Covid recovery plan must address social and economic resilience gap for those in poverty

The social and mental health challenges facing many of us, and in particular the most vulnerable in society, must be addressed as we build the road to recovery.

A commentary for the Social Metrics Commission programme by Baroness Philippa Stroud

Published 7 Aug 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is causing significant health, economic, and social damage across the UK. But not everybody is being impacted in the same way or to the same extent. While some are facing financial hardship as a result of reduced hours or losing their job, others are fortunate enough to be able to continue working but may be struggling with mental health challenges or difficult family situations that have been exacerbated by lockdown.

A new report from the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) shows that the crisis is hitting those already living below the poverty line hardest and exacerbating the resilience gap between those living in and out of poverty.

Based on analysis of YouGov survey data from around 80,000 people, the report does contain some positive news – more people think Covid has brought society together than believe it has divided it, and overall people feel more positive about others now than they did before the pandemic. This is perhaps why less than a quarter of Brits say they feel fearful about their future compared to two thirds who think they’ll be ok.

This is encouraging, because strong families and communities are the cornerstones of society and will be vital to the future prosperity of our country as we emerge from the pandemic. However, it makes it all the more concerning, although perhaps not surprising, that this positivity and strong social capital is less common among those living in poverty.

Compared to those living above the poverty line, those in poverty are less likely to believe the crisis has unified society, less likely to feel positive about others, and less likely to say they think they’ll be ok in the future. They are also more likely to report being lonely before lockdown and feeling even more lonely now as a result of the crisis.

These findings are a cause for concern, and demonstrate the importance of recognising the social and mental health challenges facing many of us, and in particular the most vulnerable in society, which must be addressed as we build the road to recovery.

But, of course, the pandemic is also having a significant economic impact, and that is also hitting those in poverty hardest. The SMC report shows that those who were employed but living in deep poverty (that is, more than 50% below the poverty line) before the crisis are twice as likely to have been furloughed, had their hours or wages reduced, or lost their job than those living more than 20% above the poverty line.

In addition, groups already over-represented amongst the population in poverty, including disabled people and those from Black and Asian ethnicities, are more likely to have experienced a negative employment outcome than their non-disabled or White peers.

The effect of the coronavirus pandemic on individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole will be complex and uneven. Understanding, measuring, and documenting the impact will be vital to enable the Government to develop and implement a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy to ensure that the recovery balances up and benefits everyone across the UK.

But the SMC’s findings indicate that, even with the significant support provided by the Government, there could be a significant increase in the number of people in poverty and the severity of that poverty. We must all do everything we can to avoid this outcome. Policymakers, business leaders, researchers, community builders and those in poverty all have a part to play. By working together, we can ensure that poverty is less of an issue in the UK after the coronavirus crisis than it was before, and that as many people as possible can enjoy a life free of poverty.