THE last time I left my house was over a week ago. Those of us stuck at home but on a salary are beginning to understand our privilege, but also left feeling largely useless. I am not essential to anyone, and indeed my inaction is the only action that I’m qualified to take. Even the most active and capable among us are left feeling useless.

Worse, when we face a threat that endangers so many lives around us, we are a liability, knowing that we could infect someone vulnerable or get infected ourselves, adding to the burden on the NHS and the risks that the medical staff are taking.

On the flipside, we can now see clearly who around us is really essential. Medics and carers, obviously, but also the people who stock our shelves, who deliver our goods, who manage warehouses, who drive lorries, who keep inventories, who clean. The people who keep the trains running so other essential workers can get to work. The community police keeping us safe.

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The council staff who collect our recycling, provide home care for elderly neighbours and maintain our infrastructure.

These are the same workers who have been undervalued for far too long. They are the workers who were punished by the years of austerity through real-terms pay cuts.

These jobs have always been essential to our economy and well-being. Some of these are the kind of jobs only a few short weeks ago were being described as “low-skilled”. Now we know their worth.

The National: Tim Martin with the Prime MinisterTim Martin with the Prime Minister

Meanwhile, the super wealthy haven’t been much help here. Richard Branson demanded a bail out from his private island, Tim Martin invented his own science so he could keep his pubs open and endanger his staff, and Mike Ashley demanded that Sports Direct be classified an “essential” business.

It cannot be right for you and me to bail out businesses owned by these billionaires, who choose not to use their own money to support their staff in this time of crisis, instead of bailing out the self-employed, people on zero-hour contracts, and those who should never have been expected to live on a minimum wage that isn’t a living wage at all.

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It is right that the UK Government is finally starting to recognise that these people need support, but it should never have taken so long for them to get there.

The complaint that £94 a week isn’t enough to live on is finally being heard. The cruel and unfair bureaucracy that makes benefits hard to apply for and take weeks to arrive is being exposed, as more and more new people enter the system.

None of this is new, it’s been like this for a long time, but like our essential workers, it’s more visible than ever.

It has been very distressing to hear stories of people being told they must turn up for work, even if they are in the more vulnerable groups, such as over-70, pregnant, or with underlying health conditions.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon has said Scots on the streets will face fines or even arrestNicola Sturgeon has said Scots on the streets will face fines or even arrest

I saw workers in Edinburgh’s call centres and financial sector being made to turn up at crowded workplaces only hours after both the Prime Minister and First Minister had told everyone to stay at home. There are people being told they must work the hours lost through having to self-isolate with symptoms, or take them as holidays.

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That is an awful exploitation of the poor working conditions that are allowed in this country. There were local businesses near me in Leith that remained open, including a mattress warehouse and a pram centre.

I have no idea how they could justify putting people in danger.

If you’ve been made to go to work and you don’t believe it an essential job, then it is worth looking at advice from the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

Speak to your union, or if you don’t have a union, get together with colleagues and compile some questions for your employer. Why are they staying open? Have they done a full risk assessment?

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You can also write to your MSP. I know the Scottish Green MSPs have been inundated with requests for help from people concerned they have been put at risk by their employer, and are working hard to get through them all.

The government tried to get us out of the last financial crisis by “balancing the books” on the backs of the poor while letting tax avoidance and the billionaires flourish. Not this time.

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Let’s make sure to value our essential workers this time. Let’s sure that they are paid adequately and treated fairly. Let’s stockpile medical equipment instead of nuclear weapons.

I’ll be here. Inside. Staying out of the way, and hopefully in good health, while our essential workers save lives and keep our society functioning. Thank you to all of you. Thank you for the work you do. Thank you for putting your life at risk for the rest of us. I’m so sorry that we didn’t give you the respect and protection that you deserved. As we move through this crisis, we all must work harder to see that you do.