Opinion: Covid has compounded disadvantages

Cllr Liz Morris is not surprised that Covid has hightlighted social differences.

Cllr Liz Morris is not surprised that Covid has hightlighted social differences. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Many of the impacts of Covid-19 have been surprising or even shocking. However, with hindsight, it was grimly predictable that it would compound existing disadvantages.

Affluence does not grant immunity but it does reduce the peril. A professional job generally means being able to work from the safety of home. Being locked-down is much easier in a house with a garden than a flat without one.

Even our breathing is affected by economic inequality: air pollution both tends to be worse in areas with more deprivation and makes cases of Covid-19 more severe.

The virus is also reinforcing racial injustices: being from an ethnic minority makes you both more likely to catch the disease and to die if you do. Whilst, much of the difference between White and non-White death tolls is down to differing levels of deprivation, even when researchers compare people in similar financial situations from different ethnicities, Covid-19 still affects Black and Asian people worse.

Most alarmingly, the ways this crisis has worsened inequalities will not be eliminated when the virus itself is. Kids will have lost many months of education and little prospect of a full return to school in September. Digital learning helps, but not for everyone. 40 per cent of pupils in England are not in regular contact with their teachers, and 70pc are getting no more than one online lesson per day.

To further complicate matters, the medical conditions which force entire households to “shield” are more common amongst both those living in deprivation and members of minority ethnic groups, meaning they will likely be among the last to return. None of this will be easy to put right, but doing so is a moral necessity.

I commend Marcus Rashford for his successful campaign. Following the government’s U-turn, 1.3 million children in England will now be able to claim free school meal vouchers in the summer holidays. I say let’s make this emergency measure permanent. We have a way of getting food to children in poverty, even when they’re not in school, so let’s do that every holiday.

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We also need to plug the gaps in learning which many children will now have – especially those from homes without broadband or whose parents have not had the time or education themselves to help with schooling. Schools will need to provide target mentoring and tuition. If schools need more teachers to deliver this, then the government should encourage people who have recently left the profession to return and fund more places on teacher training courses – the latter step would also mitigate the coming surge of graduate unemployment.

These issues will be especially important in Haringey. We are blessed with a splendid education system. Ofsted rates 99pc of our schools as Good or Outstanding. However, they are not equally good for everyone. We already have the largest disparity in exam results between white and BAME pupils of anywhere in the country. Inevitably, this crisis will have widened it further. In response, our determination to address this injustice must increase as well.

This will be the last of my regular columns as I am standing down as Leader of Haringey’s Lib Dem councillors due to family reasons. It has been a pleasure to share my experiences with you.