Áine Kenny: Where is the logic in allowing shoppers to buy wine, but not clothes?

Áine Kenny asks why some have been left behind again in the second lockdown. 
Áine Kenny: Where is the logic in allowing shoppers to buy wine, but not clothes?

Who decides what items are 'essential' under the lock down? File Picture: Sasko Lazarov/ RollingNews.ie

Just over a week ago, Ireland went into its second Covid-19 lockdown. 

While for some, there was a sense of inevitability and familiarity, for many others, it was a sense of concern and dread.

In particular, those who struggled badly during the lockdown earlier this year, who feel like their concerns still haven't been addressed are afraid.

And questions are being asked, such as why some of the illogicality from the first lock down has not been rectified?

Take for example the conflicting ideas surrounding the definition of 'essential' products.

Level five restrictions deem that retailers who sell groceries as well as clothes "should make arrangements for the separation of relevant areas."

Yet, the new regulations do not specify whether clothing is essential. 

So, the likes of Tesco and Dunnes are open, with partitions separating us from the coats, fluffy pyjamas, hats and scarves. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Good Friday ban on the sale of alcohol. 

The Irish Examiner reported this week that an expectant mother from Cork was not able to buy a baby grow in her local Dunnes Stores. 

Where is the logic in banning the sale of clothes in stores that are already open? It is in the interest of fairness to other retailers, it is argued but, as a result, people are left to do without pants and socks for their kids.

Surely clothes are essential? Especially when one considers you can buy as much wine as you like, why can't we buy a warm winter coat? Who decides on what is 'essential'?

Families with young children must especially be feeling the pinch, most particularly single parent families who may rely on weekly allowances. 

The mantra of "just buy online or use click and collect" can ring hollow for the elderly, family carers, and asylum seekers.
The mantra of "just buy online or use click and collect" can ring hollow for the elderly, family carers, and asylum seekers.

A coat from Dunnes Stores, if you were even allowed to buy one in person, would cost double a Penney's coat. Ethical fashion concerns aside, some parents simply cannot afford to shop sustainably.

Very young children also grow out of baby grows, bibs and socks extremely quickly. Currently, you aren't supposed to be buying these in-person.

Ordering these from a website could take a week, and that's not addressing added costs associated with delivery.

Earlier this week, a furore emerged in Wales, where Tesco had blocked off access to items such as period products, toiletries and toothpaste, deeming it 'non-essential'. It prompted a tweet from the account of the Welsh government clarifying that this was not the case, but people had already been affected at that stage.

Furthermore, the mantra of "just buy online or use click and collect", as uttered by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on Twitter, also rings a bit hollow for the elderly, family carers, and asylum seekers.

A lot of older people may not have broadband in their house, let alone know how to use online shopping. 

If they want to buy a new coat now, they will have to wait until December, unless they have a kindly neighbour or relative close by who can get it for them. Many don't.

They could buy their coat from Dunnes while doing their weekly grocery shop, but it is forbidden, despite the fact they are already in the shop.

Not to mention they are already spending their pensions on heating their homes and medication, and may not be able to afford extra delivery charges.

Asylum seekers and refugees are another forgotten group. It has been well-documented that they often struggle to access bank accounts, and without a bank account, you don't get a bank card. 

This makes online shopping an absolute impossibility, not to mention click and collect difficult due to the lack of transport to and from many direct provision centres.

Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, says is easy to forget that there are people living in Ireland who do not have access to bank accounts. 

"Even those who are able to open bank accounts need to take into account whether they can afford to pay quarterly bank fees or ATM withdrawal charges," she said.

When you have a disposable income of €38.80 per week, every single cent matters. Can you risk paying delivery charges for an item of clothing you’re not 100% sure will fit and may have to pay a postal fee to return?

Ms Finn says the Nasc Connect Project, which works with young people and their families, has seen a huge increase in requests for assistance with clothes this year, particularly for newborns, toddlers and children returning to school. 

"We’ve been relying on other charities and kind donations from the public to meet this overwhelming level of demand."

Family carers have also been left behind by the government in lockdown 2.0. 

While the social bubbling aspect was welcomed by many carers, waste waivers and an allowance for the extra cost of grocery deliveries could have been easy wins for the government. 

They are committed to ensuring those out of work can get up to €350 per week, which is commendable, yet family carers are expected to continue on €219 per week, with many having given up full-time employment to look after a loved one. 

Often they give medical-grade care, 24/7. Not to mention the added fear and stress of a pandemic, which poses a real and significant threat to their loved ones. 

Family Carers Ireland's State of Caring report for 2020 revealed that family carers were facing challenges accessing food, medication and other essential supplies. 

During the first wave, many grocery delivery slots were taken up by people who were generally worried about Covid but were not immunocompromised, leaving carers struggling to access food without risking going into a supermarket. 

One carer said: 

Shopping for groceries is a nightmare. You have the stress of looking online daily for a delivery slot. We’re cocooning as the person I care for is immunocompromised.

Another said they don’t necessarily receive all the foods they ordered in a delivery. 

Disability day services were deemed essential under this second lockdown. 

However, Ruaidhrí Kelly, Communications and Campaigns Officer for Family Carers Ireland, says many are still operating at just 35-40% of their normal capacity, and people have also been left without transport. 

"The redeployment of essential frontline staff to Covid-19 contact tracing has also severely impacted essential therapies such as physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and speech and language therapy."

One can't help but wonder if these oversights are a result of the lack of female representation at the decision-making table. Women often occupy (often unpaid) caring roles and do the essential shopping.

This isn't to say men don't have any involvement in these tasks, they do. 

But why has 50% of the population been left out of the conversation on what is 'essential', despite the fact this very cohort may have anticipated some of these issues?

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