Covid: Amid fears of 'tsunami' of mental health issues, spare a thought for restaurant and pub workers – Stephen Jardine

And so it begins. On Thursday the pub and brewery group Martson’s announced it was cutting over 2,000 furloughed jobs.

Restaurants and pubs in the Central Belt have been forced to close because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

With the current job support scheme ending this month, the company said curfew restrictions mean it just can’t find a route back to employment for the workers affected. Expect many more announcements like that in the weeks ahead.

As the numbers mount up, the figures become less meaningful but every job cut disrupts a life. On the TV news this week, a bar worker wept as she talked about how she feared for her job and what the future holds. She was in Northern Ireland but she could have been anywhere. This week one leading chef in Edinburgh told me a member of his kitchen team had been in tears when told he was being sent home and the restaurant closed as part of the latest set of restrictions. That same level of anxiety stretches across everyone in hospitality.

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In Scotland, the sector employs over 200,000 people and with bars and restaurants in the Central Belt closed at the moment, many jobs hang in the balance. The current restrictions run until later this month but this week the First Minister warned there will be “no return to normal” after this time. We are in this for the long haul and that puts great strain on businesses but also people as well.

This week a Glasgow GP told me on the radio he is braced for a “tsunami” of mental health issues resulting from the pandemic. We are all struggling to cope with the anxiety and uncertainty of the current crisis but those working in hospitality must be struggling more than most.

As a profession, hospitality often attracts the gregarious and sociable yet these are the people stuck at home, staring at four walls. Compared to other sectors it also employs a disproportionately high percentage of young people who may not have the life experience or support systems in place to help carry them through the current crisis.

Nobody is immune.

For the owners, there is the worry about how they will be able to pay the bills and stay afloat with no end to the pandemic in sight. For the workers, there is fear about losing employment, how they will pay the rent and find another job with so many other people looking.

Where hospitality is still operating, just doing the job now involves PPE and often strained interaction with customers around the rule of six and household mixing. And all that before the other worry of actually falling ill with Covid-19. Having been told time and again by government that hospitality is a risky environment for transmission, it is important to remember the low-level stress around that can never be far away.

The charity Hospitality Health has launched a specialist toolkit with advice and support on dealing with stress and anxiety at this time but we can all do our bit to help. With over eight per cent of our workforce employed in the industry, many of us will have friends or relatives affected. Let’s make sure we talk and listen to them at a time when the strain of this pandemic is mounting for the sector where they make a living.

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