Faith Matters

Rev Norman Hamilton: Supporting frontline workers is an ethical imperative

Dr Norman Hamilton hopes that one of the lasting results of the pandemic is that our frontline workers continue to be valued, and that they receive proper pay for what they do

A large 'thank you' rainbow on display in Herrington Country Park in Sunderland to show the city's appreciation for all NHS, social care, care, key and frontline workers who are working hard through the coronavirus pandemic. Picture by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

OVER the past few weeks, in amongst all the pain and suffering, there have been many very uplifting stories of what people have been doing.

Perhaps the most striking one has been that of Captain Tom Moore, the former British army officer who raised over £32 million for NHS charities in the days before his 100th birthday.

Yet the words of a 42-year-old supermarket check-out manager have lodged in my mind just as clearly.

She said she felt so proud that she wanted to go back in time to tell her school headmaster about the important job she was now doing during the coronavirus pandemic: "I've never been more humbled to be a frontline worker, it's a beautiful title."

One of the many big lessons to be learned as a result of the health crisis is that we must continue to value the many people who work seven days a week to make our community function.

To do so is particularly important for all who call themselves Christian, for we hold firmly to the truth that we are all made in the image of God, and there is no hierarchy of work in the Scriptures.

The apostle Paul made this clear when he said that whatever we do, we are to do it all for the glory of God.

Apart from those who are on the front line of the NHS, in care homes and the emergency services, there is a host of people working all around us whom we have largely taken for granted for many years.

The Post Office staff; the delivery drivers; our shop workers and traffic wardens; those who collect and empty our bins and kerbie boxes; clean our buildings and our streets; those who maintain our roads, and keep our rail links and bus services operating; provide our electricity, water and gas services; ensure that our mobile phones and internet connections work properly; operate our food banks, our libraries and child care centres... And this list is just for starters.

Many of these workers are amongst the lowest paid, yet we simply cannot do without them.

We value our doctors, nurses, architects, teachers, lawyers, social workers, clergy, local journalists and many others in a wide variety of professions.

Centenarian Captain Tom Moore's fundraising efforts on behalf of the NHS and the fight against coronavirus have captured the imagination. Picture by Joe Giddens/PA Wire

It is right that we do so. But not at the expense of undervaluing the many others on whom they and we also depend.

For example, it is not at all unusual for a delivery van driver to be paid around £10 per hour (sometimes less, sometimes more). Yet, scandalously, all too often the pay for cleaners is even less than that.

One of the many lessons emerging from the pandemic is that such workers must continue to be valued, and that they must receive proper pay for what they do.

This is an ethical imperative, and one that Christian people must embrace wholeheartedly.

Yet the challenge of doing it is immense, and will certainly be a long haul, not least because the economy has shrunk dramatically, and the national debt incurred in supporting businesses and people will take decades to pay off.

For example, towards the end of April it was reported that the government in London plans to borrow £225 billion from investors in just four months to fund the huge increase in public spending during the pandemic.

One of the many big lessons to be learned as a result of the health crisis is that we must continue to value the many people who work seven days a week to make our community function 

In the Republic of Ireland, the finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, has said that coronavirus has set off a severe recession that will shrink Ireland's economy by more than 10 per cent this year, and take unemployment to 22 per cent by June.

Yet decent pay is not everything that is needed. It seems so obvious to change the habits of a lifetime, and start to regularly say 'Thank you' to everyone who helps us through the day.

It seems so obvious not to expect perfection in every service with which we are provided, and not to start complaining when things do not work out as we had hoped; after all, you are not perfect either - nor am I.

We are unambiguously called to be channels of grace and graciousness to others, not least because we have been on the receiving end of such great grace from the Lord himself.

Is it too much to hope that one of the lasting results of the pandemic is that many more people will want to go back in time to tell their school headmasters about the important job they are doing, and how they are valued in doing it - crisis or no crisis?

And that ordinary Christians will be at the forefront of making that an everyday beautiful reality?

Rev Dr Norman Hamilton is a former Presbyterian moderator.

Rev Norman Hamilton

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