I recently came across an article describing the variety of emotions that people had experienced over the coronavirus pandemic. There are the obvious stories of grief from those who have lost nearest and dearest. Their feelings are raw, real and still tumultuous. There were also stories of those deeply concerned about their future employment and job prospects, now that they were on furlough. Fear, doubt and worry were their core emotional reactions, which some struggled to manage healthily.
But what resonated with me most was the impact that coronavirus has had on small business owners – particularly those of us whose sector has been affected time and time again by state intervention. The author discussed the feelings not just of loss but also of grief that were being experienced by these entrepreneurs. I could so relate.
Over the last few days I have felt wave after wave of anger, disgust, resistance, abhorrence to those who are in government and beyond. The protest marchers have my sympathies (although not always my agreement with their arguments) in that they feel that their personal freedoms are being eroded in the name of covid-19.
As an entrepreneur, property investor and business woman, I too feel a deep loss – that over the last few years, the foundation of all I believed to be strong and true has been slowly and steadily eroded and dismantled: the right to own and occupy property; the law of contract; Human Rights to peaceful enjoyment of property (whether tenant or owner); even the procedural understanding and constitutional premise that laws have to be passed by Parliament – not by a Minister sitting in his drafty Westminster office on a Friday afternoon after reading yet more of his Twitter feed bemoaning the price of rental property and the very fact that tenants are required to even pay rent (perish the thought)!
My reactions may not garner sympathy from tenants who have lost their jobs or worked supremely hard and risked their lives to care for others. I haven’t experienced either of these situations so I can be humbled by their suffering, and yes I have great compassion for those who have borne much of the burden for a pandemic that was not of their making – doing the tough jobs that are deemed only to be as valuable as the minimum wage. I also recognise the difficulties of those who are in a far worse economic position now, just when they were scraping to get by before the pandemic.
I can relate to this as I know what it is to be poor. I know what it is to have less than £25 to feed a family of four for a week. It is excrutiatingly difficult, and desperately embarrassing. You don’t want others to know just how hard it is so you pretend that you are saving up for something very, very special, which is why you can’t go out for a cup of tea with your friends, or buy some new leggings, or get a nice bottle of red for Saturday night. Your money is going somewhere else. Yes of course you have the money – you just choose not to spend it on fripperies. Or maybe you don’t really have it and can’t face the explanations.
I fear that soon we will see this kind of poverty re-emerging in our society. My experience of it was in the early 1990s, way before working tax credits, Universal Credit or free childcare. The only way out of poverty at that time was grind, and possibly a bit of good luck. Now there is far more state help than ever, yet the country is deeply in debt as a result, and therefore I’m sure that we will see even higher rates of poverty emerge.
You see, state help doesn’t help anyone ultimately. It is a short-term anaesthetic. It nulls the immediate pain and belies the impact of the truth. But it alters the relationship between provider and receiver – producer and consumer. It dulls the fire in your belly to make a better life.
In those days of the 1990s, the fire in my belly burned and burned until I was able to change my situation.
It still burns today, but now I am incendiary with disbelief at the decisions the government is making to control everything around me. My business, my income, my trade. Everything I have worked for; to raise myself and my family from their poor beginnings to where we are now.
When what we need is greater freedom and opportunity – not state strangulation. Landlords need it, tenants need it, people need it! For it is from humble and poor beginnings that many people rise when they realise they can. Tenants can become landlords. A few of mine have! When we equalise society not through state winners and losers, but by what we are born with – the ability to graft, the will to achieve a goal, the fire in our belly that drives us forward. This is what allows people to improve their lives – freedom so to do. Freedom to trade with limited regulation; freedom to exchange goods and services for a fair price (measured by the market); freedom to fail and to win. In return, consumers (customers, tenants) get choice – they get to pick the winners; they get to say who should earn their money, and rightly so! They also should get to reject the goods and services which do not serve them. If this means business failure- so be it. That is the free market. When it is allowed to work cleanly and properly, it works well and serves those it is supposed to serve.
One of the most powerful incentives I relish in being an entrepreneur is that it matters not your educational background, your previous failures or your qualifications. Anyone can do it, and anyone can succeed. There are risks and skill is needed, so those of faint heart should tread carefully. You might win and you might lose. But now we have a state who wants complete control, and it is that steady loss of freedom which I grieve for. I believe in time, we will realise just how dangerous it is to have such overarching state control , and just how much the erosion of freedom will have cost us. It may feel comfortable and good that the government is helping everyone out, but in time this will be the noose that hangs us all. I just hope my grief is an awakening and not a premonition of worse to come.