Socialist Worker

New report proves inequality has made the pandemic worse 

Austerity and racism combined with Covid-19 to cause many thousands of deaths, says a health expert’s new analysis. Tomáš Tengely-Evans investigates

Issue No. 2736

Austerity has meant inequality and the health of the poorest people has got worse

Austerity has meant inequality and the health of the poorest people has got worse (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Coronavirus “exposes the underlying inequalities in society and amplifies them”. Leading public health expert Professor Sir Michael Marmot has said that once the pandemic is over we “must not go back to the status quo”. Doing so would be a “tragic mistake”.

Marmot argues there is a “link between our poor health situation coming into the pandemic and what happened during it”. 

“When you look at the distribution of Covid-19 mortality, it looks very similar to the distribution of ­mortality from all causes,” he said. 

“The causes of inequality in health more generally overlap considerably with inequalities in Covid-19. 

“It means that the inequalities in society that are leading to inequalities in health are leading to inequalities in Covid-19.” 

Build Back Fairer, a report into coronavirus and inequalities co-written by Marmot, paints a stark picture of life under coronavirus. 

People in overcrowded living conditions are more likely to die of the virus. 

“Key workers” and those in “elementary occupations” have above average death rates for both women and men (see boxes). 

Systematic

And social inequalities are compounded by systematic racism. 

As Marmot explained, “In the case of black African and black Caribbean people, not much of the excess can be explained by prior health conditions.

“Most of it is linked to deprivation.” 

London bus drivers, for instance, mostly live “in more deprived areas” and “in particular boroughs with the highest Covid-19 rates”. Britain has a high Covid-19 death rate after a decade of  Tory austerity meant it was in an “unhealthy state” going into the pandemic. 

Marmot describes how the last decade saw “increasing social and economic inequalities and increases in child poverty particularly”. 

“Inequalities between regions and socio-economic groups were increasing and life expectancy for the ­poorest people was falling,” he said. 

“And now during the pandemic, we have the highest excess mortality.” 

He slammed the “reduction in spending on public services that was done in a most regressive way”. 

“The poorer the area, the steeper the cuts,” he emphasised. 

Yet once again, the Tories and bosses want to make working class people pay the price for the coronavirus crisis. 

Marmot takes on the idea the British government cannot afford to tackle inequality, saying, “We simply cannot afford not to do it.” “We have zero interest rates, in some cases negative interest rates,” he said. 

“We are among the lowest taxed countries in Europe. 

“We have tried the austerity experiment, we did that in 2010 and health stopped improving, inequality got worse and the health of the poorest people went down. 

“That experiment didn’t work.” 

Read the full report at bit.ly/37GpLhB

School students in poor areas suffer more from virus effects 

The Tories have hammered school students during the pandemic. 

They kept schools open when they weren’t safe—this was the biggest threat to the lives and futures of school students, parents and school workers.

And they didn’t provide social support during the lockdowns. 

The report details how this impacts on students. 

It found teachers in more deprived areas were “significantly more likely” to say their pupils were falling behind. 

Angela Donkin, Chief Social Scientist at the National Foundation for Educational Research, spoke at the launch of the report.

“Children who are in disadvantaged areas or disadvantaged families have been disproportionately impacted,” she said.  “If we don’t do something to address that imbalance, we’re just storing up further problems and further inequality for the future.”

She argued it’s “unsurprising given the inequalities that were evident before the pandemic that we see what we do now”.

And teachers at schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals said they felt less prepared for moving lessons online.

At private schools, 30 percent of teachers said they “have a platform that I could use” and 40 percent were confident they “could figure it out”.

But less than 10 percent of teachers at the most deprived schools felt this confident. 

And even once lessons had moved online, resources have restricted what was possible. 

While 66 percent of private secondary schools streamed lessons, only 6 percent of state secondary schools did so.

These problems were compounded by other inequalities, such as overcrowded housing. 

These sorts of factors meant that for “middle and lower-income students the decrease in learning time was larger”.

And for secondary school pupils “the closures have slightly widened existing, persistent inequalities in learning time”. 


Working class is hit hardest

There are “clear differences in risks of mortality” between occupations. 

Both men and women in “elementary occupations,” aged 20 to 64, were more likely to die from coronavirus. 

These include some factory, construction and sales jobs, postal workers, cleaners, hospital porters, waiters and bar staff. 

Meanwhile, men in professional occupations had the lowest mortality rate of 11.6 deaths per 100,000. 


Racism leads to more deaths

Coronavirus death rates were “highest among males and females of black African ethnic background” compared to whites. 

The report shows black and minority ethnic (Bame) people were more likely to be key workers and more likely to carry out work in close proximity to others, such as in transport and healthcare. 

And they are more likely to work outside of the home during the lockdowns and more likely to live in an overcrowded household.

“Long-standing evidence shows that structural racism is at the heart of worse living and working conditions for Bame communities,” it says.


Bad housing increases risks

Overcrowded housing increases the risk of infection—and bad housing can mean worse symptoms and increased likelihood of dying. 

Damp, for example, means a greater risk of respiratory illness 

These low income households are also “more likely to have a vulnerable person living in the house”. This housing crisis flows from the “reduction in availability of affordable housing” during Tory austerity. 


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