July 2. Those of us in lockdown feel, of course, isolated from our friends and family. We count the days, which in the present uncertainty stretch before us without limit, until we can share our lives with them.
This fragmentation of the population is reflected in other dimensions. Sitting inside our houses, patrolling our weedless gardens, we don‘t see, literally don’t see, anything of how the rest of the country is experiencing the pandemic. Amongst the consequences of confining to their homes the fit and active of seventy and over is depriving the community of a host of active volunteers who could both witness and respon to cases of need.
It is very easy to turn off our sensors and concentrate solely on our own misfortunes. One effect of the lockdown is to throw attention onto the most trivial grievances. The major event last Saturday in my household was the failure of Sainsburys to deliver the supplements in the weekend papers we had ordered. No book reviews, no television guides. It quite spoilt the day.
If you look for it, however, there is evidence that out there people are going without more than just newsprint. There are those deprived of their income because they don’t qualify for the furlough payments. There are the daily increasing numbers who are being fired in anticipation of the closure of that scheme. There are those who legally have ‘no recourse to public funds’ because they have a right to live here but not to benefit from the welfare state. There are those who had been barely getting by in the gig economy who are now wrestling with intricacies and inadequacies of universal credit. There is the group described by the money expert Martin Lewis as experiencing a ‘financial catastrophe’ as their businesses have failed leaving them with no safety net of any kind.
The consequence is not just some kind of social poverty, but basic physical deprivation. The Food Standards Agency has just published a report showing that since the pandemic began between 6.3 and 7.7 million adults had reduced their meals or missed them altogether because of lack of money, and that between 2.7 and 3.7 adults sought charity food or used food banks.* The food banks themselves have found it difficult to meet the increased demand, despite a ‘Food Charities Grant’ the government has established to provide them with short-term assistance.
Just now, my wife and I are living in a two-person fenced community. We must be grateful, I guess, that so far the material sufferings of so large a minority seem not to be reflected in the crime figures.
Add Mss 4. OU brings down French Presidential candidate. Further to yesterday’s discussion of the work of the Open University, the verdict has just been reported in the trial for embezzlement of the former French prime minister and presidential candidate, François Fillon, and his Welsh-born wife Penelope. Up to a million euros were paid to Penelope over a number of years for office support that she never undertook. The offence first came to light in a newspaper interview with Penelope back in 2007, when she admitted in passing that she was too busy to work for her husband. The reason she gave for her lack of time was that she had just started an OU course in English literature. She told the journalist that she was studying for a second degree because ‘her five children viewed her as “just a mother.” She wanted to show them she was “not that stupid”’ (my own mother, in her time, took an OU degree in her sixties for much the same reason). Both action and motive seem more than sufficient to acquit Penelope Fillon of the charge she faced. As it is, she has been given a suspended sentence of three years.