Tough start to 2022 as Covid and economics squeeze families

Far fewer people than normal were out in Ipswich on the weekend before Christmas - we seem to be in

Far fewer people than normal were out in Ipswich on the weekend before Christmas - we seem to be in lockdown by stealth. - Credit: Paul Geater

So how was Christmas for you then? How are you looking forward to the New Year?

For most people, I suspect, Christmas 2021 will be remembered as much better than Christmas 2020 - but without all the fun and games of the build-up to the big day that we are normally used to.

And for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, the big day was ruined by some members of the family being forced into self-isolation after providing a positive Covid result.

From a business point of view, it's clearly been very difficult for a lot of premises - shops, restaurants and cafes in Ipswich were much quieter than expected both before and after Christmas.

With the poor, but not cold, weather immediately after Christmas at the start of this week you would normally have expected people to flock to the sales in Ipswich town centre and possibly take in a trip to the cinema or meet up with friends for a convivial coffee or light lunch.

But while many shops were open, the shoppers were out in far smaller numbers than would normally be expected and everyone suspects that takings will have been suppressed.

Families were able to get together over Christmas providing no one got pinged or turned in a positive test - and that was clearly important for most people. 

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An early gift on that count was the decision to reduce the self-isolation period from 10 days to seven, providing the infected person provided two negative lateral flow tests on the sixth and seventh day.

It was also clear that many people heeded the warnings of Chris Whitty and prioritised their family Christmas get-togethers over other festive celebrations.

As Adnams boss Andy Wood pointed out this week, that had a very heavy toll on the hospitality sector. The decision by those who stayed at home may have saved their Christmas.

Andy Wood, chief executive of Adnams

Andy Wood, chief executive of Adnams, warned about the threat to the hospitality industry. - Credit: ADNAMS/ANTHONY CULLEN

But pubs and hotels do have the right to expect an increase in government support to tide them over as they approach the quietest time of the year - after all it was the government's experts who advised people to avoid them!

It will be interesting to see what happens over the New Year weekend. This is traditionally a celebration spent with friends out at pubs and clubs rather than with families at home.

Some may want to celebrate in the normal way - but I suspect some will rather stay at home and sample the delights of Jools Holland and co. Many people usually spend New Year's Eve in that way anyhow! 

The full impact of the economic impact of this Christmas will not become clear for another two or three weeks - and it is clear that things will turn out to have been less bad than last year.

But without extra support I fear some pubs, cafes and restaurants may disappear from our high streets.

It remains to be seen what the next few weeks holds for the economy - and it isn't just the ongoing pandemic that is a factor there.

This week the highly-respected Resolution Foundation warned that millions of families are facing a "Cost of Living Catastrophe" with domestic fuel bills and National Insurance set to rise significantly. They say the "average family" could be left about £1,200 a year worse off.

PA file pic of bill

Energy bills are set to increase in the spring - helping create a "cost of living catastrophe" according to the Resolution Foundation. - Credit: PA

For most families that will be a major inconvenience for a significant minority who are already struggling it would be totally devastating and could push them over the edge.

It's clear that the government is aware of this problem down the line - but how it deals with it is going to be crucial.

Which section of the population will be its priority? The poorest who are really suffering - or the larger number of people who just feel a bit hacked off at the reduction in their disposable income and might feel inclined to take out their frustration at the ballot box?

All these issues that are facing us as the world goes into 2022 are going to be very challenging - but there is a sense among many people that the end is in sight for the pandemic.

That feeling of hope is going to be important over the next few weeks - by early spring we should have a much better idea how this is all going to play out. Let's just hope we're not all feeling too poor to enjoy ourselves when the good times do return!

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