Coronavirus: Why we aren’t all in the same boat

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By Tori Keene, Editor in Chief of GLOBUS

Its tough, but we’re all in the same boat’.

It’s a phrase most of us have probably heard, or even said ourselves at some stage during the current lockdown. To a degree, it is true; as far as we know, nobody is unable to catch covid – we are all at risk of becoming ill with covid-19. Social distancing equally applies to us all, and with the exception on NHS workers, nobody gets the skip the supermarket line or get dibs on the last bag self raising flour. We are all living within the same pandemic, all trying to avoid becoming infected with the same virus.

However, to state the obvious, the size of the boat that we are all in is not uniform. For many in the UK, not leaving home (except for the few permitted reasons) is frustrating but manageable, thanks to living in a large house with garden space to enjoy the weather in, with room inside for privacy or space for quiet work. For others, there is no luxury of private outdoor space or somewhere to be alone. The 700% increase in calls to the UK’s leading domestic abuse charity, Refuge, is evidence that for many people, the place that they are safe from the virus is not safe from verbal and physical violence.  For the 320,000 homeless people in the UK, there is no boat at all.

Then there is the deadliness of the virus. Whilst we are all at risk of catching it, we are not all as likely to become seriously ill. Illness and age are significant, but it has transpired that so is race. In the words of Matt Hancock, UK Health Secretary, people from ethnic minority backgrounds are dying at a ‘disproportionate’ rate from COVID-19. Whilst it is true that statistically, black and Asian populations face a higher risk of diabetes and heart diseases, this is not the full story. Self isolation is critical in protecting oneself from contracting coronavirus, but Just under ⅓ of Bangladeshi households in the UK are overcrowded, and 15% of black African households are too. Only 2% of white households are. Furthermore, it is believed that deprivation also plays a role, and with the exception of Indian group, every other ethnic minority group was more likely to live in the most deprived 10% of British neighbourhoods when compared to White British people. 

Furthermore, the easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK has meant that it is ‘the big, economically valuable sectors’ (such as construction and manufacturing) that are now expected to go back to work and thus face a greater risk of becoming ill – and as Ava-Satina, LBC producer said – this means it’ll overwhelmingly be working class people who find themselves at a greater risk of becoming ill.

Men working in low skilled jobs have already seen the highest death rates of coronavirus in the UK, with those working in the typically poorly paid care sector also statistically more likely to die. This trend now seems likely to continue. On the other hand, those who are the highest paid in the country, such as finance executives, Corporate Mangers and CEOs are unlikely to be seen getting on overcrowded tubes whilst the virus is still spreading. 

According to Scheidel and his book ‘The Great Leveller’, one of the ways inequality can be reduced across the board is through a pandemic. However, that doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment in the UK. Inequality is perhaps more obvious than ever, with no indication it will be reduced by this crisis. However, what coronavirus has done is make crystal clear that low skilled does not equate to low importance – in fact, quite the opposite. In fact, the job that maybe regard as being the lowest skilled going – a binman, or refuse collector, has been one of the many that have been an absolute necessity. Alongside nurses, supermarket workers, doctors, teachers, plumbers and many more, they are what keeps the country running. Every day that they do their essential job and put their job at risk, they find themselves in a very different boat to most of us. As do those who wake up in an overcrowded flat, or with an abusive partner, or who is more at risk due their race. 

We are all weathering the same storm, but we are definitely not all in the same boat. 

Header Image by Adam Nieścioruk

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