Apsana Begum: The virus does discriminate

The super-rich can escape into luxury but precarious workers are not so lucky.

Although the coronavirus can affect everyone, it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way.

New briefings from the Institute of Fiscal Studies have revealed that the economic downturn and wider NHS disruption is likely to undermine the health of the most vulnerable.

We know that those with underlying health conditions are most at risk and that people in poorer areas are already more likely to die from avoidable causes given the widely noted links between deprivation, health inequalities and life expectancy.

It is therefore clear that the impact differs depending on class and status.

Put simply: the super- rich can escape into luxury but precarious workers are not so lucky as they are trapped in employment that puts their health at risk.

Whilst many can work from home, those who do manual labour cannot.

Following the deaths of transport workers, unions have highlighted that more action is urgently needed regarding protection measures. Similarly, the Communication Workers Union have estimated half of all sorting offices have insufficient PPE and sanitiser.

Why is it that we are still having to call for assurances that the incomes and safety of all workers will be protected – from postal workers to bus drivers to cleaners to supermarket shelve-stackers?

Low earners are seven times as likely as high earners to work in a business sector that has shut down and are suffering from the shutdown of restaurants, hotels, pubs, retailers and transport services.

Many of my constituents live in incredibly overcrowded households. Grandparents are finding themselves looking after children, making social distancing challenging.

The health impacts of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic will be felt acutely by low-income families – even long after the social distancing measures come to an end.

This is of particular relevance to my constituency, Poplar and Limehouse, which already suffers from the highest child poverty rate in the entire country.

But it is not just a question of class alone: evidence also suggests that ethnic minority communities are at a greater risk.

This is unsurprising given the proportion of workers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds being on the front line of the fight against the virus.

According to a report by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) 13.8% of the critical patients registered in the UK were recorded as “Asian”, 13.6% as “Black” and 6.6%  percent as “Other”.

Further to this, after decades of racist dehumanising policies that deny migrants basic rights, we are seeing how the hostile environment has resulted in many migrants being left destitute and at greater risk of infection. Yet many do not even have automatic access to resources without fear of detention or deportation.

In truth, this intersection between ethnicity and class, frames many of our experiences on a day to day basis.

Years of Conservative-led austerity have had an utterly devastating impact on those on low incomes, ethnic minorities, disabled people and older people – all of whom have been disproportionately disadvantaged by cuts.

So to say the coronavirus does not discriminate is just not true because once again inequality is a matter of life and death.

Apsana Begum is the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse

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