WHEN our world spins unexpectedly on its axis, some things change for a while; some might, with luck, be altered for all time. Consider the social hierarchy and the people now indisputably at the top of it. When you need to stay warm, safe, nourished or nursed, the directory you are not likely to consult first is Burke’s Peerage. It turns out the people who actually matter are those on whom we have traditionally placed not remotely enough value.

The hospital employees, from porters and auxiliaries to senior care staff, all of whom keep an increasingly vital show on the road and most of whom we have routinely underpaid. As we have those with whom we entrust the care and education of the next generations.

Those shop workers who look after the tills and stack the shelves of those essentials the more crass consumers think it acceptable to empty regardless of personal need. And all those contract drivers and cleaners who underpin the gig economy for scant reward and with no security.

The equal pay battles in the public sector haven’t just shone a light on how poorly we pay women in social and domiciliary care to catering, but also that the men to whom their wages were not being compared were not taking home a king’s ransom either, even with some very “creative” bonus schemes.

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It’s worth reflecting, too, that those who provide our soul food are almost always freelancers who have not yet been promised the same income guarantee as the PAYE workforce. Those who give us our books, and music, and our plays. Our writers, composers and artists who, at the best of times, often scarcely make a living, but are compelled to keep producing the work that makes all our lives worthwhile and incomparably richer. Work which will never be more precious than in our enforced solitude in the days and weeks ahead. It’s never the same consuming our arts at home rather than in theatres, galleries, cinemas, concert halls and music venues – but heroic efforts are being made by the cultural community to bring us sustenance online.

This new world order has also shown up a few of our “captains of industry” in their true, unlovely lights. Tim Martin, the Brexiteer cheerleader and chair of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, issued a video suggesting nobody had got the virus in pubs. A naked plea not for public health but private profit.

Sir Richard Branson, pictured tanned and short-sleeved on a hammock at his home in the British Virgin Islands, suggested Virgin Atlantic staff take eight weeks unpaid leave. He’s worth £3.5 billion and thinks the taxpayer should help bail out his airline.

The National: Hospital employee keep an increasingly vital show on the road, despite being routinely underpaidHospital employee keep an increasingly vital show on the road, despite being routinely underpaid

Alex Langsam, the multi-millionaire boss of the Britannia Hotel chain – dubbed the worst in the country by Which? magazine – lives in a stately pile in Cheshire, so won’t have to worry about where to lay his head tonight. Unlike the staff he summarily ejected with no notice from their accommodation in the Coylumbridge Hotel in Aviemore. Happily, more compassionate hotel bosses in the area have picked up his tab.

When the solid matter hit the fan over this on social media the sackings were rebranded an “administrative error”. Methinks this is one exercise in damage limitation doomed to well-deserved failure.

Jeff Bezos, insanely wealthy boss of Amazon whose employment practices and conditions have been the subject of widespread criticism, has just bought himself a £126 million estate in California – a twin for his Washington DC mansion. Mr Bezos is reportedly worth £101bn, and his company’s tax arrangements are allegedly and strangely out of kilter with its earnings.

There are, of course, many very rich entrepreneurs whose wealth has not made them strangers to basic humanity. The Gates Foundation, among others, is shovelling funds into research and the production of essential medical products. As is one of China’s richest businessmen who, in an irony which will doubtless be lost on the US president, is manufacturing and shipping urgent hospital supplies to virus-ridden Europe.

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But there’s little doubt that when personal wealth comes in silly numbers, a sense of entitlement arrives with the balance sheet, and there is social distancing from real lives and real people’s daily problems. Only someone as filthy rich, effortlessly crass and semi-detached as Jacob Rees-Mogg could celebrate the mushrooming of food banks as evidence of a buoyant community spirit.

Or where to start with Iain Duncan Smith’s exhortation not to upgrade welfare payments as this would only provide a disincentive to go out to work. Hello? Ground control to Major IDS – life outside your stately pile has changed forever since you last looked.

And how could we omit the increasingly deranged incumbent in the White House who was caught red-handed trying to buy his way out of his own ignorance and disastrous lack of diligence by hoping to persuade a German vaccine company to up sticks and move to the States in return for billions of greenbacks and unfettered access to their product when it was fully developed.

If Donald Trump didn’t exist, there would be absolutely no good reason to invent him.

The world, in short is divided into those who see a widespread humanitarian catastrophe as a moment to bend every sinew, and offer every dollar to try to ameliorate the suffering, and those who can only see calamities as opportunities to make a faster buck. Fortunately for humankind, the former would appear to be more numerous.

This divide is echoed in our private lives. All of us will have witnessed acts of spontaneous kindness and public spirit in the last few days as people’s best instincts kick in, and their first thoughts travel to those in more need than themselves.

Salutations to them, and to all those public figures whose day job suddenly had a 24/7 feel about it. Time maybe to remember that serious times need serious politicians.