How Coronavirus Has Exposed Class Inequality In The UK

Photographed by Serena Brown
Near where I live in east London there’s an Italian restaurant. A takeaway pasta will set you back around £12 plus delivery which, when you think about it, is expensive given that the average bag of dried pasta costs less than £2. During the early days of lockdown I would walk past this restaurant every evening. In the strange twilight of late March the streets were almost entirely empty, with the exception of the Deliveroo and UberEats riders waiting outside to pick up orders. 
Coronavirus exposed the fragile lines along which we are at once united and divided: one person’s wellbeing depends on the behaviour of another, one person’s gig economy income depends on someone else’s spending abilities. More than this, though, the pandemic which will define 2020 forever has put pressure on the entrenched fault lines of class which run throughout British society. It has made clear the groups of people who do things so that others don't have to.

Britain's class divide is nothing new but COVID-19 has made it impossible to ignore how it is shaped by gender and race.

The crowd of delivery riders outside that restaurant was a perfect microcosm of this: those on low incomes getting close together so that they could keep earning money while those wealthier than them could stay home, stay safe, practise social distancing and eat takeaways from their favourite restaurants. 
This story was repeated all over the country and it’s everything you need to know about class in the UK today. We already know that Black, Asian and people from ethnic minority groups are more at risk of dying from COVID-19 than white people. This isn’t because the virus is classist, it’s because Britain is.
It’s worth pointing out at this point that not all of those riders crowded outside the Italian restaurant were men. When we talk about class, we so rarely unpack it in terms of gender. And if we seldom analyse class along gender lines, we look at how it intersects with race even less.
Now is a good time to start because we know that coronavirus has particularly impacted not only women on low incomes but women on low incomes from minority groups. 
The Fawcett Society and the Women’s Budget Group have done the research and found that coronavirus has particularly impacted Black, Asian and women from other ethnic minority groups more than white women in terms of their finances, their mental health and, of course, their physical health. 
Women from these groups have reported higher levels of anxiety about having to go to work during the pandemic. They were also three times as likely as white women to report that they had recently lost support from the government (42.5% to 12.7%). 
More than this, Black, Asian and women from ethnic minority groups were more likely to believe they would end up in debt as a result of the pandemic and worried about how they would pay their rent or mortgage. 

Black, Asian and women from ethnic minority groups were also three times as likely as white women (42.5% to 12.7%) to report that they had recently lost support from the government. 

Fawcett society and women's budget group
On top of that, they were the most likely groups to report that they were struggling with balancing paid work and childcare as well as other household tasks like cleaning and going to the shops. White men were the least likely group to report that they were struggling. 
None of this should come as a surprise. As we were all confined to our homes it became clear that not everyone, in particular women, had a safe home in which to isolate, let alone kick back and relax. 
Similarly, women were twice as likely as men to be employed in precarious frontline work. This included working as supermarket staff who have previously been almost overlooked entirely, becoming key workers or doing care work, for which they are paid little and blithely dismissed as ‘low skilled’ by politicians.
Britain’s class divide is nothing new but COVID-19 has made it impossible to ignore how it is shaped by both gender and race. The irony is that those who are valued the least by society have finally been acknowledged as the very people who keep it going. We have clapped for them, maybe we finally thanked them as they scanned our weekly shop instead of staring into our phone or realised the extent to which they do things so we don’t have to. But did anyone really acknowledge how much danger they were in? 
It may have mostly been men calling the shots from behind a podium at the daily news briefing but it was low income women from minority groups who were bearing the brunt of the pandemic – physically, emotionally and financially.
COVID-19 may or may not be dying down but Britain's crisis of class and structural inequality isn't going anywhere.
We keep hearing that this pandemic has changed everything. But as lockdown lifted, social media was awash with people sneering at anyone queuing outside stores such as Primark, waiting for them to reopen. Yes, Primark is a purveyor of fast fashion but it's also one of the few places where you can buy affordable children's clothes and basics. Once again, this exposed Britain's class blind spot. We were prepared to clap for key workers from the safety of our own doorsteps and driveways but not able to make the connection that they might also be the people in those queues.
So as we move forward in a post-coronavirus world, with conversations about race and inequality at the forefront of people’s minds, let’s not forget the women who put themselves in danger to do vital and undervalued work so that others – like you – could stay safe and retain their home comforts.
Claps were, after all, never a substitute for financial security, sick pay, affordable childcare or decent housing. 
The World Health Organization says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.

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