The Covid-19 Pandemic Could Bring About Greater Equality In the UK

Months after the Coronavirus began to shut down the globe, countries are slowly adjusting to a new way of life. Ever since the virus landed in the U.K., it has been the “low paid healthcare workers, rubbish collectors, and supermarket stackers, not hedge fund managers or venture capitalists” who have kept the nation from falling apart. The current Covid-19 pandemic is considered the worst global crisis since the World Wars. However, economic historian Walter Scheidel argues that a pandemic is one of few events capable of creating greater human equality. Like war, state collapse, and revolution, a pandemic can usher in a new era of laws and reforms aimed at reversing deep-seated social injustices and inequalities.

Recent evidence has shown how disproportionately BIPOC communities have been affected by the virus, with black people four times more likely to die than their white counterparts and South Asian communities close behind. Countries that migrants originate from have had relatively low deaths, especially compared to the UK.  Therefore, experts, have cited socio-economic factors as the main component with regard to the disproportionate death toll. The United Nations Poverty Envoy suggests the deep-rooted inequalities evident in British society is a significant reason why the U.K. is among the top 3 countries with the highest COVID-19-related death toll. Health is intimately tied to economic well-being, and it has been those most vulnerable who have been hit the hardest. A vast majority of workers in the U.K. have had to face a significant drop of income, or risk exposure at work whilst leaving older members of their families at risk due to multigenerational occupancy in cramped spaces.

Months of global lockdown have resulted in plummeting oil prices, massive reductions in air travel, and a spike in unemployment. In response, the Conservative British government has put unprecedented measures in place. The government has nationalized parts of the railway network, suspended competitive rules between supermarkets to ‘feed the nation’, and provided free food rations to the most vulnerable. In addition to this, the furlough scheme and other forms of monetary assistance provided by the government will cost the treasury over £22 billion with further changes and assistance to be announced by June.

Many have hailed the efforts of people such as Tom Moore and Dabirul Islam Choudhury, two 100-year-old men who have raised over £32 million for the NHS and other charities during the health crisis. However, a more pressing matter involves asking why the NHS and some charities are so poorly funded that they require the efforts of the elderly to survive. The manner in which the government is providing assistance and increasing social benefits has left citizens wondering why some of these measures could not have been taken before.

There has certainly been an increase in awareness regarding issues concerning social inequality, which could serve as a catalyst for political transformation in the future. Unlike the recession of 2008, this current epidemic has truly given rise to people feeling like ‘we are in this together’, even though there is a proportion that has it far worse than most. Exposure to the societal problems most middle-class British families endure is of utmost importance for societal change.

The rise of social solidarity around the country has been evident. An appeal made by the NHS for volunteers hit its 250,000 target in less than 24 hours, recruiting 750,000 people just two days after the appeal began. The government has also assumed responsibility for paying a large portion of labor wages, homelessness shelters, and schemes for food parcels to the most vulnerable and recently exempted migrant NHS workers from the health surcharge.

While there is no denying the swaths of pain and damage that the Coronavirus has caused, there has also been an increase in social cohesion, mutual support and social solidarity. The services from essential workers during this time have shown the real value of such members of society. Forced by the pandemic, the government has had to put human well-being over economic growth. Upholding this same attitude towards British citizens in the post-virus era is of utmost importance moving forward in the new world.

Zaryab Makhdoom