For some people, the thing to do in a global health crisis is to charter your private jet to your holiday home. Those less flush can mainline vitamins C, B12 and citrulline for £350, or (as Idris Elba likely did) buy a Covid-19 testing kit for £375. Failing that, you could head to the second-hand buying platform Depop, where hand sanitiser is going for £50 a pop.
While eye-rolling at the consumerism of the wealthy is nothing new, coronavirus has made the vulgar seem sinister.
From early zero-hours contract workers forced to apply for benefits, to the greedy stockpiling of those who could afford to monopolise supplies, from the difficulty of social isolation for house-sharers to the financial incentives being used in the search for a vaccine, coronavirus has brought health inequality into sharp focus.
Those of us who have reported on the inequality of the health system understand just how certain groups are disenfranchised: black people, almost five times likelier to be detained under the Mental Health Act; the LGBT community, 14 per cent of which, according to Stonewall, avoids seeking healthcare for fear of discrimination; those living in poverty line, who miss doctor’s appointments because of work commitments.
Yet anyone who thinks they can pay their way out of a pandemic is misguided, to say the least. This isn’t to say that wealth doesn’t confer an advantage – of being able to test early, to quarantine luxuriously. Being rich will always improve your health outcomes, whatever your illness. But unlike other types of illness, infectious ones rely on everyone having good healthcare – if the poorest in society aren’t protected, nor are the richest, fully.
Given this, it’s essential we start thinking about coronavirus communally. One way of doing this might be to ease the strain on the NHS using technology, including apps such as Brightsky, which aims to provide remote support for those suffering from domestic abuse; Spareable, which helps you support local food banks by purchasing food they actually need or volunteering when they need help; Nextdoor, an app that helps you build supportive networks with your neighbours. You might also like to join mutual aid groups which are seeking to support those at higher risk.
Seeking out and using creative systems are a reminder that what we can do on micro-levels will have impact on people’s health at large when we find the response from government lacking. It is depressing that for some, it has taken the horror of a global pandemic and a 24-news cycle to realise that actions have consequences, and ultimately, whether you like it or not, how we treat those who are most vulnerable will always have knock-on effects for everyone. This is not to let the government off the hook and make the case for the individual-as-problem-solver, of course it is crucial to continue to apply pressure on government ministers such as work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey to increase sick pay, or housing secretary Robert Jenrick to freeze rent payments. While it is not up to individuals to fix the structural problems of a government – who feel more dangerous every day – it can be of some comfort to participate in what activism we can.
For now, in terms of grassroots activism – while the usual application of party politics pressure should remain – there are small actions making themselves known, from campaigns that call for the requisition of private beds to help the NHS, to joining Twitter accounts like NHS Million, an unofficial NHS campaign run by staff to boost their appreciation; pin badges that donate to NHS charities, steering group-led campaign Keep our NHS Public that advocate against racism, are all worthy of support. Alongside these campaigns though, the government must recognise the devastating knock-on effect that a lack of clarity will have on a nation in austerity. At present, communication from leadership is unclear which actively harms businesses, precarious workers, and the public at large. Misinformation thrives in a culture where leadership do not provide clarity; we have seen the fear and confusion in the last few days regarding pregnant women, the cancellation of routine hospital appointments, and the 300 million people that use the NHS for GP appointments alone, each year.
It’s not a new message, but an increasingly urgent one. For now, paying through the nose for private tests or indeed for hand sanitiser may seem sensible, but it isn’t a long-term solution. It’s an egregious myth that props up inequality in the UK: that wealth alone will save you. Infectious diseases like coronavirus require a communal approach to healthcare and our economy, because if we aren’t all protected, none of us truly are.
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