You’re 31, working in the clothing and textiles industry in Leicester. You live in a small 3-bedroomed terraced house with your wife, two children, your elderly parents and your 28-year old brother. Work is in a small unit in a Victorian factory that used to be a huge engineering works but was split in dozens of ramshackle units back in the 1980s. You are crammed into a tiny space with all the other workers and machines. Health and Safety at work is something for big companies, not for small firms like yours.
The toilets, that you share with two other units, are a disgrace. They are never cleaned, there is no hot water, no soap, no towels. You are expected to bring your own toilet paper, although you are strongly discouraged from any kind of break during the working day – you are expected to do that kind of thing in your own time. In the six years you have worked there, you have seen so many of your fellow workers sacked on the spot, at the bosses whim, so you know better than to even raise the subject, let alone complain about the conditions. Your boss knows he can act with impunity – most workers do not understand the complexity of workplace legislation, and it has been made clear that they face instant dismissal if they join a union.
You earn £4 an hour. Someone told you about a legal minimum wage, but you can’t ask your boss about that because he’d sack you. Your brother works cash-in-hand for a local builder, and you live in constant fear that you’re going to be found out and thrown in jail – not least because you don’t know who would look after your parents. Your wife’s part-time cleaning job has disappeared, and she is not eligible for any government money. You live from pay packet to pay packet, just managing to scape by each week. There is never enough to save, never has been.
Before lockdown, you could take your family to the temple at the weekends, meet up with family and friends, share food, support each other, but you can’t do that in lockdown. You are terrified that you will pick up the virus and take it home to your parents – your mum is diabetic, your dad has never been well since he recovered from TB.
You friends in a richer part of town have been furloughed, which means they are being paid twice as much as you for not going to work. You think your boss is getting furlough money for you too, but you don’t really understand the scheme – you are still working 9 or 10 hours a day for the same pay. When you tried to ask other people about it, you were told that if you don’t like it here, you should go home.
The current spike in Leicester is your fault. Although you stay at home when you’re not working, along with the rest of your family, following the rules as well as you can, it’s your fault. You are to blame. No one has told you what you should be doing differently, or how you would survive if you weren’t working, but never mind all that – you are to blame. It’s all your fault.