The crowded beach scenes around the country over the last week or so appear to indicate that the government’s so-called lockdown is at an end for many people. I don’t know about you, but I sense a weary public, worn down by months of staying at home and not much else. More and more people are breaking the rules, including to a very minor extent me, and it’s all come to a head now after Dominic Cummings dumped a large bucket of shit over his own strategy.
Reports suggest that in some parts of the country, beaches are far more crowded than usual. Even in ‘normal’ weeks, I read it is hard to get some space to put one’s towel down and to all intents and purposes with no social distancing involved. How can this be?
There are a number of possible explanations. The first one is obvious: the weather this spring has been excellent. Dry and, at times warm, even hot. But then you have to think a bit more. Next, there will be people who would otherwise be in Spain and enjoying the early season sunshine around the Mediterranean. They’ll have their annual leave booked and they’ll still want their sunshine. Then, there will be the parents with young children who aren’t at school. Oh we do like to be beside the seaside and all that. And this year, uniquely, there will be a lot of people who are furloughed.
That’s something like 7.5 million people who are being paid between 80% and 100% of their wages to sit around doing nothing. Until they go back to work, what with the family being off, too, let’s take a day trip. After all, with almost nothing to spend their money on, many people are actually better off than they would be in normal times. Of all the surreal happenings of COVID-19, this is right up there.
If the weather stays this good throughout the summer, packed beaches will remain the order of the day. Even with the majority of facilities closed down, the beach is still the place to go. However, as we know in Britain, the weather won’t stay this good throughout the summer, which actually arrives this coming weekend. Storm clouds with gather.
These storm clouds will not just relate to the weather. They will relate to the economy, too. As I have said before, although things are very abnormal at the moment, people still have money. Most people still have jobs, even though 7.5 million people are temporarily unemployed. We have been told by Boris Johnson that the economy is strong and we will quickly ‘bounce back’, as Dominic Cummings put it in one of his many slogans. But here’s the spoiler: where we now have a surreal world, where everything has stood still, we will soon rejoin the real world. Things are going to be grim.
Already, unemployment has risen to 2.1 million. It’s going to get much, much worse than that. Estimates suggest that in a matter of months, the figure will be double that, at least double that, with maybe 3 million more job losses to come. Many of these will be ‘good’ jobs, too. Highly skilled, highly paid jobs, often in manufacturing. Some sectors are going to be devastated. Those who keep their jobs may have to take pay cuts. Others may have a fate lined up that’s far worse. The future is dark and stormy.
As the semi-lockdown begins to lift, the government hopes things will go back to normal, certainly on the high street. But will they? Will we really want to stand in long queues to buy things we can order on the click of a computer button or even by telephone? And as the government money taps are switched off, who will want to go and spend money that might not be there next month?
It’s probably best to live for today and not think too hard about tomorrow. We are about to face the worst economic downturn of all time. It’s going to ugly, tragic, painful and it will cut deep into the heart of our country. Hard to believe that so many on those packed beaches could soon be facing a grim future. Boris Johnson dithered for too long announcing what turned out only to be a semi-lockdown. Let’s hope he doesn’t dither for too long in preparing Britain for the bleak future ahead.