The coronavirus crisis has made it abundantly clear exactly which citizens and workers are truly necessary in order to keep society running, and it isn’t billionaire CEOs. Nurses, doctors, supermarket workers, bus drivers, and other underappreciated and underpaid members of society are the ones keeping the cogs turning. Coincidentally, it’s the same section of society that Secretary of State Priti Patel recently called “low skilled” for earning less than £25k per year.

Recognising this hypocrisy, artist Craig Oldham wanted to respond to Patel’s comments and the current situation with art. The agency family approached him to put out positive messages on its poster sites in Manchester, Oldham created a bright, colourful piece, which in large, bold lettering, reads: “may they never be deemed low-skilled again”. The text is set against the backdrop of a list of “low-skilled”, now key workers: teachers, warehouse coordinators and therapy professionals to name a few. It spotlights the people that we’ve often not only dismissed in society, but whose massive importance has now been recognised.

Speaking to Design Week recently, Oldham elaborated on his motivations for creating the poster: “It has taken a global pandemic for the government to recognise the value of all of its citizens and workforces. In only February of this year, Patel’s comments and, more to the point, the government’s policy on what determines a person’s ‘value’, are ridiculous.”

Oldham calls this particular form of hypocrisy “snobbery”, noting that the key workers’ input has always been integral to this country. “These workers clean, care, and deliver for this country, and they always have, global pandemic or not, so to suddenly switch just because they are now propping us all up as a nation and you’ve realised how important they are made me a little angry.”

While the work was born partly from Oldham’s anger, he says he wants it to serve as a positive show of solidarity with “all of those people continuing to work despite the crisis, supporting, caring, cleaning, delivering for every single one of us.” He points to the designs that ordinary people are spreading across the country as a symbol of the ways in which creativity is helping us through the crisis: the rainbows in support of the NHS that adorn every street in the form of paint, crayon, paper and collage, intended to uplift key workers.

“These rainbows are probably the result of trying to keep the kids entertained in tough times for families, but they’re also a creative gesture, symbolic of communities reaching out to one another with a promise of hope and better times on the horizon. That’s a real, powerful, graphic symbol, that fulfils a role of community and connectivity probably more so than any polished poster could.” he says. Above all, Oldham hopes that this pandemic will enforce what we now know to be true: that these workers didn’t become important overnight: “They always have been, and will continue to be, Key Workers.”

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