A key challenge present before, but exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, is high levels of inequality within UK society.
Prior to the pandemic, inequality was largely viewed through a simplistic regional-economic lens, but now we see social, educational, age, health and even technological inequalities at the forefront of the national discourse. For example, free school meals and access to education have been high-profile topics during the pandemic. A recent IFS report found that 55% of inner-London children go on to attend university, versus 37% in the South West. At the same time, a recent Department for Education report found that 48% of children in inner-London received free school meals, versus 18% in the South West. The pandemic is driving some of this complexity, but appreciation of the problem has never been greater as a consequence.
In August 2020, The Lancet (which now even has a ‚’Digital Health‚’ publication) reported that there was a growing link between ‚’technological exclusion‚’ and health inequality, as patients reluctant to attend hospital buildings for fear of contracting COVID-19 could access outpatient consultations online, but only if they had access to a computer and the internet, and the wherewithal to use it. Similar problems have been evident with schoolchildren‚’s access to online-educational material during the pandemic.
The pandemic has increased the interdependency, scale, and crucially, awareness of inequalities in the UK. Past initiatives to address inequality have had little impact because of a lack of scale, sustained action and too much reliance on an economic view of the problem. The pandemic has created new political capital to tackle inequality, and has highlighted new potential solutions (such as leveraging technological advances). Consequently, whilst the challenges are growing, there is more opportunity than ever for policymakers to find and action the right solutions.