OPINION
13/03/2020 06:00 GMT | Updated 13/03/2020 14:12 GMT

I Have Zero Patience For Middle-Class Whinging About Coronavirus

Have to work from home? Just be grateful you can, writes Harriet Marsden.

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If you can work from home, and you can avoid crowds, then for Christ sake, you should

Right, that’s it. I’ve run out of patience. The next middle-class self-employed creative to whine about working from home thanks to coronavirus is going to get a smack. 

Don’t misunderstand me —I am a middle-class self-employed creative, and things are bad for us. We’re losing work left, right and centre. Most of us have no insurance and no matter what chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in his budget yesterday, statutory sick pay will not be available to us unless we’re officially advised to self-isolate. Even if we do manage to wangle it (unlikely), £95 a week is nowhere near enough. And it’s hard to be creative and generate ideas when you’re stuck in the house. A musician friend has already had most of her gigs cancelled.

It’s impossible to calculate how much self-employed people will lose — or have already lost — because it’s impossible to calculate for work that never existed. Work that’s not being offered, commissioned or assigned. Any self-employed person knows that work begets work, so it’s also impossible to calculate what you might lose in the future. Most freelancers I know — hell, most people I know — are living paycheck to paycheck. So yes, we’re in the shit. But — and you knew this was coming — we’re the lucky ones

They seem proud, almost, of their performative, blasé chill, without notion of just how privileged that chill is.

Anyone who can work from home, in fact, is a the lucky one. Let’s talk about cleaners, shall we? An estimated one in three British households employs a cleaner — and that’s to say absolutely nothing of hotels, restaurants and offices. The average hourly rate in the UK for a cleaner is just over £8. Nearly three quarters of cleaners are women, who already suffer the double whammy of gender pay gap and domestic work burden. Many of these are Latina women who, as the FT revealed last year, are employed by firms who also dock their fee to pay accommodation and food costs. Many of these cleaners have poor English language skills and have nothing to fall back on. Explain to me how a cleaner can do her job from home?

The events and social industry are about to take a huge hit. Restaurants, bars, clubs, music venues, sports venues… anywhere that needs bodies on the ground to turn a profit, often on a razor-thin margin, are already feeling the burn even before quarantine. An estimated one in 10 people in the UK are gig workers. The number of gig workers in this industry - bartenders, wait staff, delivery drivers — losing work is incalculable. They can’t work from home, either.

Look, I’m not playing moral relativism. Just because there is always someone worse off than you doesn’t mean that you’re not suffering, or entitled to worry. Of course you are. But please, I beg you, consider doing it more quietly. 

And to be clear, I am not advocating panic. If we take appropriate, sensible measures, most healthy people without a compromised immune system are going to be fine. But seriously, do the “keep calm and carry on” brigade have any idea how selfish they sound? They seem proud, almost, of their performative, blasé chill, without notion of just how privileged that chill is. 

I got into a scrap this morning with a friend who was bragging about carrying on as normal, laughing with a nurse about how people were “overreacting”. She is “not concerned about this yet”. But there is a very big difference between panicking and taking something seriously. And if you’re not taking this seriously, you’re just showing how ill-informed you are. 

The WHO has just declared a pandemic. Thousands of people are going to die. Thousands already have. Hundreds of thousands more will lose their livelihoods. There are vast regions of Italy that won’t recover for a generation or more. Really puts your whining into perspective, doesn’t it?

Of course many people still need to take public transport and go out to work as normal. But if you can work from home, and you can avoid crowds, then for Christ sake, you should. And you should be doing that now, before things get any worse. 

What about all the schools, nurseries and daycares in the UK that might close, putting the burden of childcare and education on parents, who will have neither the time nor inclination to home-school them?

Let’s just be clear — working from home could save lives. If you can do it, you should, and you should do it gladly. Because a lot of people can’t. And if you are a well-educated self-employed creative, you have skills to fall back on. A lot of people don’t. So put the kettle on, open your laptop — and zip it.