Expert says Covid pandemic has led to mental health crisis in Britain
Britain’s welfare system is damaging the health of the country’s poor and needs to be overhauled in the wake of the Covid pandemic, the UK’s leading expert on health inequalities has warned.
Michael Marmot said increasing unemployment benefits and support for low-paid workers as the country emerged from the pandemic could help curb a mental health crisis and even save lives.
Marmot said in an interview with the Observer that British ministers should not “fiddle around the edges”, and instead should drastically reform the “uncaring” system in place.
“During the pandemic, we have seen that poor people got poorer,” he said. “We know that food insecurity went up. The likelihood of being in a shut-down sector increased the lower the income. So you’re either in a sector that was shut down, if you were low income, or you had to go out to work in an unsafe sector, or frontline occupation. Where we were in February 2020 was undesirable – and what happened with a pandemic is it made those inequalities worse."
“I have seen evidence that for some people in receipt of universal credit, there are mental health consequences. It is a brutalising system. Everyone should have at least the minimum income necessary for a healthy life. That means, ideally, all people of working age should be in work. That’s the desirable state.”
There is mounting evidence that the pandemic is leaving behind increased poverty, hitting the poorest and those in low-paid work. The number of British households plunged into destitution more than doubled last year, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
Meanwhile, there is also evidence that Covid infection rates in some cities have been highest among the working poor. A Sheffield council report suggested people in low-paid jobs who could not afford to self-isolate had been hit hardest
Marmot said that studies had shown that more generous labour market support could even have an impact on suicide rates during economic downturns, suggesting that a rethink “could prevent a great deal of suffering”.