My daughter saved like mad for two years in order to travel to South Africa to study for, and eventually take, her stage one safari guide exams. She lived in particularly insalubrious accommodation during that time, earning £64 a day working for a doggy day care business – picking up and dropping off 15 to 17 dogs a time at a cost to the owner of £40 per day (that’s a good business to be in). She ate and drank just enough to keep body and soul together. Although, at times, I think even that was in doubt.
She flew to South Africa almost two years ago – to study for six months and then work in a game reserve for the second half of the year. After three weeks, she posted on social media that she felt she belonged in Africa. It was her dream come true. She came home last Christmas with a boyfriend (I’ll call him Chris), a life experience and the determination to go back as soon as she could, study for her stage two exams and work in the Kruger.
Well, of course, we know what happened. They are both still here – again saving madly, again living in insalubrious accommodation but now earning the minimum wage with my daughter working night shifts at Amazon and her boyfriend working for a chicken producer. Both companies have stories of their own and I could easily digress but I won’t. Tales to be told over a glass of wine sometime in the not-too-distant future.
Then, about ten days ago, Chris came home to say a colleague had been at work for a full week after finding out that his wife had covid. Whole teams then had to be sent home. Many took their own tests. Chris tested positive.
So here we all are. Our whole family has tested negative. Chris is the only one who hasn’t. We are all self-isolating, which isn’t too bad having spent much of the year in some sort of lockdown and limitations. I can easily work from home, though I am desperate to see how our sector is coping post-lockdown with the new tier system. Like everyone else I am ordering a pint of “substantial meal” and a Scotch egg as soon as I can.
My point though is that neither my daughter nor Chris will be paid for this two-week period. Neither will the teams that have been asked to isolate. Neither will the person who transmitted the disease from his wife to those who sat in the packed and unventilated canteen. That’s a loss of £2,000 to Becky and Chris. Just prior to Christmas. They can try to apply for the one-off £500 payment but that’s really for people in true hardship (which I understand totally) and not easy to obtain from what I’ve heard.
The company has to take its share of responsibility as do the individuals concerned but it’s easy to see why people don’t say they have covid-19, don’t test for it and don’t take time off. They simply cannot afford it.
There are huge numbers of people just like this – agency contractors, those on zero hours contracts, the self-employed for less than three years, freelancers, start-ups that pay themselves in dividends not salary, the recently made unemployed. They have no safety net. Of course, not all of them are “workhouse” poor but, for many, a diagnosis of covid-19 or a self-isolating order will be financially devastating.
It’s one of the reasons why we have to keep fighting to save our sector – every single part of our sector. Not just the operators but the whole of the supply chain too. We cannot be left to cope on our own until Easter and the promise of a vaccine for everyone. We want to protect the NHS, the vulnerable and the sick but our people need protecting too.