How the COVID-19 pandemic is also a class-based issue

Working classes, as well as students dependent on part-time jobs, will be plunged into poverty

I recently overheard a fretting mother whose son only has five days’ sick-leave a year asking: “How will he go into self-isolation when he can’t afford to? And who will he give the virus to when he doesn’t?”

The government advice to stay at home as much as possible favours the middle and upper classes. Many people within these social groups will have ‘white collar’ office-related jobs that can be done remotely, such as banking or law, whereas those in the typically lower classes, such as road-workers, cleaners, or bus drivers cannot do their job remotely and will now be at the mercy of the government’s funding in order to survive the ‘lockdown’ Britain will inevitably soon face.

The potentially greater loss of life among this class group is likely to massively impact the economy; if lower tier workers are unable to work due to illness or recovering from emotional trauma, the country will simply not function as it used to. For example, if there are no bus drivers then manual workers will be unable to commute to jobs, no matter how healthy they are, leaving them unable to earn. This could potentially plunge them into poverty if the government is unable to help them, while those with higher social status can still carry on as normal, working from home.

According to BBC News, the number of people on the London underground has decreased by 19% compared to this time last year, as those who are able to work remotely are staying at home. For those who cannot, most would feel obligated to take public transport in order to reach their job and earn a living. This social contact would significantly increase their risk of contracting the virus and passing it on to vulnerable family members. At the peak of the pandemic, those who can afford private healthcare will likely be able to avoid the overcrowding of the NHS.

There may also be an increase in homelessness as a result of this economic change if people are unable to work and pay rent, leading those who are seriously financially struggling to lose any stability they once had. This is especially pertinent for those in retail jobs or jobs in restaurants or cafés, which are currently shutting down to try to help prevent the virus from spreading. An increase in homelessness is also likely to lead to an increase in strain on the health service. Needless to say, this knock-on effect will destabilise the entire country.

Students from lower economic backgrounds will also suffer more if money is being rapidly lost from their household income, particularly those that rely on part-time jobs alongside their studies. In the case of international students, some may not even be able to afford last-minute flights home if prices become inflated in the rush to get home, forcing them to be separated from their family indefinitely.

Everyone will be affected in different ways as a result of the pandemic – for some, it means potentially staying at home in your pyjamas watching Netflix and Skyping your friends for four months. For others, it means a greater risk to health, and a higher chance of family members dying and descending into poverty. I would urge everyone who is in a more fortunate position to consider helping those who face terrifying prospects in any way possible, and to be aware of the long-term consequences of the crisis the country is currently experiencing.

Although Chancellor Rishi Sunak has published a budget including a £30 billion package to boost the economy and get the country through the outbreak – while more than £200 million to help small business during the pandemic in Wales has been announced – the social and economic consequences of this pandemic may go further than what we currently anticipate.

Featured photo: SWNS stock image