Inequality kills

Submitted by AWL on 21 April, 2020 - 9:19 Author: Editorial
Inequality kills

This virus threatens the worse-off much more than the rich. Neither the scientists nor we know exactly how to combat the virus in general terms, but we do know what can and must be done to shield the worse-off.

In some countries, the first cases of Covid-19 were among better-off people who’d travelled as tourists to early-affected countries. But everywhere, as the pandemic proceeds, the worst-off are hit hardest.

The virus hits elderly people, or those with other health problems, much more than the young and otherwise healthy, and men somewhat more than women. But rich elderly men are doing ok. None of the deaths so far are of top capitalists.

Even if they’re retired, they are well cared for, and they can shelter in big houses in uncrowded areas.

Those hit hardest are the elderly poor, often with other health problems, living in crowded care homes or in crowded housing, or living on their own with little help except from care workers on low wages and unprovided with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

African-Americans are dying disproportionately in the USA. Somalis are dying disproportionately in Sweden. Black and ethnic minority people, including black and ethnic minority health workers, are dying disproportionately in Britain.

Much about the different trajectories of the disease in different countries is unclear, and may come to look different over time.

But the Gini coefficient is the most-used single-figure measure of a country’s income inequality. And, so far at least, countries with lower Gini — Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden — are doing better than the countries with higher Gini — Italy, Spain, UK, USA.

Italy is one of the countries hardest-hit by the virus: it also has the most crowded housing of all the big countries of Western Europe. Britain has the highest homeless-on-the-streets rate in Western Europe, and is doing badly in the pandemic.

Again, countries where workers have better sick-pay conditions, and so take time off work more often when they’re sick (like Germany: average 18.3 sick days per worker per year) are doing better than Britain (4.4: the lowest in Europe after Ukraine, Malta, and Switzerland).

The labour movement can make a difference.

We can fight for — and have won, in a number of places — full isolation pay for all, including agency and zero-hours workers.

We can fight for — and have won here and there — workers’ control over safe working conditions and PPE where needed in all essential industries and services.

We can organise pressure on the government to requisition industry to produce PPE, tests, and ventilators, rather than haggling with private firms doubtful whether it’ll prove profitable to convert their production lines.

And to requisition (rather than ineptly negotiate for) hotels and similar accommodation as safe housing for the homeless and for domestic violence victims.

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