I know Scottish nationalists are cock-a-hoop right now about the opinion polls on independence, and who can blame them, but the subtleties of what people say in these polls is often overlooked. If we accept that most voters currently want independence, we should also accept that most voters think another referendum isn’t a priority. So, what should the priorities be right now?

Perhaps I could suggest one: the effect that the coronavirus restrictions are having on the most vulnerable people in society. There’s been an understandable furore over the Tory MPs who questioned the idea of funding free school meals over the holidays in England, but it seems to me that, among supporters of the coronavirus restrictions, there’s been a distinct lack of furore over the effects that the rules are having on the low-paid. In fact, most of us seem to be willingly participating in the effects, promoting them, and enforcing them.

The experiences of some of the people I’ve encountered in the last few days should help explain what I mean. People like Sarah, who’s 23 years old and has two jobs: cleaning in a caravan site and working in a bar two nights a week. Or Sarah’s mother, who also works as a cleaner. I spoke to Sarah towards the end of one of her shifts in the bar and she was knackered and stressed, not least because she’d had to do the whole shift while wearing a mask.

But it gets worse. The second job Sarah does cleaning caravans has become much more onerous and time-consuming in recent weeks because the cleaning has to be more thorough because of the virus, so jobs that were taking 15 minutes are now taking half an hour and so on. The problem is that Sarah is earning the same money but the job has become much harder. The experience of Sarah’s mother is similar: her work is much harder than it was and at the end of her shift she’s tired and frustrated because of the PPE she’s required to wear.

Sarah’s attitude to all of this is pretty clear. Her life, and that of her mother’s, have become much more difficult and stressful in the last few months and she’s worried about her income and her future. She’s been told her cleaning job at the caravan site is unlikely to continue beyond January and she has to wear a mask for most of her working day. But Sarah is 23. Her mother is in her 40s. Their risk of death from the virus is small and hundreds of times lower than it would be if they were in their 80s or 90s. In fact, Sarah suspects she’s already had the virus and recovered.

The point is that Sarah and her mother are being made to suffer even though they’re at minimal risk and this, pretty much, is the story of the pandemic: the underprivileged have been disproportionately harmed. I’m afraid I’m a bit tired now of middle-class people telling me how much their savings have grown, or how much they’ve made on their house, or how lovely it is to work at home and be with their children, while many others – usually on low incomes, and usually women – are still going out to work for not much money and are being clobbered, physically, emotionally, and financially.

The solution to it all is obvious I would have thought, and some leading epidemiologists have been saying it for a while now: Sunetra Gupta at Oxford, for example, or Jay Bhattacharya at Stanford and others. What they’re saying is that the balance of risk and harm is skewed too much towards risk and that those who face minimal chance of harm – Sarah and her mother for example – should be allowed to resume their life as normal. We could then focus the protection measures on those who are at greatest risk. If you’re sick, you stay at home. Elderly people should get their groceries delivered. Anyone with symptoms should avoid meeting their vulnerable friends and family. Retirement homes should use frequent testing. Wash your hands, and so on.

The consequences of not changing to such a policy are pretty grim. Sarah will probably lose her job in a few weeks, and we know there will be lots of others like her because women on low incomes are disproportionately represented in sectors that have been locked down, such as hospitality. They’re also less likely to be able to work from home so have to go out to work in low-paid jobs made more miserable by restrictions that over-emphasise the risks.

So what would you say to Sarah? “It’s a price worth paying”? “It would be wrong to relax the restrictions now”? The problem with phrases like that is they often come from people with the least to lose. In fact, I seem to have noticed that a person’s support for lockdown is often in inverse proportion to the effect it’s likely to have on them – in other words, it’s all very well being keen on restrictions and shutting bars and caravan parks and all the rest of it when you don’t have to work in them, and can work from home instead. The point is you can’t do Zoom if you work in a bar or clean caravans for a living.

Perhaps the solution to the problem – a problem which disproportionately affects women – could be found in the wisdom of another woman. You may have seen her on TV. Maureen from Barnsley. She’s the octogenarian who said she didn’t give a sod about the new restrictions in her town and wouldn’t be fastened to her house, and her frustration, and her appeal to common sense, seemed to strike a chord with many of those who heard her.

Maureen’s views on further lockdown could also offer a solution to the plight of people like Sarah. How many lockdowns can we afford, asks Maureen. The people who are going to suffer the most, she says, are our young ones, and the unemployed and what we need to do is focus the help on the elderly people and we can’t afford to mess about either. It’s maybe not how an epidemiologist would put it, or a politician, but I like the directness of what Maureen from Barnsley says. For the sake of Sarah and her mum, I think we should listen.

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