When COVID-19 first hit the UK, the media kept on repeating that the virus doesn’t discriminate. But the truth is, thanks to social inequalities, it does. Of course, the virus itself, not being a sentient being, doesn’t give a shit how much a person has in their bank. But there are many factors surrounding the treatment and prevention of the virus that means that people who have a lower income are more likely to be affected by the virus.
The first and most basic thing that we have been told to do to prevent the virus spreading is to wash our hands for twenty seconds. Although clean water comes as granted for some, there are many out there who do not always have access to clean water. Homeless people for example may fall under this category in the UK. In fact, according to Water Aid, 1 in 10 people don’t have access to clean water across the world. This leaves them even more susceptible to picking up the virus over those that can wash their hands with soap and water.
Advice that we are hearing the most is to practice social distancing. If you live together, this doesn’t matter too much within the home unless it is a special circumstance. But when leaving the house, this may become an issue. And this becomes an even bigger problem for those living in more highly populated areas. For example, if a person lives in a tower block, compared to a detached house, they are much more likely to encounter others.
What’s more is that those who are fortunate enough to have a mortgage can have a 3-month mortgage break at this time. Whilst those renting are unable to have a break from paying rent. This is hard considering that mortgages tend to be cheaper than renting anyway and people who rent tend to have lower incomes than those with mortgages in general.
One of the biggest factors that is causing a social divide is when it comes to work and sick pay. Lower paid jobs tend to be the ones that can’t be done from home. For example, retail workers, cleaners and health care workers. And as we are witnessing, some of these low paid jobs are essential jobs that we need in times of crisis. This then becomes a Catch 22 situation. People either will have to stay at home and won’t be getting an income (unless they are entitled to furlough), or it means that they must go out to work and are at more chance of catching something. Whilst still also being on low pay.
Adding to this, many people who are able to work and can’t claim sick pay are too afraid to take time off if they do get ill. The reason? It’s not a legality to offer an employee sick pay. So, people are still going into work because they need the money and potentially spreading the virus. The US has a particular problem with social classes getting sick. Because for anyone who has ever watched any sort of American drama, they will be aware that if you can’t afford healthcare then you can’t get healthcare. Sadly, this has been proven by the teen who died a couple of weeks ago of COVID-19 because he didn’t have healthcare and as a result was denied care. And now Trump has said he will no longer be funding the World Health Organisation. Something which Bill Gates has said is “as dangerous as it sounds”.
Women in lower income families are also more likely to be victims of domestic abuse. A public health crisis which during this pandemic has also risen significantly.
So, what can be done about this? As with many social problems, a large part of this relies on how the government treats its citizens. For starters, it should be a legality for companies to provide sick pay. We also need to make sure that we either raise the minimum wage or at least raise the pay for those we deem at this time to be essential workers. Some experts have even suggested that a universal income would equal out the financial playing field at this time.
On a personal level, educate yourself, thank those who deserve it. Donate what you can to food banks and charities like Turn2Us and other charities that help people in times of hardship. This way, people will be able to stay home safely knowing there is a fallback if they need it, no matter what their income is.
Anyone Experiencing domestic abuse can ring 0808 2000 247.
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