The Financial Times has published research by University College, London showing a sharp increase in mobility in recent days. Tracking the usage of no less than four hundred different mobile phone apps, including travel, transport and weather, UCL have produced charts showing a strong upswing in mobility.
The findings suggest that mobility did not fall as sharply among white collar workers as among blue collar workers. A conclusion that would be expected, blue collar workers are those who need to be in their physical workplace to sustain the normal functioning of society.
The survey categorises mobility under seven headings: city and business parks; manufacturing and distribution; metro suburbs; retail; rural; suburban services; and servants of society. A footnote beneath the charts says, “Servants of society include public administration, security, healthcare and large-scale education.”
Working in a secondary school with more than eight hundred students, I assume the school falls within the definition of “large-scale education” and that I therefore fall within the category of “servants of society.”
A servant of society? With student numbers reduced to a handful, I spend one week in four at school and teach remotely for the other three. I am paid by Gloucestershire County Council. I have job security and a pleasant working environment. I do not think that constitutes being a servant of society, nor do I think working in public administration qualifies someone for inclusion in such a category.
Servants of society are those who take risks, those who accept unpleasantness and even violence as ordinary, everyday aspects of their work. Servants are the police officers faced with impossible tasks, paramedics with an unending supply of gentleness and patience, hospital staffs working behind masks and visors. Servants are the retail workers and bus drivers and the postmen and all the others who continue to work as though everything was normal.
Among the servants I would count the lady at the till at the Co-op who patiently chatted with a man who took an inordinate amount of time putting his shopping into a bag, realising that it might be the only conversation he had that day. Among the servants is the care worker who went into the house of an old person with no personal protective equipment other than a pair of disposable gloves (the death rate among social care workers, who are paid minimal wages and have zero hours contracts, is significantly higher than that among health care assistants who work in the hospitals, probably because of the lack of PPE).
Who invented the term “servants of society?” It devalues the word.