“Not everybody is like us”

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Walking or cycling is not a choice for long distance commuters

Governments are like criminals. They frequently make mistakes, and they often repeat the same mistakes. And it does not matter who is in charge. All the political parties have made similar, or the identical, errors. And this government is no different…..and are making decisions based on their own experience of life, rather than facts …. but “not everybody is like us”.

So the “us” (politicians, senior civil servants, scientific advisers) have a car, a computer, and a smartphone – and access to the internet (and live in central London). They therefore set up a testing system to tackle the current pandemic which has relied very much on “drive through” centres, and access to the internet. And on tracking and tracing with smartphones – except for those who don’t own one – or a car either probably!

Members of Parliament are also funded to live near to Westminster so they can attend Parliament – and can cycle in (as Boris did), or walk if they choose to – but many people can not afford to live in central London, or indeed the centres of many of our cities, or live within walking or cycling distance of the centres.

So, for example, we have people commuting from Rye daily and, even if the commute was just from the outer London boroughs (say Bromley, for example), cycling or walking does not seem an option – so can the lockdown really end for them? But the government seems to think “walk or cycle” is an option!

I was lucky when I worked in Whitehall for the government, and lived just behind King’s Cross station alongside the canal on former railway land developed by a housing association, because I could walk – though I was often on the 24 bus with Michael Foot. Getting home was hard though as I walked through theatre land, Soho, Fitzrovia and various other spots with 180 plus “hostelries” of one sort or another – so it took time!

Getting on your bike is not a choice

But for lots of people – in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and other big centres – being able to use public transport is essential – and “getting on your bike” is not a choice.

However, going back to the issue of these “drive through” centres for testing for the coronavirus, we are told they are capable of handling 100,000 tests a day, but people are not turning up in those numbers every day. Very strange. But if they can get tested, a friend’s experience was a wait of seven anxious, worrying days for the answer – fortunately negative. But a lot of people might have been infected in those seven days.

And if lockdown is ended, or “watered down” as was proposed on Sunday, the government will be relying on everybody needing testing, getting tested, and then relying on “track and trace” using smartphones and computer systems.

There’s a small problem though. The RAC say 77% of households have a car, which means 23% do not – or nearly one in four.

Smartphones and the older generation

Similarly we are told that 95% of households have a mobile phone – but, while there is 95% ownership of smartphones among the 16-24 age group, among the more vulnerable 55-64 age group it is only 51% – and I could not find a figure for 65s and over…. but I might reasonably expect it to be lower than 51%.

Similarly while 93% of the population are said to have internet access (of variable quality in some places and, in Rye, on where you live – in the centre or the outskirts) only 88% have a personal computer.

And ownership of cars, smartphones and computers declines with age and (more importantly) income, and a significant percentage of our frontline workers in hospitals, or in care homes, or visiting the elderly and sick in their homes – or , indeed, working in supermarkets – are on low and uncertain pay.

So government assumptions are based on the belief that everybody is like “us” (and has a car, or a PC, or a smartphone, or indeed all three – and many of the most vulnerable do not), an oft repeated mistake detailed in the book “The blunders of our governments” by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe in 2013 – and debated at Rye Arts Festival when it was published.

Repeated, and incorrect, assumptions

And the same mistakes seem to have been made with Universal Credit – and a common oft repeated one (apart from access to computers) is that everybody has some savings – so can manage for weeks without support.

Rye Food Bank’s experience suggests otherwise – as demand continues to grow for basic food supplies with 202 parents and children being helped with food – as compared to February’s figure of 39.

My first article on “testing” was quite general, and attracted lots of comments. My second article was more specific, and based on my daughter’s experiences which she described as “shambolic”. And her test was negative, but her flat mate has still not received the results a week later.

However that article did not attract the same immediate response. I wonder why? Facts can be so inconvenient, can’t they?

Roads to Hell paved with wrong beliefs

And, to be even more specific about what can go wrong, I was a senior civil servant in Whitehall before I retired, and one of my jobs in my final years was to advise on a very large scheme which involved contacting everyone involved in all forms of farming.

A computer based scheme, supported by the Environment Agency and the National Farmers’ Union, was proposed. I suggested (despite some opposition) that we checked this out by picking a random NFU branch and asking every tenth member on their lists to come in for a meeting.

Now most agricultural production (80%) comes from 20% of the producers who (inevitably perhaps) can tend to influence local NFU committees. The other 80% however cover all sorts of farming.

And the “farmers” came into Taunton from Exmoor and the Quantocks and the Somerset Levels, and quite a few did not have internet access and, while some big producers had IT departments, others said their sheepdog was not so hot on the keyboard.

So the “biggies” got their computer-based system, but the rest had a paper form based on the “Inland Revenue’s tax form” – to which extra sheets could be added, dependant on what sort of businesses you were running – and there was quite a mix, with some having holiday lets, others running “shops” [roadside stalls] , and others having a mix of produce and animals. On the other hand the “biggies” were often just focussed on one “product”.

“The blunders of our governments”

So I was very glad I checked…. because many government systems have not worked, usually because they were based on false assumptions, and limited knowledge and experience  – as the book “The blunders of our governments” spelt out.

I hope, therefore, that this “test, track and trace” system does not all go badly wrong – and we do not have a second peak of the coronavirus – but I am worried that the government does not seem to be listening – not just to the NHS Confederation, but to the British Medical Association (the doctors) and the Royal College of Nursing (the nurses) who continue to express concerns – which have been reported by all television channels (not just the BBC).

And, in relation to “bike or walk”, I wonder how many ministers and MPs have been in Waterloo, or King’s Cross, or Paddington, or a number of other London terminals during rush hour. Commuters do not do that for fun. They have no choice.

And commuter trains are often not just crowded. People are packed in like sardines. And “social distancing” would be a joke. And, while staggered working hours might help, I am aware every time I’m in London (on the tube or at a railway station) of how long working hours are now, and how staggered they are. So “staying alert” would not be just a joke, it could be a death sentence.

Image Credits: Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/park-life-park-people-walking-life-2251981/.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The writer seems intent on ignoring facts while claiming the mote is others eyes. Cherry picking is not scientific. Mobile testing centres have been available for weeks, as have community visits. Recently, I talked to friends in a number of EU countries. All of them praised the support our government had provided for business and employees. All opined that it was a shame their own governments had not acted as quickly. From Spain I was told that they envied the swift response that ensured adequate ventilators and ICU beds so that no one was stacked in corridors. German friends wondered at the unfair media criticism of our government over PPE with a nurse telling me she wished she had stayed in England because the systems and PROVISION were far superior.

    Learning on the job is never easy and, unfortunately it is only when the apprentice is mocked for asking for a Birmingham Screwdriver that he learns (and never forgets) about hammers. Sadly, this situation is not a joke, but it seems to me that far too many in the media and now politics have decided to put selfish narrow political aims before the national interest. To use death, and the misery of the threat of it, as a basis for point scoring is, in my view appalling.

    What is notable, is that those looking daily for a ‘Gotcha’ opportunity offer nothing, but their selfish hope of embarrassing those who have the responsibility for all of us. I long for criticism that is constructive. Opinions that help us all, but, in that vacuum there is only selfish whining.

    “Not everyone is like us,” Opines the author. Well no we are not. We are not all ex civil servants. We do not all choose to spend three or four hours a day commuting. We (the most of us I know) are thrilled to have a government that has actually listened to facts, followed scientific advice and is cautious in its program. We are glad that Boris recovered and overjoyed that for the first time in decades we have a leader who gets us, and shares our belief in this country.

    Yes, there have been mistakes. Yes, there will be more. There would probably be far less if the ‘Gotcha’ merchants decided to join our team rather than rather than throw rotten vegetable at the ones who are trying to save us all – them included.

    As for getting to work; well I recall as a young lad cycling ten miles each way. There are two types of people in this world – Those that will and those who whine. I appeal to all to join the doers and help in our fight to overcome this unasked for menace.

  2. When I was working in London and living in North Kent I would gladly have exchanged my commute for a 10 mile cycle ride each way. I had no choice – I couldn’t afford the price of housing in London so in order for my family to enjoy a quality of living that I could afford I walked 20 minutes to my local station, travelled 53 miles to London and then spent another hour on the Underground crossing travelling to my place of work in North London. And then I did the same in reverse in the evening. Along with thousands of others for whom walking and cycling was also not an option. And that was nearly 30 years ago – when London was a lot less congested than it is today. This isn’t whining – it was “doing” in order to meet need. And I was very glad to see the back of it after “doing” for 26 years.

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