Anyone who follows me on LinkedIn will have noticed I’ve been involved in a spat with two economists over an article one of them wrote in the Daily Mail about how to get the UK economy back on its feet. One of Douglas McWilliams’ proposals was a 10% pay cut for “non-essential” public sector workers.
Among my many objections to that policy was the question – which you will note wasn’t answered – how you define “non-essential”. Is a librarian non-essential? A social worker? A park keeper? Is the nice woman at Islington Council who overrode the stupid computer system to allow us to renew our parking permit essential? We certainly thought so at the time.
And this goes wider. Today “non-essential” shops are being allowed to re-open. What the Government deemed essential included food shops – not surprising but it did mean I could buy liqueur chocolates in lockdown but not underpants – builders’ merchants and cycle stores. You can argue the toss all day about what should be in that list but what we are relying on is our elected representatives to make a value judgment of what is required for life to go on.
However, as we emerge from this crisis there is broad essential that we should “rebuild better” – greener, less prejudiced, fairer. Within the goals of an improved society, there has to be a debate about what is “essential” and what isn’t. We may need to ask ourselves some really tough questions.