous UK Government, of any colour, that would have treated this Covid crisis as the present one has been doing. I would go so far as to suggest that incoherent chaos has been dominating Government thinking. Can you seriously imagine Tony Blair, John Major, Ted Heath, or Harold Wilson running a government so badly through such a massive national crisis? No, neither can I especially when you look at the more sober and considered messaging coming out of the Welsh and Scottish Governments. I might not personally agree with the Welsh or Scots leaders but I can credit them with being pretty consistent and clear in what they have been doing and saying during this crisis.

Treating workers as humans

We see so many working people being treated poorly these days that it’s come to be almost accepted that our fellow human beings, who happen to be employees, are simply expendable and worthy of little care. And I say that as an active trade unionist throughout my whole working life (1975 – 2017) where, in general, I saw working conditions getting worse rather than better.

The only thing that seems to matter these days is the production of whatever form of widgets you can imagine; greater and greater efficiency is the ever strived-for goal but at what cost? Mental health issues are at very significant levels and often the root cause can/will be working conditions, pressure at work, unreasonable production goals, and no time to consider that humans can only be pushed so far before they literally break down. Indeed, I fear that in times of raised unemployment some companies will push their employees past the brink as they don’t care and there’s always someone else who can fill the position of the person they’re in the process of breaking.

The gig economy is leading to huge and unacceptable exploitation of workers with governments and indeed trade unions across western economies struggling to bring this out of control sector to heel. But many mainstream companies, in trying to survive, are pushing their greatest assets to and past the brink. The NHS, poorly resourced as it is for mental health, has to try to pick up the pieces.

The latest mental (and of course physical) health crisis associated with employment is the pandemic we are presently living through. People working from home in inappropriate/inadequate conditions will take a toll on some workers, whilst yes some will find the situation liberating if they have the right conditions to be able to work at home. Generally, the poorer the worker is then the worse it will be trying to convert living space, which may well be scarce anyway, into a workspace. But what about when the pandemic is easing and workers are being pulled back to their traditional workspaces in offices often miles away and a public transport ride from their homes.

Isn’t bringing someone who has been working at home for say 15 or more months akin to bringing back an employee into a workplace who has been on long-term sick leave? Do employers realise that it’s probably not a good idea just to pull a lever and say ‘you’re back in the office next Monday’? Significant management skills are required to sensitively look after staff who are home-working and more again to identify those who will struggle to return to an office environment. The larger the company the more they should be able to ensure their managers, at all levels, are trained and able to help their staff members.

I’ve often felt that government should be leading the way as a massive employer of workers. It should be promoting the best practices and it should certainly not be contracting out work to companies unwilling to uphold similar high standards. Trouble is, at least in the civil service, that’s how things used to be and I started work at the tail end of such good practice. Sadly, I saw how government relinquished its moral responsibility with regard to best employment practices is it went through many years and counting of trying to get its work done at the lowest possible cost and bugger the consequences. And this process has run through governments of all colours I might add.

So, the reality is that government now, in effect, promotes very poor employment practices and even seems to be involved with dubious companies who may be working to undermine our tax system via National Insurance and tax dodging! With such leadership is there any wonder that looking after a company’s most important asset, the people who work for it, becomes a non-priority?

How long will it be before employers realise that treating employees poorly leads to poor outputs and treating them well has the opposite effect? It may take full employment before that lesson is learned by some companies (their staff will walk) but government can and should be leading the way rather than helping to create an explosion of workplace mental health issues!

Covid-Safe Workplaces?

I was a Branch Secretary for PCS trade union for 22 years and held other lay posts within that union and indeed its predecessor unions (IRSF & PTC) throughout my working life in the civil service. So it’s probably no surprise then that my now-retired eye was caught by the article below on the BBC website:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-56647149

I’ve been troubled throughout this wretched pandemic about how safe UK workplaces really are and the telling thing for me has been that I’m yet to hear of any employers being prosecuted for unsafe C19 conditions. Trade unions, of course, will always be (or at least should always be) on the front foot should their members have concerns about unsafe workplaces.

Here’s what the Health & Safety Executive say about how they get involved with workplace Covid 19 concerns:-

www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/regulating-health-and-safety/index.htm

I’d heard about the Swansea situation a while back and it seems like my former trade union and indeed its members in that agency of government have decided enough is enough. Clearly, even if all guidelines are being followed by DVLA (and I’ve no reason to think they are not) something is far from right with such large numbers of staff falling victim to C19.

But just think for a moment about all those non-unionised workplaces across the UK and how safe the staff feel who work in them, over C19 or indeed other matters, if there’s no union to take their employer to task.

We generally have safe working conditions in the UK because of the efforts of trade unionists over many generations. It’s best to join a union in my view; indeed when I first started work in the civil service it was and had been government policy for a long time to encourage all civil servants to join their appropriate trade union. That was good advice to me.

Poverty – Our governments only manage it, with no intention of seriously tackling it

What has the UK become, how have we sunk so low? Poverty and food banks are now an everyday part of many communities.

I’m not religious in any way but the recent high profile BBC News story about what a Pastor and Priest have been doing to help the utterly desperate in Burnley disturbed me profoundly.

The fact that in one of the richest counties on earth they have to do it should shame us all. We’ve had government after government which are for the middle incomed and wealthy with the poor getting litte more than crumbs off their table. In recent times footballer Marcus Rashford has stepped up to call for change particularly with regard to feeding children but more benefits/increased benefits will only be yet another sticking plaster, it won’t deal with the core problem of poverty.

After 40 years in politics I am convinced that Universal Basic Income is the only real solution to poverty. Politicians, who oppose UBI whilst hiding behind a lack of willingness to find a way to fund it, are actually saying we will not be doing anything useful about poverty and are leaving those who can’t survive via our mean spirited benefits system for charities, volunteers and churches to look after.

Sadly, the Burnley story is being replicated across the UK whilst the well off and our leaders in Westminster spend time picking ridiculous trade fights with the EU over Brexit. But when we get all the independence, prosperity and opportunities promised by those who promoted and voted for Brexit how much of it will filter down to those most in need? If it’s little or nothing then what have we been fighting for; just to make the rich richer and poor poorer? Developing a society based on a significant percentage of that society having to live in abject poverty is hardly something we should be aspiring to yet it seems to be where we have arrived.

I am profoundly depressed by how we expect those with nothing to live off almost nothing. Growing an ever greater number of people who are destitute has been the result of political decisions and political indecision but we’ve been voting (or at least a significant number of us have) for politicians who have been in charge of this growing poverty crisis for many years now. Is it not time to chuck out those politicians who simply want to manage, ignore or even punish those in our society who are the most in need? Oh and please don’t assume that all the problem politicians are Tories because poverty is an issue that many politicians want to ignore and they get away with it bacause the poor often don’t or can’t vote.

£175m (or even £2b) sounds a lot for cycling & walking BUT it’s not much really

To start off this posting please have a read of the article linked below from The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport as it sums up where government thinking is seemingly heading quite well:-

ciltuk.org.uk/News/Latest-News/ArtMID/6887/ArticleID/32879/163175-million-more-for-cycling-and-walking-as-research-shows-public-support?gator_td=%2beI1zBnIYuYG7%2bOgusqjWGu5ZZ3%2bV4keUCmq3%2feVfXUBQ1EUrl6iRYVbt8AMDZa8BuPYg2Qec9tbYFzDd%2bowb%2fmeXmxqN51hO%2bWqAMtRbYK5EFnIW%2bJZy%2b9Bbs2rbZFBkIYukuNJZwTa74yXG%2fFBsa%2bjmt1QPIrPybd7EcLO7FMQgicqJmz9PJ9zZ1EWozrzCiROVULmgTH4DSsQ8w1KBg%3d%3d

News that government is to invest more in cycling and walking has to be welcome but let’s be honest an extra £175M spread across the country is not going to produce much at all; it will address the tip of a very big and long under-invested in iceberg at best.

But stop grumbling Robertson and come up with ways it could best be spent in Sefton and West Lancashire where you do most of your cycling. Well my first and most important advice to highway officers at Sefton Borough and Lancashire County Council’s is DON’T use what little money you get from this fund to try to do big projects. If you do a small area will get a big improvement but most cyclists won’t benefit at all. Please, please look at the myriad of small things you can do to make cycling safer and try to connect up obvious places which real cyclists want to get to and from. Presently the cycle network, other than in places like York, is a hotch- potch of bits and bobs all over the place which rarely connect with anywhere at all.

Safe cycling routes to schools is an obvious one to tackle but so are safe routes to railway stations, shopping centres, museums, leisure centres etc. Oh and don’t forget that secure cycle storage facilities are required too at each destination.

This is of course a subject I’ve banged on about before – see links below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/09/03/maghull-lydiates-berlin-wall-the-bible-of-cycling-infrastructure/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/05/03/maghull-lydiate-melling-simple-cycling-fixes-for-sefton-council-to-undertake/

And I noticed another easy fix for Sefton Council only today on Maghull’s Liverpool Road North (the section with a service road from the Westway to Green Lane junctions) where a dropped kerb outside Cornmill Lodge would enable northbound cyclists to access safer cycling on that service road. Obviously suitable bollards would be required to stop vehicles following suit!

Yes of course the rather grandiose safe cycling project to connect up Maghull with Kirkby is welcome but it’s one hell of a big investment for not a huge benefit for the majority of local cyclists. And that’s my point here; get the small easy fixes out of the way first because they will make a big difference to safe cycling. Oh and make sure that all projects that go through highways departments are scrutinised by cyclists before they are approved or you end up creating new highway infrastructure that all but excludes cyclists like the terrible new Alt Junction on the A59 in Maghull.

Walking and cycling destinations from Rimrose Valley County Park Country Park.

By the way the reference to Councils having to consult (see 1st linked article above) on how the money is spent is both welcome and interesting as my understanding is that with the money released by government during Lockdown 1 there was an instruction from government to benefiting councils not to consult!

With thanks to Mike Perkins for the lead to this posting