The Price of Lockdown

The media is awash with doom and gloom about the economy. And much of what is reported is so baffling it makes no sense in terms of the price of lockdown on us as individuals. When figures are bandied about in the billions, it’s difficult to relate that in real terms to the difference it makes to our bank balance.

The hard working people whose working life may never be the same again have yet to be counted. Like many, I have been fortunate to have no direct experience of the devastating health impact of the coronavirus. There is much to be grateful for.

But I know of several young, ambitious people who have been laid off or no longer have any idea how to find a career or afford to live their own life. I have friends who have spent years building up businesses whose income has vanished overnight and may never return. With unemployment predicted to be at 10 per cent by the end of the year and a recession already biting, nobody’s job is safe.

Whether a key worker, a furloughed employee, a corporate executive working remotely or a business or property owner, cash flow, like the supply chains delivering what we buy with our hard earned, is unpredictable. And that means the future is more uncertain than any of us have ever experienced.

In every household in the country, breadwinners are having to adjust their thinking about how to look after themselves and their families. The Micawber principle of Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield’: ‘Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19 [pounds] 19 [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought and six, result misery.’ is relevant to many today.

This may fit into the ‘my heart bleeds’ category but there are many high earners living beyond their means in the multi million pound houses in the leafy lanes around Tunbridge Wells. Their outgoings way exceed the furlough support being generously provided by the state.

Not everyone can sit this out. Not everyone will be able to afford the debts piling up. Not everyone will have a job to go back to. Or a business to run after lockdown eases. The new ‘have nots’ will struggle to return to a better normal. The mental health consequences we can only speculate about.

The forbearance being asked of our financial institutions is a form of corporate kindness which won’t last much beyond the next AGM and then the bills will have to be paid. ‘Something will turn up’ said Mr Micawber when faced with penury.

Let’s hope that the generosity of human kindness being shown at the moment continues as lockdown eases and something will turn up to ease the economic suffering of millions.