Who is doing vital work during the pandemic?

By Savi Hensman
April 9, 2020

UK key workers – including those who have died caring for others during the COVID-19 pandemic – are disproportionately likely to be women, ethnic minority and/or low-paid. Those whom society often undervalues are now crucial to others’ survival.

According to think-tank Autonomy, there are 3 million people in high exposure jobs, of whom 77 per cent are women and a million earning poverty wages. The first four doctors to die in the line of duty were reportedly Muslims and immigrants. Diverse other NHS staff and transport workers have also died.

Those who are in the front line are largely from sections of society which have been (and are) undervalued and sometimes targets of hate. The importance of public services which have been starved of funds and treated with scorn by government has been rediscovered, at least for the time being.

To quote Psalm 118:

The stone that the builders

rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

For some Jewish people, this may be understood as referring to a leader or community who, though at first marginalised, offers a more just and fruitful way of life to the wider world. Christians may identify this 'stone' as Christ, who took the part of those facing prejudice and exploitation and was killed by state and religious leaders with public support, yet whose death opened the door to life renewed.

In this tradition, he is seen as ushering in an era in which “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Matthew 19.16-30), the rich and powerful brought low and the downtrodden raised up (Luke 1.46-51) and love is valued above ambition and greed for wealth.

The crisis caused by the coronavirus is a prompt to look again at the principles on which so many societies are built. Amongst suffering, fear and loss, those taking risks for others deserve to be recognised, supplied with protective equipment and testing where needed and, in the longer term, honoured. This may mean asking challenging questions about what matters most and how the world is organised.


© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (http://dltbooks.com/titles/2195-9780232532616-feast-or-famine)

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