It was only in February that those now hailed as "key workers" were labelled as "low skilled" or "unskilled" by Home Secretary Priti Patel – something that Manchester designer Craig Oldham has highlighted in a new poster that celebrates their contribution to society, not just during the Covid-19 crisis but in future, too.
Listing all of the different job titles – from warehouse operative and soup kitchen staff to security officer and registered nurse, the poster makes up the phrase: "May they never be deemed 'low skilled' again".
"The message is that it's taken a global pandemic for the Government to recognise the value of all of its citizens and workforces," Craig tells Creative Boom. "These workers clean, care and deliver for this country, and they always have – global pandemic or not."
What inspired the project? "I was invited to create a message for public display by media agency Jack Arts for their poster sites across Manchester and at the same time to contribute to an online exhibition called Isolation Nation by Liverpool based creative agency Dorothy. It was only with these invites that I started thinking about anything design related as a response, and what might feel like something that right to say and be a positive message to put out," says Craig.
Finding the list of occupations wasn't easy. "The Government refuses to publish a list. Either it's too complex to do so, or they are passing responsibility over to others – make your own call on that, I have made my own. I had to trawl the Government website, look into employment sites, approach trade unions, and I even created an open document online to crowdsource occupations from the key workers themselves."
Craig says the list is by "no means comprehensive" but all those featured are based on the average salary in the UK, or average UK salary at entry-level for respective professions, which are £25,000 or less per annum, as per government policy. "It's also generalised and not specific to all sectors – there are so, so many more 'key workers' than listed, not only those earning beyond the threshold, and some that are surprising. But it's supposed to be a show of solidarity with all of those people continuing to work despite the crisis, supporting, caring, cleaning, delivering for every single one of us," Craig adds.
At the moment, to "ease the burden on the already-stretched postal workers", Craig isn't printing the poster. But it is available for download via his social media and Dorothy.
What's Craig's personal take on what's happening? "I look to the future with a sense of hope that we have an opportunity to learn and grow from this and build something anew that is less broken and much more equal. For me, it's proven there is such a thing as society and that the welfare state deserves serious consideration. And that we are all, each one of us, equal. That alone is worth building on."