Covid-19: Overcompensating some part-time workers is a risk worth taking

Giving hard-hit workers a temporary financial cushion in a crisis is what socially progressive countries do

Two of France’s most acclaimed writers, Leïla Slimani and Marie Darrieussecq, walked themselves into a veritable bar brawl last month after penning dreamy lockdown pieces from their second homes in the French countryside.

The two had swapped pandemic-blighted Paris for rural idylls, and their articles in Le Monde and Le Point magazine were intended as moving accounts of life under quarantine.

Both articles, however, elicited a torrent of criticism online, with the writers accused of being elitist,drenched in class privilege, and tone-deaf to the circumstances of poorer people, many of whom were trapped in small two-bed apartments in the city, often with kids and with limited financial resources.

Slimani, winner of the 2016 Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary prize, was compared to Marie Antoinette.


The episode illustrates the great divide that Covid-19 has exposed. Most well-off workers have been able to work from home or stop work altogether and cocoon themselves away from the virus.

Low-paid workers in consumer-facing sectors such as retail and hospitality have not been afforded that luxury, and their work involves a much higher risk of potential exposure to the virus.

In many cases the Government’s €350-a-week pandemic payment is the only thing that stands between them and financial wipe out. And many are still facing a very uncertain future given the temporary nature of the scheme, and because many will lose their jobs in the downturn.

And yet the Government’s scheme has come in for some fierce criticism because of its untargeted nature and because some part-time workers are financially better off not working.

These points are undisputable, but in the context of what’s coming down the tracks for many of these workers, the criticism might also qualify as tone deaf.

The moral hazard of overcompensating some part-time workers was surely a risk worth taking for the greater good. The Government was also under significant pressure to get something in place quickly. Fine-tuning wasn’t an option.

Giving hard-hit workers a temporary financial cushion in a crisis is what socially progressive countries do.