Coronavirus and poverty: Poverty Alliance response

March 20, 2020

Times of crisis hold a mirror up to our society. In the last fortnight we have seen that our sense of compassion is alive and well as people rush to volunteer, donate, and protect neighbours and loved ones. Our country is a compassionate one; we care about each other and want to protect each other from harm.
But the crisis has also shone a harsh light on some fundamental flaws in the fabric of our society; labour market regulations that do not protect workers and a social security system that pulls people into poverty. We have collectively failed to protect our social safety net.
In the coming months, there is a very high risk that many more people will be swept into poverty. We must focus efforts on the groups who are most at risk to the health impacts of the coronavirus, and we must also recognise the very real and disproportionate impact that will be felt by people on low incomes.
Workers in some sectors such as hospitality and retail face the prospect of unemployment as their employers struggle to survive, whilst those in precarious work are likely to see their income collapse completely. People who remain in work and are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay while they are forced to self-isolate will have to survive on a paltry £94.25 a week. If schools close, families reliant on free school meals may struggle to stay afloat. But we can take action to ensure that people on low incomes can keep their heads above water.
Some welcome measures have been introduced to address aspects of these challenges, but far more is needed.
We are already engaging with Poverty Alliance members to identify the steps that should be taken – by all levels of government as well as by civil society – to respond to this unfolding crisis. But we also need an immediate short-term response.

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