Covid-19 has highlighted the UK's inequalities

Over the last year the world was swept by a deadly and damaging pandemic, claiming over 100,000 lives within the UK alone. There was also a huge economic cost, with the largest recession on record, and the biggest economic decline of any G7 nation.

However, there has been another issue which has plighted the nation, which can be calculated in both death and economic figures - poverty.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the most deprived areas of the UK were hit the hardest, with the Office for National Statistics stating that the wealthiest areas had a death rate less than half of the poorest ones.

The comparison highlighted how much more vulnerable people in poverty were to the virus, but this is not a new conversation.

Since the Conservatives took office in 2010, the gap between the life expectancy of the rich and poor widened, with a nine-and-half-year gap between men in the wealthiest and poorest areas of the country during 2016-2018.

The brunt of the issue in areas with higher levels of deprivation such as Manchester, Blackpool, and Liverpool. Some regions were disproportionately affected by austerity.

It’s unsurprising the worst off have been the most affected by the pandemic. With the chances of dying from Covid-19 increased, as well as a surge in food insecurity resulting in a heightened reliance on foodbanks - a damning indictment of the state of the country.

But we must ask, apart from systemic inequality and societal issues, what are the practical reasons for this division?

One is the poor conditions for self-isolating workers that deters the efforts of the Test and Trace system. Little financial support was given to those who had to self-isolate with Statuary Sick Pay currently at £95.85 per week.

The current average wage amounts to approximately £560 a week.

When questioned where if he could live on that salary, Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted he would not be able to yet expected millions of the lowest earners to do so.

Issues like this were not only detrimental to containing the virus, but also to the actual detection of it. When mass lateral flow testing allowed citizens of Liverpool to receive Covid-19 tests, there was an enthusiastic response from the city’s people, with about a quarter of the population taking part.

Nevertheless, poverty and financial insecurity played their hand yet again, where more than half of population in the more affluent southern area took part, while participation was far lower in the city’s north.

This was a grave indication of our inability to look after those with the least avenues of help.

We could look to Germany and Belgium, who paid 100% and 93% of wages in sick pay respectively, but far too often the government proved incredibly reluctant to put support measures into place.

It’s unsurprising that places like my own local authority, Knowsley, had some of the worst infection figures during the second and third waves.

After the success of the mass testing scheme in Liverpool, infections skyrocketed to over 1400 per hundred thousand in the seven days up to 8th January with little doubt that this is nothing more than a coincidence.

Already one of the most deprived areas in the country, people are in a poor position to miss out on two weeks wages due to self-isolation, especially given the poor economic status globally.

There are glimmers of hope with the vaccine rollout, which in the UK, I admit, is occurring at a rapid pace. We must do whatever we can to prevent further spread of the virus and to repair the societal issues it has highlighted.

The government can begin by putting effective support in place for self-isolating workers, with the current SSP an insult, and the £500 grant for those in this situation unavailable for around seven out of eight employees.

Credit - Pixabay

There must be a reversal of the Conservative’s reckless austerity policy which has decimated the capacity of many public services. Had this political choice been discontinued long ago then it is unrealistic not to assume we would have been in a better position to deal with this crisis.

In the long term, investment in public services can develop into a plan for increased infrastructure projects in the form of a Green New Deal, something that has been discussed between political figures more and more over the last few months.

This Keynesian push could reinvigorate the economy in a socially ethical way, solving the problems of tomorrow and the plethora of challenges we face today.

It maybe no surprise that health and wealth are inextricably linked, but it has become more apparent during the pandemic. Now in the aftermath of Covid-19 we must rebuild in a manner that fixes these inequalities and prevents such a chasm in society in ever happening again.

We must move on from the United Kingdom where being poor is life threatening.

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