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Can the pandemic & recession reduce our complacency about poverty and health?

Hearing the number 131,000 deaths, you may well think it’s the newest sad milestone in the Covid pandemic. But in our latest Global Health Lecture Series talk, Professor Danny Dorling discussed the shocking fact that this vast number of lives lost was in fact a direct result of the government’s policy on austerity.


Prof Dorling is an expert on social inequality and its impact on health, and in his talk guided us through how class and poverty have been key factors not only in deaths in epidemics of disease from cholera in the Victorian Era, to the coronavirus pandemic today, but also on life expectancy in a population. Mortality rates in the UK had been falling consistently for decades before 2012, when austerity policies came into place, leading to cuts in welfare and social services. A key point raised by Prof Dorling was that the most vulnerable to such cuts, and those whose health was most directly impacted, were frail, elderly women, who are more likely to live alone and rely on government-funded social care. The minimal response to such disturbing figures must be compared to that to deaths from COVID, where deaths had a similar age distribution. We can however see the key difference - not just the short time in which Covid-related deaths took place, but in that, at least initially, the richest in society felt just as threatened.


A lively Q&A session followed the talk, with Prof Dorling giving fascinating insight into failures of the government’s pandemic response, future NHS reforms, and the politicisation of the vaccination programme in relation to Brexit. As the talk drew to a close, all of us attending were left with a strong feeling that the ‘normal’ we want to return to after the pandemic must not be the same ‘normal’, plagued with social inequality, as preceded it.


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