by Amy Jones
Friday, 4
June 2021
Spotted
11:34

‘Re-opening anxiety’ is a middle class concern

The pandemic hit the poor hardest, and their stories should be told first
by Amy Jones

A new pandemic is upon us — but it doesn’t involve viruses. It doesn’t involve the WHO, or perfidious cave bats. It’s a pandemic of opinion pieces written by liberals complaining of “reopening anxiety”. The gold standard of these essays was published in this week’s New Yorker by the writer Anna Russell.

Shortly after the re-opening of pubs and restaurants, Russell meets up with some friends. The conversation soon heats up:

At dinner, people were fixated on the performative aspects of getting out. ‘We’ve become obsessed with jeans,’ one friend told me, about a conversation she had been having with her flatmate whenever she contemplated leaving the house. ‘We talk about jeans all the time. Like, What are jeans? Are we wearing the right jeans?’.
- Anna Russell, The New Yorker

Is this what constitutes “reopening anxiety”? Of course there are those who do genuinely suffer from social anxiety — it’s real, and the condition can often be debilitating and paralysing. But there are also those that fret about wearing the right jeans when they go out.

And this piece is not the only one. The Times quotes a charity director who warns that society will have to “build up their tolerance” to busy places “gradually” while The Guardian asks its readers if they have created a “regular lockdown day” for themselves and their family. Often these articles claim that ‘loving lockdown’ has become taboo, a guilty pleasure for the WFH crowd. The sheer number of articles published on the theme rather suggests the opposite though.

Anxiety about “reopening anxiety” is another demonstration of the way this pandemic is being told primarily through the eyes of the middle-class. They, for the most part, have enjoyed their time during lockdowns and stay at home orders. These articles reflect a version of the last year which has only been true for a privileged elite.

For many others, often in poorly paid, or unstable employment, getting through the pandemic has involved working face-to-face throughout, often regardless of underlying health conditions. Likewise, the unhappy experiences of students, barred from attending in person education, or young professionals trying to work in crowded house shares, remain, for the most part, untold.

Sadly, the middle-class focus in the media has been reflected in the Government’s Covid policy too. Much of the political response to Covid has ignored the lack of pay to isolate, and inadequate sick pay — especially for those in casual employment — often to the detriment of the overall pandemic response. Indeed, one study showed that 67% of those in insecure jobs reported receiving no sick pay, which may be why another study found only 18% of those who had symptoms self-isolated. Most damning of all, Public Health England revealed last week that as the decile of deprivation went up, deaths from Covid soared correspondingly.

Covid has become a disease of the poor. While extensive lockdowns and stay at home orders may have protected the rich, (with Amazon share prices climbing ever higher as the fortunate got their needs delivered to them), data shows they have failed to protect the poor to the same degree.

To make matters worse, these groups find themselves ignored in the media, their losses and harms unacknowledged. We owe it to them, not just to reflect on how the pandemic response has harmed them, but also to tell their stories.

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Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
11 months ago

This is why it always upset me when people told me that lockdowns were about ‘solidarity’. Believing that lockdowns were good for society reveals knowing nothing about how poor people (and poor countries) live.
I guess for some poor people and countries are not part of ‘society’.

Rob Bryant
Rob Bryant
11 months ago
Reply to  Fran Martinez

Concentration camps were also all about ‘solidarity’.
Got to keep the sheeple in their pens bleating the right-on party line.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago

Lockdowns have always been about inequality. I have never met someone pro-lockdown, who doesn’t have food on the table and money in the bank. The scale of selfishness, lack of imagination and dare I say it – in many cases – immorality, has been extremely upsetting to witness.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
11 months ago

They’ll doubtless have far more money in the bank now than they had pre-lockdown as well!

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
11 months ago

They also still keep their NHS rainbow on conspicious display

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
11 months ago

I do completely agree with this: I am ashamed living in a society that made all efforts to scare people to (of) death to control them for …. (?for a certain narrative suiting the illness industry more than anything else)…locked the poor and less advantaged of the society in misery (and in overcrowded houses where all health risks increase) and starved the 3rd world from income (and hence to death). Lockdown has been an inconvenience for me because I am lucky. But Ofcom, mainstream journalists, politicians and media scientists should all be ashamed of themselves and crawl in a hole. Sadly, it is more likely that they move to some nice place in the world where they will enjoy the financial benefits for the performance ….

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
11 months ago

I also noticed that MSM was classified as essential workers-in what alternative universe is Piers Morgan essential to anyone? Anyway they did a good job persuading many they were in the midst of a pandemic & likely to die if they ventured outside their home. As many watching TV were on full pay , they could enjoy a long holiday & feel virtuous at the same time. Meanwhile the front-line staff-usually working class have been very busy supplying them with all their needs. They haven’t saved any money & didn’t even get a holiday last year-they worked full-time.

jill dowling
jill dowling
11 months ago

The number of healthy middle aged people I know who had their shopping delivered, taking a finite number of delivery slots from the elderly. Now they’re all jabbed up, but doing their lateral flow tests before they step out the door to socialise. All woked up for BLM and the like, but not a thought for the people who delivered their groceries or Amazon parcels. Nauseating.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
11 months ago
Reply to  jill dowling

Mere words do not express the depth of my loathing for BLM.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
11 months ago
Reply to  jill dowling

This links in with an unherd article about the rise of meritocracy in the nineteenth century. The class this created then apparently created many of the things we like-libraries , theatres etc but all at the public expense . As one person who ran their own charity said to me , there are some people who instead of buying their own cup of coffee , will create a charity that buys their coffee for them . The tax & rate payers have been buying the cups of coffee for the current stay at home classes all their lives they just didn’t realise it until now.

colinkingswood4
colinkingswood4
11 months ago
Reply to  jill dowling

Virtue signalling has become a natgional sport. Masks and lockdowns were the biggest virtue signal possible (they did little for the spread of infection). Unfortunately they forced us all to join in.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
11 months ago

This article touches upon why many people are angry with the ‘Left’. When it became gentrified it abandoned its focus on class division to purposefully widening racial and sexual fault-lines among the poor. Like many other professions, journalism has become an activity dominated by the idle classes who contribute to societal ills and then make money selling a cure.

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
11 months ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

It’s not ‘the left’ you should be angry with. A genuinely left-wing view is that one that holds that lockdown consists of middle class people staying home while working class people bring them stuff.

david Murphy
david Murphy
11 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Smith

So do you think lockdown should not have happened? just spread the disease faster and further.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
11 months ago
Reply to  david Murphy

Lockdown should never have happened in the way it did. The energy should have gone into making society healthy (covid is mainly a disease made possible by all the factors that make us more vulnerable,of course with a few exceptions, but then nobody is perfectly healthy: health and illness are normal part of life), and treating patients at the earliest signs ….

colinkingswood4
colinkingswood4
11 months ago
Reply to  david Murphy

Yes, we could have been done with it by now. They have done nothing to lower tghe numbers. The hospitals coped fine. The US staes that didn’t lock down coped fine.

Alyona Song
Alyona Song
11 months ago

Lockdown effectively eliminated solidarity, what with so many comfortably holed up at their homes, ordering everything online and feeling good about themselves following orders, being good folk. These ‘good people’ are critical of those who disobey ‘public health advice’ and utterly oblivious of millions of people for whom ‘stay at home’ is ruinous, unaffordable. The ‘good people’ are the ones, of course, going through the torture of ‘reopening anxiety’.

david Murphy
david Murphy
11 months ago
Reply to  Alyona Song

Staying at home is not ruinous. Those who needed to work could and did go out and worked. Furlough schemes covered almost anyone who needed the support. Now that the economy is rebounding we are facing labour shortages again.

simon taylor
simon taylor
11 months ago
Reply to  david Murphy

5 million self employed (not ir35 BBC and consultancy fraudsters) received no furlough or any other help.
There is no “labour shortage”- just an unwillingness in society to pay a living wage for grindingly hard manual ( and often dangerous) jobs which it undervalues.
If you want to get and retain a workforce, pay them a wage that reflects their value- simple.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago
Reply to  simon taylor

Not simple. How can a lawn service compete if it pays twice what the others pay? Then there just are starter jobs which should pay low, they are to train people how to work, and then make them move on up.
Wage inflation historically ALWAYS leads to actual inflation, which really hurts the low income.

But anyway, all those WFK, Work-from-home are now to be competing on a global market. And foreigner contractors do not get sick days, pension contribution, maternity, NHS costs, Tax, and 40 hour weeks and so on – plus they get to compete to the race to the bottom on wages.

colinkingswood4
colinkingswood4
11 months ago
Reply to  Alyona Song

The ‘good people’ are the ones, of course, going through the torture of ‘reopening anxiety’.

They deserve to suffer.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
11 months ago

I don’t understand about these people’s perception of lockdown? How do they think society continued to function? The bin men in our part of Oxfordshire never missed a day; neither did the postmen. The delivery drivers of course were busier than ever. The supermarket workers kept the shelves full and the tills ringing, albeit remotely I suppose for the lucky ones who could get a delivery. If you went to a supermarket, the staff were there, cleaning the trolleys, policing the entrance ( most of them quite politely). When the electricity substation was hit by lighting, it was repaired in the storm within two hours.
Society was never locked down. The privileged were locked down, the rest of the world just got on with servicing their increased needs.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago
Reply to  Niobe Hunter

not true – millions sat home on free gov money, all the low paid in the hospitality industry as an example. In USA the pay to sit at home still goes on, and so they will not return to work for less money than sitting at home, this is really hurting the economy.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
11 months ago

First off, can someone please help me with the potential minefield of what the headline writer intends by “middle class?” I find that it generally means something different in common parlance in England than it does in North America.
Regardless, of course the pandemic is a “disease of the poor.” The poor are always the biggest casualties of every disaster.
And why is the author surprised that outfits like the New Yorker or the Guardian aren’t reflecting the concerns of the poor? These are ad-driven vehicles — whose eyeballs do you suppose they are targeting? And further why the surprise that government is demonstrating yet again for whom and by whom it is always run — and that ain’t the poor!

N Millington
N Millington
11 months ago
Reply to  Colin Haller

There were plenty of people working in middle class jobs whose accomodation was in cities, and so had less room to live in than some semi employed brick layer with his two up two down and three kids in Scunthorpe.
What the pandemic really revealed is how much space Britons need to live in, when they actually live in their homes.

david Murphy
david Murphy
11 months ago

The middle-class dominates journalism and hence write the stories.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
11 months ago

Interesting article. In the US, by contrast, re-opening anxiety is not a middle class concern but rather an elitist, upper income concern. Our president is repeatedly promising we can get back to normal by July 4 if we all follow his instructions. He must be living on another planet if he thinks that middle and lower income people are waiting for his signal.
Where I live, the stores are packed, the road traffic is back to what it was pre-pandemic and you cannot get in a restaurant without a reservation. I have not had a mask on in a month. Other than to fly to Denver and back.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
11 months ago

I stopped wearing a mask in shops and cafes a couple of weeks ago. I’ve only been challenged once, in a cafe. I just walked out and went to another one.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
11 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

masks are there just to remind people about coved. They were effective to reduce flu and other viruses, no hard evidence in relation to covid: they are mostly a symbol

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
11 months ago

Covid has become a disease of the poor. 

Of the urban poor, more like. Covid is disproportionately widespread in cities. So are bames, and indeed in every “inequality”-related article the subject turns to bames well within the first few paragraphs usually. In the woke vocabulary (wokabulary, heh) ‘poor‘ became a synonym or code-word for ‘bame’.
Nobody cares about the rural poor, many of whom are elderly and vulnerable in the original meaning of the word.

david Murphy
david Murphy
11 months ago

I suppose disease spreads fasted in the urban setting, and the more crowded the faster and more lethal the spread.

J Bryant
J Bryant
11 months ago

There’s probably a lot of truth to the suggestion that reopening anxiety mainly affects the protected middle class. But I still have some sympathy because it’s hard not to be affected by all the alarmist press surrounding covid. I suspect, though, people’s desire for a normal life will overcome their fears.