What will be your lasting image of the pandemic? Mine will be an Intensive Care Unit Sister on the television news. A young lady in her early 30s. However, her eyes were so sad, reflecting the stresses she was going through.
To me she was at breaking point. No amount of clapping, or for that matter pay rises, would repair the sorrow in those eyes. She was in desperate need of a long period of tender loving care, away from the daily pressures of her work. My concern is whether she and many like her will receive it.
Many compare the pandemic with the Second World War. When I was born in 1952, food rationing was still in place. Many other after-effects of the war were common. As I grew up, a short bus ride from home you would go past large bombsites. The two I vividly remember were around St Paul’s Cathedral and the Vauxhall end of Wandsworth Road. Many Londoners and those from other heavily-bombed cities in my age group will have their own memories. This was the visual reminder of where we were coming from as a country.
As the pandemic eases, we will not have such landmarks to anchor our progress. The invisible effects will be with us for some time. The invisible effects of the war were present in my childhood.
I went through school with a boy who had a twitch. His father had spent several years as a prisoner of war. He felt that it was his duty to ‘play up” so the Germans had to employ more guards who could not be on the frontline. He had many spells in the punishment block.
One day at secondary school, the boy was looking particularly tired and drawn. I queried his well-being. He responded: “Dad has had a few bad days”. In the early 1960s what went on behind front doors remained behind front doors.
The children, a couple of doors down the road, frequently came to our house after school. Their mother was often an in-patient in a local institution. She was eventually cured, but by then the children were adults. The mother had been trapped in a house that was destroyed in a bombing raid. Her inner ear was damaged. She constantly heard noises that took her back to being trapped in that house. An operation on her ear solved her ‘mental health’ problems.
I could go on. An uncle who was rescued off the beach at Dunkirk, had most of the shrapnel removed from his body, and six months later was sent to Burma. Soon afterwards he was captured by the Japanese. In company, he was the life and soul of the party but in a one-to-one situation he was completely different, withdrawn and difficult to engage with.
The effect of the pandemic will be long-lasting. I hope that nursing sister on the television news and many of her colleagues receive the support she and they need, and the pandemic has not taken too much toll on them.
The invisible effect of the pandemic will be far-reaching. The 100,000-plus deaths it has caused, means over 100,000 families that have not been able to grieve properly.
In addition, there are those non-Covid deaths where funerals have been restricted. February 2020 is the pre-pandemic benchmark for economic performance. Twelve months on and the economy could be more than 10% smaller.
There are those who have been on a payroll but have not worked for 12 months as a result of being furloughed. Surveys indicate 30% of households are worse off than they were in February 2020. Some households have gone through a significant financial shock. We have not seen the peak in unemployment. Some businesses, especially small ones, will not return from lockdown with bad consequences for their employees who currently consider themselves to be in employment.
We are all aware of the correlation between money problems and mental health. Health workers, carers, teachers, delivery workers and shop workers have all continued to work throughout the pandemic. I was recently talking to a supermarket shelf stacker. She was convinced that being exposed eight hours a day to customers, some of whom did not follow the distancing and health guidance, meant it was inevitable she was going to get the virus. She was living in fear.
The economy will take time to rebase and rebuild, in the meantime causing more financial strain on those who have been worse affected. The mental scars may take a lot longer to repair.
After the Second World War many who were suffering from the stress of their experiences were locked away. Fortunately, we have moved on from those days.
The pandemic will increase the number who need the help of a financial adviser. Many more of those who need that help will, as a result of the pandemic, be vulnerable customers. Financial advisers, more than ever, need to be aware how to identify and how to help an increasing number of those people.
Bob Champion is chairman of the Air Later Life Academy