How do we bring to life the inequalities we can’t see in lockdown?

6 min readMay 2, 2020

I want you to imagine what that feels like — to not be able to provide in the most basic of ways for your kids, when you want the very best for them

Sophia Parker’s story about working with families that are in crisis with trying to cope with the constraints of Covid 19 is a shocking reminder that as we try and cope with the shocks of Covid 19 and what a “new normal” could look like, we can forget that we haven’t all faced the virus and it’s implications equally, and we won’t face it’s deeper implications equally either.

Many of the most structural inequalities are invisible to the majority of us, the causes are embedded into who we are as a society and many people who suffer from these inequalities are living on the edge avoiding to fall of the cliff, from people who sofa surf to people with chronic conditions. Covid 19 will have created various new inequalities from the medical & economic impacts, it will also have exacerbated existing ones.

Inequalities leave people exposed to any wider factors, be it an economic downturn, radical changes in how we live and work, and any health epidemics. With Covid 19, all of these factors are occurring at once. While medically the virus may affect more seriously people with underlying health conditions, the wider implications of the virus will impact people who suffer from pre-existing inequalities, as well as people at risk of those.

If the lockdown measures may have had beneficial impacts on reducing the infection rate of Covid 19, the social & economic impacts have varied significantly depending on different factors:

  • Pre-existing health conditions in how at risk they are of more serious impacts of the virus
  • Work status, depending on how much their organisation or sector has suffered economically, as well as how much at risk their role puts them of contagion from the virus
  • Level of income to cushion any economic impacts the crisis has had and adapt to new constraints, such as having broadband access to work or learn remotely
  • Living situation, as to how well they are able to social distance while still getting exercise or even their ability to self-isolate if they are living in overcrowded accommodation

As we live under lockdown, many of us may feel this is an opportunity for a slowdown, but we don’t see how quickly the impacts are being felt by others, who are losing their jobs, seeing their debt go up or abusive relationships become even more violent. As Manni Hothi from Trust for London outlines the current state of poverty of the capital needs to provide a baseline from which we measure our impact on tackling the inequalities that Covid 19 has created or accelerated. Especially, as people living in more deprived areas are dying at twice the rate of those in wealthier parts of England

1. Make visible the unseen inequalities in lockdown to bring to life the different worlds we live in

In a pandemic you’re only as safe as the most vulnerable. There’s a disconnect between people connecting in new ways online with their families and friends and people losing their loved ones. There’s a disconnect between people finding new ways to get fresh and organic food because they don’t want to queue at the supermarkets and others who can’t afford to eat because they’ve lost their job or because they’re too ill to get out. There’s a disconnect between people who’ve got employers who are understanding, can flex to the situation can can pay people sick pay so they don’t need to get into work sick and infecting people and people on zero hours contracts who don’t find themselves supported in any of the government’s support plans. There’s a disconnect between people who are getting their pay furloughed and people who don’t have a job to be compensated for. There’s a disconnect between people who live in a house which they own and have a garden they can catch some sunshine in and people who don’t have a garden or green space and people who who cannot afford to pay the rent and whose landlords are threatening to kick them out. There’s a disconnect between people who’ve got networks of support who can check in how they are and even drop food & medicines next to their neighbours and others who are on their own suffering physically and psychologically.

How can we make visible the unseen inequalities in lockdown to bring to life the different worlds we live in? What can we learn from methods like @britainthinks Coronavirus Diaries or @guardian using diaries or @bbc tracking the experiences of frontline workers or @statoflife creating a tracker to see how Covid 19 has affected people.

2. Anticipate future shocks and delayed demand

There are also shocks which add onto pre-existing inequalities. People who are in jobs which are already at risk of getting automated. There will be skills which will be in greater demand, like manual jobs in food production, distribution, delivery and even construction, but also digital skills to help organisations work remotely.

We know that Covid 19 will impact significant population groups, it will impact some more than others, and some impacts are currently being experienced (i.e. food poverty) but some might only appear over time (i.e. domino effect of furloughed staff losing jobs, getting into debt and becoming at risk of homelessness).

There are further behavioural and social influences that could affect these groups. For example, how things such as the stigmatisation of certain groups, mistrust and erosion of confidence, breakdown of social connections, or the widening of the economic or educational attainment divide will run alongside, and potentially exacerbate, outcomes for cohesion and equality within groups mentioned above.

We also need to identify groups that institutions are not currently serving or reaching such as within communities where need isn’t serviced. This will likely require engagement with existing community groups, and to identify areas where we can provide assistance.

3. Helping people share their lived experience to create a shared story and a platform for solidarity

We need to understand & share the lived experiences of people to help public services & communities to understand the impacts of the situation on people and shape a collective story about what our society in all its diversity is going through and how we build on the solidarity that has emerged in the emergency to a new social and economic contract for the long term. We need to move from a Blitz moment to a Beveridge moment.

The penny has dropped that wellbeing isn’t individual but social. We are not actually independent at all, but dependent. We can make each other sick and we can try to make each other well.

How are people helping others shared their lived experience to create a shared story and platform for solidarity? What can we learn from Systems Changers getting lived experiences from frontline staff or Lankelly Chase bringing together people with lived experience of multiple disadvantage with decision makers.

4. Be open about the impacts of future actions on inequality

We need to be open about the impacts that decisions are having or will have on people who most suffer from inequalities:

What assessments are being made by any changes Government proposes to make to the existing measures on those most affected by inequality?

What do we know about the demographics of people impacted by the coronavirus so that all public institutions can best target resources & respond?

What could be the potential “delayed demand” that could emerge if the Government were to reduce or stop its emergency financial support or flexibilities to individuals directly or to organisations supporting them?

What do we know about the gaps in support that Government has created as a result of people who don’t qualify for the government’s schemes, be it the wage support scheme, mortgage holiday package, statutory sick pay or UC?

We’ll need to use a collective understanding of need to work together across local places to help prioritise how we prevent multi-generational economic impacts on people and families and support the renewal of local economies that put people who are most marginalised at the heart of the new economic and social contract we’ll need to develop.

Walk a mile in the shoes of the people you serve

Discover how people from other backgrounds are solving problems

Help people tell their story in their own way

How can we evidence the impacts of inequality inform and shape future priorities on tackling the impacts of Covid 19?

A few years ago, I helped develop a project where we travelled by caravan across Europe to uncover the unseen inequalities outside of the main capitals and discover the creative ways people were tackling this and reinventing new ways of living, how could we bring to life the strengths & resilience of people suffering from these inequalities to create a platform for innovation?




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese