As the PM returned to work today, interestingly promising to be transparent and to involve opposition parties in lockdown exit planning, the Guardian suggested 6 urgent tasks lay in his already challenging in-tray. Besides the obvious lockdown strategy (about which ministers are said to disagree), the other 5 concern testing (claim of reaching 100,000 a day and to what extent to continue standing behind Matt Hancock); revisiting the decision-making process (currently somewhat scattered between ministers and committees) and whether Dominic Cummings should continue attending SAGE; assessing his own handling of the crisis; what to do about the Brexit talks and how to deal with the report of the investigation into the Priti Patel bullying allegations. Well timed was Dr Xand van Tulleken’s comment on the Channel 4 ending lockdown programme last night: ‘Scientists can give advice but we do need clear leadership from government’.
Meanwhile, palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke (who smashed it on Question Time recently) tweeted: ‘Dear Boris Johnson, 1. The UK has one of the worst #COVID19 death rates in the world 2. 20k people have died already – probably double that 3. Lockdown was delayed 4. PPE & testing are inadequate 5. Frontline staff are dying. How can you possibly spin this is a success?’
One of the shocking things about the crisis has been the massive rise in domestic violence and the news that during the first three weeks of lockdown 14 women and three children were killed. The Met had been arresting around 100 people a day for domestic abuse in the period just prior to lockdown. Although relationships could understandably come under some strain during this very strange time, it’s disturbing to find that so many, which may look fine from the outside, only survived on the basis of partners spending less time together, a very fragile basis indeed. Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “Staying at home is an important part of the strategy to prevent coronavirus from spreading and save lives, but for some people home isn’t safe. Urgent action is needed to protect victims and prevent perpetrators from exploiting the lockdown to increase abuse. Our cross-party committee is calling for an urgent action plan from government setting out practical measures to tackle domestic abuse as an integrated part of the fight against Covid-19’. These would include guaranteed safe housing for the women and children at risk of abuse.
She rightly alluded to the significant mental health burden domestic abuse leaves in its wake. ‘The emotional, physical and social scars from domestic abuse can last a lifetime. If we don’t act to tackle it now, we will feel the consequences of rising abuse during the coronavirus crisis for many years to come.’ The operative word is surely ‘urgent’ action: too often such measures are slow to be implemented, leading to the risk of more unnecessary deaths.
Ahead of his new Channel 4 show tonight, Grayson’s Art Club, about inspiring people to be creative and ‘using the creative process as a kind of therapy’, Grayson Perry attracted some criticism for saying ‘there’s no excuse for people not doing art’ (during this time). This lockdown period has apparently led to some division of opinion on whether we should regard simply getting through the day as enough, or whether we should be using the time productively to get stuff done, declutter our homes, achieve something, learn a language or write a book. Some are feeling shamed (as the Listening Project showed yesterday) by exhortations to achieve (in capital letters) when they don’t feel like attempting these things and don’t appreciate being put under pressure to do so. A Facebook post suggested that such achievements are associated with the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (self-fulfilment), whereas we are actually towards the bottom of that pyramid, ie safety needs. I’m not sure about that: while it’s clear that some are indeed in this category and others may be run off their feet trying to earn money, look after children and/or elderly relatives, etc, many of us aren’t and do have additional time. While we all need some downtime and comfort zone, of course, it’s not conducive to our personal growth and mental wellbeing to spend too much time there eg on the sofa for hours bingeing on tv. Whatever we think of Grayson Perry, though, he did come out with a compelling definition of art: ‘Art is one person’s unconscious to another’s’.
I’ve long felt appreciating nature to be an important ingredient of mental wellbeing so it was good to hear journalist Isabel Hardman interviewed on the Today programme about her new book – (The Natural Health Service – what the great outdoors can do for your mind). Diagnosed with PTSD in 2016, she used exercise and tuning into nature alongside traditional treatment as part of her recovery from anxiety and depression. The importance of nature is so underrated and perhaps more so at this time it’s therapeutic to be reminded of its permanence in a sea of uncertainty: each season follows a pattern, birds are singing, plants and trees are coming into bud, their leaves unfurling and the candle-like flowers of chestnut trees are dominating parks and open spaces. Hardman stressed that nature isn’t a cure-all but it can help prevent mental illness taking hold and help those already experiencing mental ill-health. She stressed the need to re-focus as people can be so caught up in their heads and their devices they simply don’t notice the natural world around them. ‘The world is a lot richer than they would have imagined’. If you want to listen to that interview it’s about 1 hour 40 minutes into the Today programme.
Finally, it’s interesting that (part of the new transparent and consultative approach?) tonight’s Downing Street briefing included a question from the public for the first time. I’d be interested to know how YouGov selected the question(s),which was:
If the 5 steps are met, is being able to hug closest family one of the first steps out of lockdown?
One regular listener at least wasn’t convinced by this innovation, tweeting: ‘it’s another gesture. Gesture politics, slogans, headline-grabbing mini-initiatives. All to replace having a proper well-implemented strategy for the past 2 months.’