Neutral policies are not fair policies
The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated a number of inequities that require urgent addressing, both in the post-COVID recovery packages and, most importantly, in the structural changes that come after Corona.
The focus of this collection is on reorienting macro-financial policies towards resilience, sustainability, and democracy. But as recent events have made clear: no justice, no peace. In the long- and not-so-long run, therefore, only a just society can be resilient, sustainable, and democratic. Before turning to particular proposals, we therefore want to highlight that neutral policies after Corona are not fair policies.
First, the wealth gap is widening in the US due to the coronavirus pandemic. Given its asymmetric impact across sectors and classes, the current recession could wipe out ten years of progress in wealth and income inequality, according to Brookings. This is not based on projections alone: while between March and May 30 mio. US Americans filed for unemployment, the S&P 500 increased by 23%. These stock market gains add to the 1,130% of increases of U.S. billionaire wealth from 1990 to 2020. While data for Europe cannot conclusively be assessed yet, a similar pattern looks likely to hold.
Second, COVID-19 disproportionately affects people of color. Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at the Yale School of Medicine, highlights pre-pandemic intersectional and structural inequalities that increase ethnic minority infection rates and mortality. Once again, the situation in Europe is difficult to assess at this time and may vary from place to place, but in Europe, too, ethnic minorities appear to be disproportionately hit.
Third, Corona has reinforced gender inequality. Lockdowns have pushed women back into traditional roles at home, with more women than men shouldering the additional burdens of homeschooling, cooking, and caring. Domestic violence, disproportionately affecting women and girls, has increased globally, with the UN Population Fund projecting a 20% increase in violence for each three months of lockdown in all 193 UN member states.
Fourth, COVID-19 has a heavy impact on children. The heightened stress and proximity of lockdowns has likely led to a rise in violence against children. However, because authorities fail to provide adequate data — reinforcing the importance of building state capacity, one of the key messages of this collection — the severity of this trend cannot be assessed yet. Further, nearly 1.2 bio. schoolchildren are affected by school closures, bringing separation from peer groups and lags in learning. UNICEF warns that pre-existing inequalities in access to tools and technology may deepen the global learning crisis for the most disadvantaged in particular.
Fifth, the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic vary strongly by geography, partly because travel patterns, density, and climate conditions vary by geography, and partly because state capacity — capable of dramatically lowering infection and death rates — varies too. In addition, travel bans prevent those caught in disproportionately affected or weak regions or states from leaving, while migrants face increasingly long processing times with reception conditions worsening in refugee centres.
These examples give but a highly incomplete sketch of the unequal impact of COVID-19, in particular because they treat as separate dimensions and features that often overlap and intersect: women from ethnic minorities, or children who are also migrants, are likely to be hit even harder than women or children in general. However, what the examples make clear is that a class-, race-, gender-, age-, or place-blind approach cannot do justice in the wake of this pandemic. After Corona, neutral policies are not fair policies — just as they were not before.
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