It was 'Freedom Day' so why are we not free?

Helen O’Shea reflects on the significance of small gestures of kindness and why September is so important this year…

It was billed as ‘Freedom Day’. But 19 July didn’t feel ‘free’. In fact, for millions of people in the UK, the removal of restrictions increased anxiety levels. So, what’s going on? And what can be done to change the situation?

 

The facts make fearful reading: the scheduled cut to the £20 increase in Universal Credit which has helped hundreds of thousands of households keep their head above water will take effect at the end of September pulling up to half a million into poverty, and the end of the protections against eviction for renters could prove catastrophic.

 

Meanwhile, thousands of people, who were solvent before Covid hit, are now struggling financially. For many, it’s too late and they are drowning in a sea of debt or simply unable to afford the basics of life – food, utility bills or an acceptable place to live.

 

Perhaps the cruellest stroke of the pandemic is the way in which it has adversely affected the poorest, most vulnerable members of our communities. It has thrown into sharp relief the difference between rich and poor, healthy and sick, those with support and those who are lonely.

 

Meanwhile, people lucky enough to have a large house with a garden could weather lockdowns far better than a family living in a high rise flat.

 

Some of our young people also fared badly. Many children were unable to attend lessons online during lockdowns because they lacked the technology to connect to their school or the support to continue their education.

 

Huge inequalities already existed in society before Covid. But the gulf between those in a position to cope with Covid restrictions and those who are clearly not has grown to a chasm.

 

Faced with a situation alien in modern experience, the Government’s response was swift and imaginative. But, such measures could never catch everyone, so it’s unsurprising that many people were disproportionately affected by the economic and health fall-out from the pandemic.

 

However, after 18 months living with Covid, much of the country is still feeling the impact; a situation which needs to be addressed.

 

The prognosis for millions of people doesn’t look good. But we do have a little thing called ‘hope’ – and when that is combined with action, we can affect change.

 

The problems facing the country are immense and exacerbated by the uncertainty of new Covid variants, though the vaccination programme seems to be effective in reducing hospital admissions linked to the virus.

 

However, one fact remains; supporting those who have been affected by Covid, either directly or indirectly, is an enormous task with no end in sight.

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Helen O'Shea is President of the St Vincent de Paul Society

It’s obvious there isn’t one solution to the situation, nor a series of ‘fixes’, but there are things we can all do to help our neighbours, friends, family, or perfect strangers. It’s by doing little things, through small gestures of kindness that we can start to address the enormity of the mountain we must all climb.

 

Throughout the pandemic, the St Vincent de Paul Society has innovated, diversified and shown remarkable bravery to invest in its people and services to ensure as many as possible are supported.

 

The Society’s members, volunteers and staff have remained true to the values of compassion, respect, generosity, responsiveness, accountability and confidentiality, but perhaps the most important value is ‘dignity’, both in the manner the service is provided and for those on the receiving end. It demonstrates unequivocally that someone cares and that everyone is important.

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This show of compassion and kindness doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture, and more often it is seemingly insignificant, something most people would view as ‘ordinary’; a chat with a housebound older person, picking up some shopping or medication for a neighbour, sending a card, or even telephoning someone to say ‘hello’.

 

It’s in these tiny gestures that we show that we care, not just for the individuals on the receiving end, but also for our community and ourselves.

 

• The SVP's Awareness Month runs from Monday 6 until Monday 27 September. Visit the SVP's website to find out how you can help people in need in your community.