Boris Johnson's televised speech left a nation perplexed, but there was a message whose clarity should not be doubted. If you are a middle class professional, you can safely continue working at home, and if you venture out for leisure, exercise or sunbathing is entirely yours. For everyone else, it's time to get back to work and good luck!
An alliance of conservative libertarians, who believe in freedom for those who can afford it, and wealthy conservative defenders, who are more interested in profit margins than in the lives of vulnerable and older people, have grown tired of the blockade by contrary to the public as a whole. whole. And therefore, Johnson's confused commitment, as mentioned in his Sunday night speech to the country, is to "actively encourage" a return to work for those who cannot do it at home: factory workers, but not managers. ; cleaning products, but not counters.
Coronavirus is a class problem. He is not an indiscriminate reaper, randomly selecting his victims, regardless of class or ethnic limits. It targets those with pre-existing health conditions, which are more likely to be found among the poorest Britons. It has largely spared those who can support themselves in their living rooms using Zoom, quite different from those whose professional lives make human contact an inevitable necessity. According latest numbers from the Office of National Statistics, the lowest number of deaths of working age has been among men with professional occupations; the highest number of deaths was among men working in low-skilled elementary occupations. If you further detail the statistics, the hardest hit are taxi drivers, bus drivers, security guards, chefs and health professionals. More than 200 construction workers died on April 20 and, as a union leader put: "How many of them died for this luxury apartment, retail unit, football stadium or hotel?"
We have already learned that there is a strong ethnic divide: blacks, for example, are four times more likely die of coronavirus than white people. Class and race intersect in British society: people of color are disproportionately concentrated in jobs with lower and less qualified wages. While 11% of the British workforce is BAME, that number rises to 44% of taxi drivers and drivers, 32% of security guards and 19% of bus drivers and service providers. Some of the workers most exposed to poverty and discrimination were also exposed to this potentially deadly virus.
As increasing orders from the British working class are ordered to return to their revenue-generating role, the class impact of this pandemic will only increase. Avoid using public transport, suggests our Prime Minister: but this is easier for those who receive more, almost all with access to a car, compared to the poorest, more than half of whom not. The children of the wealthy can not only have fun in the suburban gardens, but can now travel by car to the Peak District and the Broads; many of the urban poor, huddled in overcrowded towers and buildings, do not have that option.
We are now told that we can apparently meet a friend or relative outside our home at a time, but only in a public outdoor space while observing social distance; violating this rule can lead to financial sanctions. How, then, does it make logical sense to prohibit larger meetings away for leisure purposes, but to force people to return to work indoors, very close to much larger numbers? The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the health and even the lives of working class people are considered disposable for a greater reason: profit margins and shareholder returns.
Now we know what the "blue collar conservatism" marketed on the Red Wall – where the conservative party won seats in last year's elections – really means. "Stay alert" means "stay home, but only if you can afford it". This is "saving middle class lives" in actions, if not in words. The wealthy will remain protected as long as their workers risk their security to maintain their fortunes. The class system prevails, even for the morgue.
• Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist