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There's no place like home

  • 13 May 2020
Over the weekend in most Australian states, rules requiring people to stay home were relaxed somewhat. The country has commenced its easing of the significant restrictions on venturing out in public. As we begin to reacquaint ourselves with life outside, it is useful to reflect on the new resonance of ‘home’ — but also on its inherent limits.

Since the ‘soft lockdown’ started some weeks ago, ‘home’ has featured in our consciousness like never before. We have had to stay home, work from home, learn from home, isolate at home. Borders in four states and territories have contained us within our home jurisdiction. Our social interaction has been limited to those ordinarily resident within our homes.

The entire premise of the lockdown — soft or not — is based on home as sanctuary. A place of retreat from the danger posed by engagement outside our bubble, where everyone is a stranger and all strangers are suspect. According to this narrative, inside the home we can perform our work and education, as well as enjoy our leisure activities and our intimate lives. But as home and work merge, their close relationship has become apparent, revealing the limits of our comprehension of home.

At all times, but particularly during the pandemic, home is not safe for everyone. Family violence was not going to take a break simply because of a virus. The pressures of remaining in effective isolation with limited respite, together with financial pressures associated with job losses and the economic slowdown is likely to have made matters worse. The sanctuary of home has been further challenged by a reported rise in alcohol consumption.

Further, not everyone has a home and during a pandemic many aspects of life for the homeless become exponentially harder. Already shunned in wider society, physical distancing including in shelters and at communal meals compounds existing isolation experienced by the homeless. Personal safety of those living rough is compromised where they are now unable to congregate due to physical distancing measures. As homeless people generally suffer worse health than other demographics, the risk of the virus is amplified by their lack of adequate housing.

But there are other aspects of home as a feature of the pandemic that offer a real test for our understanding of how society functions.

'So long wealth in Australian society depends upon owning property, the rights of landlords are likely to continue to override tenants’ rights.