Stockpiling, economic losses and staying at home

With the COVID19 pandemic spreading at a rate that is keeping people in their homes as a form of protection, there is a huge amount of uncertainty – and not just financially. I wanted to chat through some of the biggest key issues in the UK – and how you can help.

People have been panic-buying at an alarming rate. Shops are trying to keep up, but shelves have been cleared of everything from toilet paper to pasta. This continues to be discouraged as it’s completely unsustainable. Most shops operate a JIT (just-in-time) system which means that availability is programmed based on expected purchases and when it’s gone, it’s gone until the next delivery.

This has particularly put vulnerable people at risk, who can’t get hold of the essentials as they follow their regular shopping patterns (which we should all be) of buying what we need rather than everything available. You do not need 100 toilet rolls if you’re socially distancing, or anything in excess for that matter. Right now, I’m down to the last few teabags – so I might look to get some in a few days, but I will buy one box because that’s what I need. You might be able to get people to make a delivery outside of your house if you really do run out of anything and have to totally isolate.

Shops are introducing restrictive measures for people and we should all stick to them. If we run out of something and can’t get hold of it, it’s not the shop or staff’s fault. Be reasonable – there is an alternative to having everything.

Interest rates and stock markets:
For the first time in 325 years, interest rates have reached the lowest ever at 0.1%. This could be great for some people at the moment, who are servicing their debts at a lower rate of interest, but this will not necessarily be long-term.

The economic damage has been some of the worst since the 2008 financial crisis, and the real-term effects of this could be facing us for months, or even years to come. As we approach the final stage of UK-EU trade negotiations, this could become a crucial crunch point for a successful EU Exit.

World markets have faced huge losses, and at the close of play on Friday both the US and Japanese markets were still down, with others facing variable recoveries from the previous close. Some currency exchange rates might be more favourable right now although some exchanges may be unwilling to change cash.

Closure of businesses:
Many businesses, large and small are going to suffer as a result of this. However, more than that, the people working for, or owning those businesses are at risk. Arcadia allegedly laid off many temporary staff before the Government’s wage protection pledge came in. People are now facing unemployment for an unknown time, and whilst the government and other businesses have tried to establish protective measures, it won’t be able to cover everyone.

Small businesses are also at risk of being unable to withstand a closure for an extended period. Unable to generate business or pay bills, there could be further economic impact which could see unemployment rates rise, companies fold with unpaid debts (resulting in insolvency) and economically Britain could be facing a large financial strain.

Self-isolation and social distancing:
People are being asked to practice social distancing as a way to keep others safe – mostly the more vulnerable, but more widely, their community. Whilst the theory of herd immunity could still be a possibility, it’s not about those of us who are less at risk. Self-isolation is more restrictive and is designed for those who are showing signs of illness.

This has meant that many gyms have closed, people can’t get into work and families and friends remain separated. It has also meant some people are cancelling holidays, getting stuck overseas and facing the very real and scary prospects of being unable to pay hotel fees, being kicked out of their accommodation as it goes into lockdown.

This all sounds very doom-and-gloom. But there are many things we can do.

First and foremost, follow the WHO and NHS advice as it updates and changes. Stay home and avoid the transmission risk. It may feel unproductive and you may get cabin fever, but it will not last forever. Read some new books, finish that series on Netflix. FaceTime your friends and family to keep in touch with them, and keep them safe. Protect the staff of those companies that have to stay open and only head out if truly necessary.

This also applies to ecological impact. Realistically, an immediate response to the virus might mean that you will use more plastic or be less environmentally friendly than you would usually be. Mitigate your usage where possible, but be sensible. The environment needs help, but don’t try and be a hero if you’re putting people at risk.

Secondly, try and avoid buying so much stuff from supermarkets and online stores – this is where people are immediately turning to as a panic fulfilment purchase. Try instead to get in touch with local small pubs, bars and food stores to see if they have stock that you can buy off them that will avoid them making a loss. Reach out to any small businesses that you frequent and show your support – and that you will be back when you can. It may not be a financial break, but it can help. Finally, don’t be selfish about buying. Many shops have introduced restriction and timings for their purchases, so pay attention and avoid being that person.

Next, if you have an excess of anything – and most importantly can afford to – see if you can make donations to food banks or those in need. Alternatively, or if you are worried about the risk of virus transmission, you could make a financial donation to a charity. The Trussell Trust (food bank) and Crisis are there to support those affected by food and accommodation shortages all year round and those charities will definitely need additional support at this time. Look closer to home too – friends and family might be suffering in silence due to all the uncertainty and could value that support.

Financially, if you are unable to work from home (or even if you are) see if there are ways that you can benefit from the lower interest rates or the protections being put in place to make a stronger financial base to manage your money. Keep an eye on any repayments and debts. Be minded that a drop in repayment rates can easily increase and don’t take those risks.

Finally, be realistic about what you actually need and what you want. Reach out if you are lonely or in trouble with cash flow as a result. Show respect and honesty – especially if you feel unwell. We can keep ourselves and others as safe as possible. Don’t let people make you think that you are selfish, for taking this as seriously as it needs to be.

This article is provided for entertainment on what is a very serious subject. COVID-19 is a virus that needs to be taken seriously and firstly all medical advice provided by WHO and the NHS or relevant health authority should be followed. There may be unique advice for people who suffer from illnesses and one size does not fit all. If you consider yourself (or those close to you) at risk, seek advice – remotely – from a healthcare professional. All thoughts on financial aspects are based on local research. All links and information correct at time of publication. All opinions are my own.

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