Define Key

BY JIM WEBSTER

When I looked across at this view this morning whilst I was feeding heifers, it did strike me that I’ve not got a bad place to be ‘self-isolated’ in. Looking east across Morecambe Bay towards the hills of the Pennines. I really can’t grumble.

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Nonetheless, on one of my rare forays onto social media today, somebody had posted something along the lines of, “Give all key workers a pay increase because applauding them isn’t enough.” So I merely asked in the comments section, “So are people willing to pay the food price increase so the key workers in food retail and production can get a pay rise?”

Well that killed that conversation stone dead.

And of course when I looked at the article the person had shared, the ‘key workers’ were only the public servants anyway. I wonder if we’re starting to see first and second class ‘key workers’ appearing. Those who have strong unions who can grab the limelight and those who haven’t? Who are the ‘unsung’ key workers discussed in the media?

Well, if you can read this it’s because your broadband works and the various engineers, linesmen and the like are still out there working. If you’ve still got electricity and gas, then likewise.

When you ordered your stuff from Amazon or bought something off eBay, did it arrive? Lucky the postmen and other delivery drivers are working isn’t it? Talking to our postman (we’re rural, we do all sorts of weird things that would never happen amongst the urban elite) he commented that everything is manic. They’re delivering every other day on rural rounds because they’ve got more stuff to shift than at Christmas but with fewer people to do it because they have colleagues off sick.

Then there are all those people in warehouses, sorting your stuff out so the stuff you ordered gets to you.

Then there’s the lass in Tesco, you know, the one everybody ignores as they fiddle with their phone as she works the till. To be honest she strikes me as pretty key as well.

And then there’s us down at the scruffy and disreputable end. I did comment to somebody that for most of my day I don’t notice the whole lock-down situation. It’s spring, we’re busy. But not just us. Pick up a phone and order feed and in in the feed mills people are still going in to work. Milk tanker drivers are still driving milk tankers. In abattoirs and packing sheds people are starting the process through which what we farmers produce ends up on your table.

Then there are the unsung ones, the care workers going from house to house to look after the elderly and most vulnerable, as well as those struggling in care homes. Our society might not collapse without them, but it would be a far poorer place, and without them and what they do, I think we’d struggle to call ourselves a decent people.

So to be honest, I rather agree with the comment the person made. The key workers should get a pay rise. It ought to be a good one so they can afford the increase in the cost of food which will actually pay for the rise a lot of them deserve.

But when you actually look at the key workers, the ones who are keeping the show on the road and are holding things together – the ones who really matter – two things strike me. Firstly, even allowing for doctors and the like, I bet their average salary is below the national average. Secondly, I’d put serious money on far fewer of them having degrees.

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.

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