by Rory Mair, CBE, Chair of CAS.
This article was first published in the Herald on 31 March 2021.
Exactly one year ago today I submitted a column to this newspaper in which I stated that I feared I might die from Covid-19.
Published the following day, it caused quite a stir. I received a number of very gratifying messages of concern - which were all greatly appreciated. But all I was really doing was stating the truth. I’ve had two liver transplants, which puts me in the high risk category and in need of shielding. A year ago, that was a very scary thing. It still is.
But I also talked in that column about how I found a sense of hope from my local village community, where people were rallying round to protect me and others; and also a sense of purpose in the charity I chair, Citizens Advice Scotland, and how it was stepping up to be a real pillar of strength during the crisis.
On anniversaries one tends to get reflective. So, one year on from that public admission of fear, it feels right to return to this spot and give an update.
Personally, the level of energy I have had and been able to devote to this second lockdown has been so very different to that I mustered in the first. Last Spring my whole family - and it seems many people - embraced lockdown 1 as circumstances to be taken on and made the best of.
Every challenge and suggestion was embraced. I cooked theme night meals based on countries or specific times. My prawn cocktail with Marie Rose sauce would be fondly recognised by those of a certain vintage. I even had the energy to embrace home and self-improvement.
Not so during lockdown 2. The energy needed to just get by after so long has been all consuming and while the actual lockdown conditions are no worse we can’t support ourselves and others without recognising that crucial change in how we as individuals are responding. Care, compassion, understanding and support need to look so different now than they did last year.
I suspect very few people have had a ‘perfect’ lockdown in terms of total rules compliance. On the big things yes, and my community still shields me really well. But I recognise in myself a weird attitude to the ‘rules’ that is worrying, one that others may well recognise in themselves as well.
It goes like this; all the little adjustments to the guidance that I make are pinpoint accurate. They stay well within the spirit of the rules and are so well thought through that they expose neither me nor anyone else to any risk whatsoever.
On the other hand, all of the adjustments other people make are risky, those infringements of the rules are clumsy, gross, not thought through and will bring Covid down on all our heads.
I wonder how many people have this creeping smugness that allows them to be wise enough to manage the rules so much better than others. Maybe it’s only me but I doubt it. Roads that should be quiet are busy, activities and interactions that should not be happening are and rules are clearly being adjusted.
After a year of lockdown this is understandable and what we need is the empathy in our fellow citizens to appreciate that. While we all know that lockdown is necessary and that it is driving down infection, some tolerance to the adjustments we all make that allows life to be manageable is necessary.
This second lockdown has been draining. We feel more isolated, more detached and more hopeless than before. For many of us these feelings are manageable because we have kept our jobs and incomes; we have secure control of our accommodation, we have the space and time to home educate our children. We face fewer crises and have the support to help us through the ones we do face.
My heart goes out to the many thousands of people who have lost part or all of their jobs, are struggling to pay rent, mortgage and essential bills and trying their best to support children through home schooling without all the space and resources which that process really needs. Worse still, many folk are detached from the network of support and advice that they might have turned to in dealing with any one of these difficult issues.
That’s where Citizens Advice comes in. We are able to advise on so many aspects of the problems this pandemic has thrown up. We are still working and our CABs quickly transitioned to remote working, while face to face advice is still available for vulnerable clients in exceptional circumstances. We will help you deal with whatever you are facing, using all our skill and knowledge to really solve your problem. But I hope we will do far more than that.
We will value and respect you as an individual, we will understand your fears and concerns, we will stop you feeling detached and we will try to remove the hopelessness that a year of struggle has left you with.
Citizens Advice is a local community-based service, driven by local folk who know what it’s like it live where you live, with all its joy and difficulties. Through fantastic training and commitment, our staff will advise you and find solutions to your problems.
More importantly by being local, by being part of your community, by being compassionate and caring, they will provide a level of human care and understanding that is the only effective antidote to isolation, detachment and loneliness. Being fantastic, effective advisers that get you the result you need is what we do. Being human is what we are.