So who is still working?

There has been a lot of talk about going back to work. But personally I think this is standing things on their head. Obviously in agriculture a lot of us work from home and self-isolate compulsively because we’re a miserable lot of beggars. Indeed the only people who cannot manage social distancing instinctively are Sal and Billy.

It’s not just us. Not only has agriculture been working pretty normally, but so have the ‘support industries.’ Whenever we’ve picked up a phone to order feed, parts or whatever, it’s been answered and the stuff has been delivered into our yard just as it normally would.
When it comes to selling, apart from a ‘hiccup’ when all the catering venues shut, things have rumbled along. Some dairies took a hit, especially those who had a lot of the catering market. But whilst things aren’t ‘right’, milk is being picked up and apart from the usual suspects, most milk buyers seem to be trying hard to keep the show on the road.
When I talk about ‘usual suspects’, there was a comment in the farming press that Starbucks had said they would no longer deal with one dairy company after things settle down. Apparently they were shocked at how the company had treated their farmer suppliers. The cynic might ask why they were dealing with them in the first place, but there again, you know what they also say. “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.”

Beef and lamb are back in price. Beef has been pretty poor for a year or so, and was just picking up when coronavirus came and sent it back down again. (Again, the closing of catering did most of the damage.) With lamb, to be honest, it had been doing well. Leaving the EU and the fall in the value of the pound was really good for sheep farmers. When the virus hit, the price has dropped a bit but it’s still at a level that two or three years ago people would have thought was pretty good. At the moment it’s being held up by Ramadan, so hopefully we can organise another festival to follow.


But as I said, agriculture has been working flat out. In a two day period we had in our yard the Postman, the Vet, a six man silage team, a chap who came to empty the slurry pit, a contractor with a fertiliser spreader, the chap who helps control vermin and somebody who was spraying the potatoes.

Now most of them were in their own tractors so were probably socially distanced enough for even the most fanatical, although nobody wears masks. But are we alone in this?


And at the ‘downstream’ end, abattoirs, packing plants, warehouses, delivery drivers and check-out staff have all kept working. So I might just say ‘Thanks’ at this point because we’d have been screwed without them.


In the UK, in crude terms our workforce is about 32 million.

According to figures I’ve found, on the 11 May there were 7.5million people furloughed

On the 14 May there were 1.1m people on the self-employed income support scheme. Mind you some of them will still be working, just not making enough to live on. (They’re self-employed, they should be used to it.)

Then there are those on Universal Credit. In April there were at least an extra million people claiming universal credit. Let’s call it an extra two million and that might allow for people who cannot work and cannot claim.
Lord alone knows how many people are home working. Some of us always do it. But I’ve seen figures saying ‘40% of the population’ which has to be nonsense, and somebody else said there were 8 million. Who knows but at least they’re working.


What brought this on was when I went to collect the newspaper. The chap behind the counter was obviously having a bad day. He commented, “I’m getting sick of them coming in here and complaining that they’re having to go back to work.”

I made a vague sympathetic comment and he said, “I told them, ‘I’d love to have had seven weeks off, soaking up the sun and getting drunk every night (the thing about corner shop owners is that they know who comes in just before closing time because they’ve already drunk the stuff they bought from Tesco that morning).

So when people moan about the dangers of having to start working again, all that is actually happening is that they’re coming out to join the half to two thirds of us who’ve been working all the time.

So I’d also like to thank those who’ve kept our electricity working, those who I saw out fixing the broadband. Those who deal with gas leaks and unblock sewers, those who make our society work. Remember, if it wasn’t for these and the people in the foodchain, we wouldn’t have an NHS, we’d have a lot of hungry and frightened people huddled round the transistor radio, desperately hoping to conserve the batteries as they try and find out what is going on.


What do I know? Speak to the expert, now available in paperback or ebook

As a reviewer commented, “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”

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51 thoughts on “So who is still working?

  1. rugby843 May 17, 2020 at 4:54 pm Reply

    Nice positive post. Farmers here not doing well.

    • jwebster2 May 17, 2020 at 4:58 pm Reply

      It does vary and I know my area reasonably well, but as you travel things are different

  2. Sue Vincent May 17, 2020 at 5:02 pm Reply

    The rush hour is still pretty quiet around here, but well said, Jim. There are so many people working behind the scenes to keep the country ticking over, from those you mention to the lab technicians no-one sees, the refuse collectors, engineers, logistics and the food producers who supply the shops whose shelves are no longer empty. It is an invisible army and yet much of the effort has gone unnoticed.
    And personally, I’d settle for a day off…

    • jwebster2 May 17, 2020 at 5:36 pm Reply

      That I can well imagine. You’ve got a tough row to hoe.
      A friend of my wife has a child with serious problems with autism and lord alone knows how they’re managing because he spends a lot of time at a special school and cannot go there 😦

      • Sue Vincent May 17, 2020 at 7:00 pm

        So many carers are going to be finding this really hard, with no access to advice or respite. Especially the three quarters of a million young carers under eighteen, who can’t even have the ‘break’ of going to school and seeing their freinds.

      • jwebster2 May 17, 2020 at 7:03 pm

        yes I feel for them.
        My daughter is in youth work and there are times when things are harrowing! 😦

      • Sue Vincent May 17, 2020 at 7:04 pm

        I can imagine. Not an easy job.

      • jwebster2 May 17, 2020 at 7:14 pm

        yes 😦

  3. xantilor May 17, 2020 at 5:03 pm Reply

    I’ve kept working! And still selling my jewellery and silver figurines online. The caster I use is still working, and when the London Assay Office reopens I shall be first in the queue. A lot of businesses which could have kept open closed because of the climate of fear. They may live to regret this.

    • jwebster2 May 17, 2020 at 5:35 pm Reply

      So what is your website? We’ll get it a mention 🙂

      • xantilor May 17, 2020 at 5:54 pm
      • jwebster2 May 17, 2020 at 6:32 pm

        well you’re now on my facebook page 🙂

      • jwebster2 May 17, 2020 at 6:32 pm

        It is stunning stuff and I’d recommend anybody take a look 🙂

  4. Jacquie Biggar May 17, 2020 at 5:10 pm Reply

    A couple of the meat packing plants were hit hard with the virus in Canada. It’s put a shortage on our stock, but we’re still getting by.
    Local farmers were on the news saying they weren’t sure how they would get their crops in or harvested as they count on foreign workers to do the labor, and if they could come, they faced fourteen day isolation protocols before they could work.
    Different times.

    • jwebster2 May 17, 2020 at 5:34 pm Reply

      I suspect our meat packing plants have their labour permanently in country. One factory near here has notices in Polish and Afrikaans.
      There are some East Europeans in cumbria as cowmen and similar, they’re skilled and over here all year round
      We don’t have the problems other areas will be experiencing so I can only honestly talk of what I know

  5. Eddy Winko May 17, 2020 at 7:26 pm Reply

    Whilst the borders are closed the work has continued in Poland, not a single friend or family member has stopped work, Sikorsky (helicopters), Debica (tyres) to name the well known ones. A bit hit for tourism, restaurants and the like, and we were personally hit because we could no longer go to the markets to sell our crafts, but most of the business lost has moved online so we can’t complain. As we are classed as farmers we also had the freedom to travel, so our little milk and cheese round continues. Foreign holidays may be out, but no one could afford them anyhow 🙂

    • jwebster2 May 17, 2020 at 7:29 pm Reply

      It seems to be a bit variable here. If you listen to the BBC you’d think we were all cowering at home, doing zoom conferences and worrying about split ends and the dye growing out of our hair 🙂

      • Eddy Winko May 17, 2020 at 7:30 pm

        I know what you mean, I listen to Radio 4 🙂

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 4:33 am

        It’s interesting to hear the thoughts of somebody from outside the country on Radio 4
        I confess that when I listen to the briefing at 5pm I tend to switch off once the questions start because they are frankly so puerile and even silly 😦

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 4:35 am

        Initially some construction halted, especially when it was in cities, more due to the demand of those who felt that everybody ought to stop.
        It has got silly, a friend has two small boys and at 7pm he took them (aged 5 and 2) across the road in front of his house onto the empty beach. Just to let them run off steam.Somebody saw them and the photo of them was all over twitter as ‘these are the sort of people who will get us all killed.’ 😦

  6. Doug Jacquier May 17, 2020 at 8:02 pm Reply

    Here in Aus, we have the genuinely displaced, especially in cafes and pubs and anywhere else that requires close contact and there’s been lots of money thrown at ameliorating the impacts. What the crisis has really thrown up is the massive levels of underemployment that just got worse and the phenomenon that people made unemployed by the crisis have been found to need double what the unemployed got previously as a basic income. As a side note, our new home has just been completed with no sign of any trade shortages, supplies etc, so like farmers, construction seems to be business as usual.

  7. Stevie Turner May 18, 2020 at 8:55 am Reply

    Good post, Jim. I was hoping to go back to work in June, but my desk has been taken over by one of the permanent secretaries. She has been moved out of her office because it’s situated on a ward which has now been given over to Covid patients, so goodness knows when I’ll go back.

    • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 9:22 am Reply

      It’s interesting what is happening. How much of your job could be done working from home? (I genuinely don’t know, it’s just we’ve had to phone the insurance because of a windscreen and the lass at the other end is working from home, and they (NFU Mutual) are wondering whether it’s going to be worth opening the office again because working from home works so well for them

      • Stevie Turner May 18, 2020 at 9:27 am

        No, I can’t work from home because of data protection issues as I type people’s clinic letters.

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 9:37 am

        I wonder how soon that will get changed, because data protection is getting ridiculous. I was a witness in court and somebody asked me how often I called upon somebody I was helping. I commented that because of data protection I don’t write down the details 🙂

      • Stevie Turner May 18, 2020 at 9:47 am

        It is rather over-the-top these days, yes. The data protection guy at the hospital would have a hissy fit if we were allowed to typed letters at home. It all has to be done on the hospital’s in-house system that only other medics have access to. If letters were typed at home they wouldn’t know who else was looking at them.

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 9:59 am

        Yes, people might realise the system works perfectly without the constant presence of the data-protection guy 🙂

      • Stevie Turner May 18, 2020 at 11:11 am

        All the secretaries blocked him on Facebook, and he was furious!

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 11:35 am

        I struggle to think why the secretaries would want to have him on facebook 🙂

      • Stevie Turner May 18, 2020 at 12:54 pm

        They don’t, but you get your knuckles rapped if you post anything detrimental and he seems to find out!

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 12:57 pm

        Good job he’s not a friend of mine, detrimental I do really well 🙂

      • Stevie Turner May 18, 2020 at 1:28 pm

        I do too and he saw it as a comment on somebody’s site he was already friends with. However, one of the doctors posted photos of old rusting beds in one of the courtyards and nobody said anything to her at all.

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 1:53 pm

        What you obviously forgot but that he knows very well is that trouble is like slurry, it flows downhill 🙂

      • Stevie Turner May 18, 2020 at 1:54 pm

        One of the reasons I deleted my Facebook account last year.

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 2:05 pm

        That I can understand

      • Stevie Turner May 18, 2020 at 3:45 pm

        Yeah, me too.

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 4:55 pm

        I have the joy of not having an employer 🙂

      • Stevie Turner May 18, 2020 at 5:32 pm

        Lucky old you!

      • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 5:54 pm

        I’ve always thought so 🙂

  8. Cathy Cade May 18, 2020 at 9:46 am Reply

    What an informative community of commenters. (I’m a recent follower.)
    I know exactly what you mean about peurile questions (on, for example, radio 4). Somehow, I’ve got onto the Quora email list and when you read some of those questions you think “Where have these people been up till now? Have they not been listening? Reading?” (I haven’t removed myself from Quora because occasionally you get a gem of a reply.)
    One would expect journalists to have a higher level of enquiry to offer, but apparently not.

    • jwebster2 May 18, 2020 at 10:01 am Reply

      I confess that I’m seriously fond of those who follow and commentate on my blog. Even when they don’t agree with me they do it for really good reasons and have the evidence to back up their point of view. 🙂

  9. Jack Eason May 20, 2020 at 6:59 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    More from Jim 😉

    • jwebster2 May 20, 2020 at 8:13 am Reply

      Well I’m still hard at it 🙂

  10. Marje @ Kyrosmagica May 20, 2020 at 9:11 am Reply

    Yes there are so many working behind the scenes to keep us all fed and looked after Jim. I appreciate them all. I have been furloughed, I’ve been using my time to write about our current situation – I’m writing diaries about COVID19, short stories, flash fiction and poetry and finishing off other projects. I think the answer during this time is to stay busy whatever your circumstance. And not to moan about little inconveniences as there are always many worst off than yourself. The main thing after all is to stay safe and well.

    • jwebster2 May 20, 2020 at 10:03 am Reply

      I think you’re right, the people I come into contact who’ve stayed busy seem far more sensible and well balanced. The ones panicking and on the edge of hysteria are those who seem to cling to the sofa filling the gaps between news broadcasts with netflix

      • Marje @ Kyrosmagica May 20, 2020 at 10:51 am

        Yes I can’t think of anything worse. I’ve been limiting my news and TV time to keep sane.

      • jwebster2 May 20, 2020 at 2:39 pm

        Very wise

  11. robbinsg May 23, 2020 at 3:57 pm Reply

    I presume from Stevie’s comment above, that she is receiving letters from patients she then has to input on the system? I have to say, that is easy to rectify – scan them and send them out electronically.
    Speaking from an IT perspective there is no real confidentiality problem that cannot be overcome if there is there is the will. I’ve had to work from home for over 12 months now, due to environmental problems at the office. A lot of the time managers manage people when they should be managing tasks. People managers should now be looking over their shoulders for the oncoming axes – the times they are a changing, as someone once sang.
    Anyone want to buy an office block? I suspect they are going to be going cheap very soon.

    • jwebster2 May 23, 2020 at 4:13 pm Reply

      my lady wife and I were discussing the situation. Like you I can imagine office accommodation in our major cities could well be coming down in price. After all if you can cut your space necessary by two thirds or more, why wouldn’t you
      I also suspect that when the senior finance people crunch the numbers, suddenly data protection and similar will become rapidly solvable problems 🙂
      As you say, if you can also get rid of a swathe of management staff as well, why wouldn’t you?

      But I also suspect that some cities will be hit very hard. I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I passed through ‘The City’ every couple of months during the period up to about 2009. So back in 2008 during the crash I was well placed to notice the sheer number of shops that shut because there were fewer city workers
      I suspect the blow will fall even harder, especially as there are going to be fewer tourists and London is a major tourist city.

      • robbinsg May 23, 2020 at 6:32 pm

        I think that things are going to be very different in the near future. Our local major city, Chester, will also be affected by the loss of tourism. The main clock is the second most photographed in the UK after the Elizabeth Tower in London. Believe me, trying to get through Chester to get lunch is always slower in the summer, dodging the selfie sticks and their owners. I can well imagine that many of the sandwich shops will never re-open.

      • jwebster2 May 24, 2020 at 3:56 pm

        I had a meeting in Chester last year, had to travel down by train early in the morning and leave next day, so I did get a chance to look round the city. The previous time I’d been there was in 1967 🙂
        But yes it was busy and I too would worry about the consequences

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