✏️ Ellie Agu-Benson
The problem of the inequality of those who suffer most from coronavirus was excellently summarised by the BBC Newnight presenter Emily Maintis. Coronavirus is not a great leveller, that will affect both rich and poor in equal measures, as government ministers have claimed- the disease discriminates. Working class people and ethnic minorities find it harder to socially isolate, are in more contact with the disease and are more likely to die from it. Coronavirus is a disease that will not only attack the human body but also deepen the chasm of social inequality that exists within our country.
Here are the different ways in which some people will be more exposed to the hardship of Coronavirus, than others.
The working class are and will continue to take the brunt of this disease. In the face of the economic downturn, they will stand to be the worst affected. While the middle class are able to protect their livelihoods by working from home, the same cannot be said of the working class, with some being forced to continue to work or being placed or “furloughed”. Despite the Chancellor Rishi Sunak unpresented intervention, it still stands that up to 2 million could lose their jobs. These minimum wage jobs are largely composed of those from lower income backgrounds.
Education will also negatively affect those who are the worst off. The implementation of digital classrooms has tried to prevent students from losing their education in the face of the pandemic. But this relies heavily on fast wifi and a good working environment. Some disadvantaged children will find themselves in a position where fast wifi is one expensive bill too many and lacking the resources they need to fulfil their learning capacity. Therefore they are going to miss out on a large chunk of their education.
Even without being in an exam year, children from low income families may find the effects of the pandemic impacting their education years down the line due to gaps in understanding. Ultimately, this will account to a huge loss in the vital human investment capital that education provides. On top of this the few children able to attend schools come from families of essential workers. These mostly likely are from working class families. Having to attend a school means that social distancing measures cannot be followed to the fullest extent and thereby they could be more likely to catch the disease.
The essential workers themselves are also facing an ongoing struggle with ensuring proper social distancing measures and reducing their risk of catching the disease. Care homes, one of the worst affected places of the virus, are supported by carers who are mostly from working class backgrounds. The same goes for those working in factories or stacking shelves. Each of these groups of essential workers come face to face with many people a day, one of whom could be carrying and spreading the disease. Before some workers even get to work they are forced to break social distancing rules and put their health at risk. Pictures emerged of the packed London tubes filled with key workers, all crammed together. However when working from home is not an option and money is vital, for many it is the only option.
With the relationship between ethnicity and poverty being highlighted, we will see ethnic minorities stand to be worst affected by this disease. Of the doctors and nurses battling coronavirus on the frontlie 44% of doctors and 24% of nurses come from BAME backgrounds. Sky news had found that 54 healthcare workers have died from covid 19 and 70% of these were black or from ethnic minority backgrounds. With a lack of PPE in the NHS and in other areas of essential work, these people risk their lives due to their jobs. In addition, when essential workers do get sick, they will have to rely on an already struggling NHS. Unlike their upper class counterparts who can count on the safety that private health and money brings.
A beautiful poem by Darren James Smith called You Clap for Me Now has highlighted the importance of ethnic minority workers in the crisis. The poem conveys the huge contrast of the anti-immirgration sentiment that swept the country during the Brexit debate, to now immigrant workers having to “prop up” the health service and other areas of essential work and the British people clapping them at night. Although the sign of gratitude has been received gratefully, the British population should realise the importance of immigrant workers in our country who are putting themselves at risk for a country where they “don’t belong”.
In a time like no other, we are true effects of the social inequality of our country. In reality, social distancing in a tower block is incredibly difficult and poverty is inextricably correlated with poor health and ethnicity, meaning that being working class or from an ethnic minority makes you more likely to catch and die from the virus.
Investigations have already started to look into why coronavirus is affecting our most disadvantaged citizens but the answer seems to be relatively clear; it is our society. And although social inequality is not a new problem in any society, this disease has exacerbated it. In light of this, there is a call for the government to help protect those who are worse off and putting themselves at risk in the fight against coronavirus. Whether that be increased financial support in the imminent recession or massive social reform to truly address the problem of inequality, we must not forget our indebtedness to low-income and or ethnic minority essential workers.
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