COVID-19 is Exacerbating Existing Inequalities – Liberal Article
Conceptualising a pandemic is a difficult task. On the surface, the proliferate spread of a disease seems a sufficient answer. But this is an oversimplification. A pandemic is a “set of mutually exacerbating catastrophes”. This phrase was used to describe the horrific impacts of the 1918 influenza pandemic in India.
There are two fundamentally conflicting frameworks to assess and produce policy for crises. The first is the “Isolationist” view. This views crises as distinct entities which can be solved one by one. The opposing view, “Integrationist”, refutes this on the grounds that crises are the result of multiple factors intertwined.
COVID-19 is the latest battleground for the academic literature to debate which school of thought should be promoted. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. The balancing of these is not only important for “building back stronger”, as Boris hopes, but for how we tackle Climate Change.
The notion that crises happen in a vacuum, devoid of other social ills, is incorrect. ‘Solving’ COVID is much more than reducing its medical impact. We must also address the social issues it has worsened. The isolationist view is both dangerous and unhelpful, especially in regards to inequality.
A critique of the government’s response to the pandemic would produce enough material for a series of articles. However, it is important to highlight one problem that many other countries are also facing. Measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 are exacerbating existing social problems because COVID-19 is being prioritised to the point of isolationism.
Take, for example, domestic violence. The UK saw the highest number of women killed in any 21 day period for the past 11 years. Refuge, a domestic abuse hotline, recorded a 700% increase in calls in a single day. The order to “stay home” has sentenced many spouses to unquestionable horrors, with no escape.
Although official statistics are delayed, there is great concern from children’s charities that school closures and higher unemployment will greatly impact child poverty. While the furlough scheme supported some low skilled jobs, albeit, at a 20% salary cut, there are thousands of self-employed labourers, beauticians and hairdressers who have been left out of the COVID-19 relief package. A single mother who spends her spare time while her children are at school as a mobile hairdresser is left without a job, and with full-time childcare.
COVID-19 will exacerbate racial inequalities too. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 47% of Black Children, 60% of Bangladeshi children and 54% of Pakistani children already live in Poverty. This is compared to 26% of White British children. The COVID-19 mortality rate is estimated to be three times higher for Black males than White males, and over twice as high for Bangladeshi and Pakistani males in the UK.
Public Health England produced a report analysing the emerging data which showed the disparity. However, commentators, Labour Leader Kier Stammer and Baroness Lawrence have criticised the report for not investigating and explaining adequately the links between race, COVID-19, deprivation and inequality.
With COVID-19 worsening deprivation, there are well-founded fears for a sharp spike in crime. Deprivation is akin to desperation, and desperate people turn to crime to try to feed or protect their families. With lower incomes bearing the brunt of COVID-19’s worst impacts, both economically and socially, we could see a rapid cycle of decline in some areas of the UK.
We cannot let ourselves be fooled into thinking that as soon as we get a vaccine, things will go back to normal. This will not be the case. The world post-COVID will be more inequitable, more poverty-stricken, and a more desperate society than before. COVID is not just a health crisis, it is an unemployment crisis, it is a racial crisis, it is a domestic abuse crisis, it is a poverty crisis. We might be able to ‘solve’ COVID, but we will be picking up the pieces for a long time.
Decades of progress have been wiped out in a matter of months. To “build back better” will require a fundamental shift in our country’s social support structure, with a greater appreciation and understanding now for the wider societal impacts of COIVD. But there are many hundreds of other policies which will be required now more than ever to close the widened gap.
The phrase “same storm, different boats” is very apt. Some are strong, sturdy and enforced. Others were on the brink of sinking even before the storm even hit.
Written by Junior Liberal writer, Daniel Jones
Point of Information
Life after COVID-19 will never be as it was before – A Conservative Response
Daniel has made some very valid points in his article which I commend him for. Life will never be the same and we will never return to “normal” as it was before COVID-19. The UK will be hit harder than during the 2008 Financial Crisis. I can only predict that the UK government will revert to austerity-like measures to reboot the economy.
Rishi Sunak has done a tremendous job thus far trying to help small businesses and implementing the furlough scheme. However, a lot more needs to be done regarding self-employed workers and single parents in situations mentioned by Daniel. A good start has been made by Sunak but more could be done.
Again, as I have said in previous responses, lockdown measures should have been introduced earlier and masks should be worn everywhere like in France. I would urge Boris Johnson and his government to push for further research into links between COVID-19 and deprivation.
Written by Max Jablonowski, Guest Conservative Writer
Different storm, same old boats – A Labour Response
This is an excellent article from Daniel. I particularly appreciate his distinction between isolationist and integrationist approaches to the analysis and policy of crises.
It’s enlightening to add some further distinctions between types of crisis. Firstly, there are two types: brute and agentive. A brute crisis is usually a natural disaster, where humans play little to no role and are sometimes powerless to affect the course of events. By contrast, an agentive crisis has a large human influence.
Now a further distinction: human agency is either necessary and sufficient for the agentive crisis’ existence (type 1), or it has only a partial influence (type 2).
The financial crisis was type 1 agentive; it was entirely our fault.
However, the pandemic is type 2 because, although the virus is not a human construction, our vulnerability to the virus is something we can change with good policy.
In agentive crises, the extent of the damage is either totally, or to some degree, our fault. We could either prevent or affect the event and its outcome through behavioural changes.
Now, there is an interesting historical shift going on. It is being argued that we currently live in the Anthropocene. At this terrifying stage of natural history, humans have vastly disproportionate influence over all other life and geology. Our mastery over, and awareness of, the world increases with scientific developments, sprawling industry and interconnection. I believe the set of brute crises will get smaller over time and those of agentive crises larger.
We scientifically know that our actions have a significant impact on nature. And vice versa. A key example of this is climate change. The unique problem of the Anthropocene is that it puts humans close to the causal root of many more crises. Causes of wildfires, erratic weather and pandemics can now be traced to ourselves, not the will of God.
The tragedy of this is that we can always do better. We are increasingly becoming a link in the chain of more and more natural occurrences and are doomed to be totally aware of it.
The miracle is that we have a lot of power to do something about crises but curiously, the isolationist denies this.
The isolationist view is ideological.
The notion that COVID is an isolated exception, an ‘external shock’ to an otherwise adequate system, is the sort of opinion only held by someone who benefits from that system. Depressingly, this was also a common response to the 2008 Financial Crisis. Again it was those least badly hit that ate from the trash can of isolationism. As Daniel has shown, many are hit harder by crises than others, through no fault of their own.
The richest 1% own 44% of the world’s wealth. Many of those benefiting financially from COVID’s restructuring of the economy towards uncontested monopoly. The 1% who are capital owners can streamline their operations, diversify investments, weather the storm and go for a long vacation at a sterile retreat… at worst.
People like Jeff Bezos’ wealth skyrocketed as a result of COVID-19. It’s no secret that these people have a huge influence on politics. So long as their life-experience continues to diverge from that of the average human being, the more sclerotic government will be to enact effective, sensible and humane changes to the way that we deal with pandemics and agentive crises in general.
Written by Junior Labour Writer, Joseph Cradick