In her contribution to Wilbrahams Covid-19 Emma Gant gives us a glimpse into her work as a social worker during this coronavirus lockdown.
Lives in the balance
There has been a lot in the media about how so many countries being in lockdown has brought some good effects on our environment: clear blue skies due to no air traffic, cities clear of pollution for the first time for years, clear waters in harbours due to no shipping. As a social worker previously working in a city centre team the contribution I was making to the destruction of our planet was something that really bothered me. Racing about, in and out of the office, driving to meetings, then on to see families, and then sitting in traffic queues to get home. It made me question was the good I was doing for families in the short term harming those children’s long-term futures by polluting the atmosphere?
Now, due to Covid-19, I am, in the main, working from home. Supporting families by phone, WhatsApp, Skype. Not adding to global warming by driving miles every day. Not rushing in to the supermarket to buy plastic wrapped ready meals, prepared vegetables in plastic bags and a takeaway coffee in a one-use cup, but cycling to buy vegetables and meat from the local shop. Cooking with my kids instead of rushing home and shoving something frozen in the oven. Taking the dog out for my one hour’s prescribed exercise and enjoying the solitude and beauty of my local walks. In the spare time normally spend commuting offering my expertise to the local volunteering group supporting those in my community, publicising national support helplines and promoting mental health awareness.
But I am anxious. I feel the disconnect from my team and the families I have got to know, and those I need to get to know. How will I build those relationships over the internet? Who will pick up on the signs of abuse when families are in lockdown? How many women and children will die because they had no reason to be seen out of the house and so could not get help?
So. . . we need to find the balance. Smarter working: making even more use of technology. Better local links: I might do just as much good volunteering locally and building my own community’s social capital as I do driving miles to do an assessment. This needs to be recognised and rewarded. Maybe local councils could set up paid local champion roles for all those professionals who give time to their local community. Getting political: when the current government was weighing up investing in essential services and cutting taxes for big companies I would say that it is very obvious they got the balance wrong. This is not about saving money, it is about saving lives. And, of course, the irony is that proper historic investment in funding enough hospital beds, nurses, PPE, domestic violence support would have save both: the services would have been there, ready for use. Instead the excruciatingly slow creak of government wheels turning has meant that we were too late to respond at the right time. All the predictions made by hospital managers coming true in front of their eyes and them then having to work all hours day and night to mop up the governments mess. Priti Patel’s response to criticism was a good example of a powerful force trying to gaslight us all. Not an honest apology for the lack of equipment but the implication that the failure lay with the nurses who were ‘mis-using’ it. The message is simple: listen to those on the frontline. We know what is needed. We are not out to waste money, we are out to save lives.