Covid ‘Roadmap’ punishes the poor, say independent scientists

Independent SAGE members have called for financial support for those self-isolating and legally enforceable workplace protection.

26 Feb 2021| News

Boris Johnson’s ‘Roadmap’ out of the Covid-19 lockdown, announced at the beginning of this week, is designed in such a way that it punishes the least advantaged in society, a new report says.

Independent SAGE’s latest analysis – Strategy for COVID-19: Maximum Suppression or Mere Containment? – notes that “Covid is becoming a disease of disadvantage” because of the inequalities that the pandemic has both exposed and widened.

People who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or belong to an ethnic minority are at higher risk of infection due to the increased likelihood of them living in dense housing conditions and working in roles that bring them into contact with other people.

However, Independent SAGE noted that “there is no mention of the word ‘inequality’ in the 68 pages of the ‘Covid-19 Response Spring 2021’ document”.

The scientists also highlighted a lack of “practical resourcing or financial measures to overcome this disadvantage”, such as better support for those who have to self-isolate, adequate enforcement of Covid-19 rules in workplaces, investment in improving vaccine uptake, and additional resources for public services in those areas locked down for longest.

Speaking to the Independent, Professor Deenan Pillay – a member of Independent Sage who workers at the University College London – said: “With regard to this moving towards becoming a disease of poverty, previous example such as TB which depend on factors including overcrowding and poor nutrition provide models for what Covid could [be] like in future unless issues associated with deprivation are comprehensively addressed.”

Doctor Zubaida Haque, who also sits on Independent SAGE, added: “At every turn the government’s strategy, or lack thereof, throughout this pandemic has failed to protect the most disadvantaged in society and sadly this Roadmap will only exacerbate the problem … we are disappointed with the wholly inadequate funding for supported self isolation.

“The absence of mitigation measures to ensure Covid-safe environments in work, schools and public places and insufficient extra resourcces for the most deprived areas will of course, continue Covid’s journey towards being a disease of poverty. We need a virus-suppression strategy which bring cases down and keeps them down. But we also need a strategy which leaves no one behind.”

As well as making if financially viable for low income workers to self-isolate, the scientists also recommend that an effective workplace health and safety regime must be made legally enforceable.

Another study published this week suggests that improving the support people who are self-isolating receive will be popular with the government’s own voters, with a survey by the RSA revealing that 76% of all voters, including 74% of those who vote for the Conservative Party, are in favour of providing sick leave on full pay for those self-isolating with Covid-19.