Poor people carry the can for the Covid crisis

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Photo credit: Geoff Livingston

So are we, as Boris Johnson claims, ‘all in this together’? When our prime minister contracted coronavirus he was able to quarantine in a flat, have meals brought to his door, before being rushed to hospital when his symptoms got worse. The same options were not available to Kayla Williams, mother of three children, who despite having severe symptoms, was left to die at home.

Certainly, with pregnant black women in the UK being five times more likely to die in childbirth, there is plenty of evidence to prove that the medical complaints of black and brown people are not taken as seriously as those of white people

As the days unfolded, and the UK death toll surged, it became apparent that, like other global crises, things were going to be a lot tougher for ethnic minorities and those with less money. 

The legacy of exploitation that began with slavery in the Industrial Revolution continues and thrives to this day. Perhaps the most publicised disparity in the UK has been the disproportionate number of black and brown people who have lost their lives to coronavirus. 

BAME people also form a disproportionate number of workers on the frontline. Formerly overlooked and generally underpaid, they have kept the country going by running shops, collecting rubbish, caring for the old and vulnerable, driving buses, often on minimum-wage zero-hour contracts. And they are more likely to be exposed to Covid-19.

Many of them have been forced to rely on foodbanks to feed their families. Food shortages suddenly hit home to the rest of the population too, when shoppers discovered empty shelves in their local supermarkets at the start of lockdown. With not enough indigenous workers willing to pick produce, the government flew in migrant workers from Romania to help keep the food chain moving.

In the last month, to little awareness, Britain has seen the passing of an incredibly racist Immigration Bill which includes the prevention of family reunification for refugee minors, foreign nurses having to pay a charge for working in the NHS and a continuation of indefinite detention for people seeking asylum. 

At the beginning of lockdown there were international calls for a united global response to defeating coronavirus, with countries willing to work together in pioneering a vaccine. The last few months have proved that anything is possible; governments can overnight divert billions into a crisis; industries can transition and start manufacturing what is urgently required.

Coronavirus has revealed who in society has the greatest social value and is indispensable. And they are very often paid the least.

Now we have the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learnt in the last few months and to tackle the causes of poverty, and above all climate change. Once again the global poor are on the frontline of a crisis. With the threat to human life on the planet, we really are ‘all in this together’ … except perhaps for the wealthy elite, who if it is to be believed, will be living in space.

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