Digital Editor Holly Pittaway analyses the Poll of the Week, exploring whether the ‘clap for carers’ is an effective way of showing appreciation

Final Year History - slightly opinionated
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Editor’s note: article based on the results of a poll conducted online on the 5th April 2020.

We’ve probably all been moved in recent weeks by the rounds of applause emanating throughout the country in honour of NHS staff and other key workers at this trying time – last Thursday saw a group of police officers sound their sirens outside a London hospital in an ‘emotional’ tribute, as well as a number of ships off the coast of Grimsby blast their horns for the NHS, plus many more shows of thanks around the country. But while the ‘clap for carers’ began as a wholesome act of appreciation, many have since started to question how deep it truly goes.

In our Comment poll this week we tried to gauge our readership’s opinion on the situation, asking, is a weekly NHS ‘clap for carers’ an effective way of appreciating our key workers? Overwhelmingly, the response was no, with 71% voting this way.

However, it was clear many of the ‘no’ voters were grappling with a black and white answer; one said, ‘an applause is great to show appreciation as people who may not be able to make a direct change to the way we reward the NHS, but if the government really wanted to show their support they’d consider giving staff the pay rise they deserve, or even just make sure they’ve actually got enough PPE.’ Another voter gave a similar answer, ‘as thoughtful as this is on our part as civilians who can’t do much more as we are not in power, those who are, need to make considerations during this unprecedented time such as raising salaries above minimum wage to the workers who are risking their lives for their country.’ 

It was clear many of the participants were grappling with a black and white answer

Others, though, were staunchly against the applause. One participant left a rather impassive comment, ‘It’s silly and patronising and doesn’t do anything and no one cares’ – I would guess that whoever wrote this didn’t witness the emotional responses of NHS workers who heard the clap, my friend included, who, as a student nurse and health care assistant, was almost moved to tears as her whole street erupted into applause last week. In the same vein, another respondent said, ‘very superficial, no real meaning to it’ – but it does mean something to the people on the front line, something that those who voted ‘yes’ in our poll understood. ‘It means that people make a physical effort to go outside and show our support,’ reads one example, ‘it shows that we are thinking of them and is a visible sign that we are all grateful for their work and the sacrifices that they are making,’ said another.

Clapping will achieve nothing in terms of NHS funding, which has been dramatically cut under Conservative leadership

But fundamentally, clapping will achieve nothing in terms of NHS funding, which has been dramatically cut under Conservative leadership – it’s no secret that the country is short of health workers, nurses, and doctors, with 100,000 staff vacancies being reported in February. More concerningly, the NHS does not have the equipment to deal with the current crisis, with shortages of ventilators and PPE for staff at the highest priority. One participant noted this; ‘supplying them with proper PPE equipment would be a more effective show of appreciation’. Simply put by another respondent, ‘if you want to show appreciation for the NHS, don’t vote Conservative.’

To me, though, I see no reason why we cannot have the best of both worlds. Why not clap for carers and donate PPE? Why not sound our sirens and rethink our politics? Why not make someone’s day a little more special while staying home? Clap for carers, in my opinion, should not be up for such harsh debate – maybe we would do better to turn our criticisms away from ordinary citizens just trying to show their appreciation and towards a government who needs to be held more accountable.

Check out some other Comment articles about the Coronavirus:

The UK Government’s Response to COVID-19 Is Unacceptable

Coronavirus Home Test Kits: A Game Changer?

Is COVID-19 The End For Celebrity Culture?