The Inequality of Corona Virus
The Inequality of Coronavirus
By Nuria Alonso Perez
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic the world reacted in solidarity. There was a sense that this virus would act as an equalizing force, infecting people regardless of race, nationality, or socioeconomic status.
However, we quickly found that this was not the case; the virus acted along the lines of inequality that already existed in our society. In their recent webinar, “What does the pandemic mean for the nation’s health and health inequalities?”, the Health Foundation explored this phenomenon and discussed the varying ways in which certain groups were particularly affected.
The first demographic discussed by the Health Foundation was young people. They found that though young people were not as vulnerable to the virus itself, they were the most affected by its economic impacts. Not only do young people tend to be more economically vulnerable, but young people were also disproportionately in roles that were furloughed due to lockdown. For young people entering the workforce this is an exceptionally difficult and uncertain time, and the Health Foundation warns how this will affect the mental health of our youth.
The LGBTQ+ Community
In addition to the psychological strain of uncertainty, young people who are lgbtq+ face additional mental health challenges. Activist Evie Basch discussed the challenges lgbtq+ people are facing, such as the fact that many of these young people have had to move back in with their families to areas or situations that are not accepting of them. This in itself is a challenge, but it is compounded by the fact that any mental health services have been switched to online or by phone, and these young people may not have the privacy to speak freely about their lgbtq+ identity. Basch also stressed that members of the lgbtq+ community feel left behind as institutions fail to address their particular challenges.
Racial and Ethnic Minorities
The next demographics discussed were minority communities who have disproportionately suffered during this pandemic. As illustrated by Muna Abdel Aziz, the Director of Public Health for Salford City Council, the case of minority communities is especially grievous. Not only were ethnic minorities disproportionately affected by the secondary impacts of the virus, they actually directly suffered higher infection and death rates. For example, in the UK people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death than people of White British ethnicity.
As Tim Elwell-Sutton of the Health Foundation reported, research has found that a large part of this phenomenon stems directly from preexisting inequality in our systems. For example, BAME groups were more likely to have jobs deemed “essential” during lock down causing them to be more exposed to the virus. Additionally, inequality in the health system may have
contributed to their higher death rates. Another barrier for minority communities may have been language, some groups would not have been able to understand the warnings and recommendations issued by the government in english.
Positive Findings and Future Steps
Though these findings about the inequality of the Coronavirus pandemic are grim, there are some positive aspects. Firstly, Mike Brewer of the Resolution Foundation found that the measures taken by the government to help people of low socio-economic status, mainly the job retention scheme and universal credit expansion, were successful in decreasing the inequality of the virus’ socio-economic effects. Brewer advises that the government is in a position to take further action to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic, such as focusing their support on the sectors that have been most affected.
Secondly, now that we have identified the unequal effects of the pandemic, institutions are able to attempt to counteract them. Abdel Aziz gave an example of this in her community’s creation of bilingual and multicultural health recommendations. She also detailed how employers are now taking race and ethnicity into consideration when determining risk to their
workforce, which will be exceedingly important as we prepare to live with the pandemic for the next 18 to 24 months.
Finally, the pandemic has served as a light on our society, illuminating the existing inequalities that had been lying undisturbed. Now that we can see the severity of the inequalities ingrained in our society, we can begin to address these injustices and reform our system until we achieve true equality.