The coronavirus doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. In March 2020, Madonna (whose net worth has been estimated at over half-a-billion dollars) infamously labelled COVID-19 the “great equaliser” in a bizarre video filmed while she was submerged in a bath of rose petals. The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has used the same term. Are they right? Or is the pandemic hitting the poorest hardest?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Miguel, arguing that the coronavirus pandemic is “not about rich or poor” and that we should “stop talking about money” and instead speak about lives.
To get a response, we put Miguel’s comment to Raj Patel, academic, film-maker, and best-selling author of books including The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy and A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet. What would he say?
For another perspective, we also put Miguel’s comment to Leo Williams, Director of the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN), a network of European anti-poverty NGOs, grassroot groups and organisations active in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. What would he say?
Well, for the European Anti-Poverty Network it’s really clear that the crisis does affect everyone. But we do know, at the same time, that it hits the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest…
Our members give us some very clear examples of this. We have FEANTSA, for example, which is the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless. They give very, very clear examples of the impact that COVID has on homeless people; if you’re homeless, for example, it’s just impossible to follow confinement rules because you don’t have a house, so you’re obviously more likely to be impacted by the illness than those of us who live in houses. They also face particular difficulties of having public homeless shelters being closed down, closed public services – such as toilets and soup kitchens, etc. – but also being fined by police for being on the streets during the crisis as well, which obviously they find it very difficult not to be, not having somewhere to call their own.
We can look at asylum seekers as well. So, for example, we hear a lot from our colleagues in our national network in Greece and our European member PICUM, the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, who talk about camps of 20,000 asylum seekers on Greek islands who are obviously particularly vulnerable to the pandemic at the moment because the hygiene situation is so precarious…
And our member in Lithuania, for example, has told us about those in precarious jobs in Lithuania (though this is seen throughout Europe; we’re seeing millions of people throughout Europe simply losing their jobs). And our colleagues [in Lithuania] are particularly worried about this because minimum income support in Lithuania, for example, is only 100 euros a month, so people simply cannot survive on that kind of money.
So, for EAPN, it’s hard to think about not talking about money, because poor households simply have fewer resources and fewer options for coping with the crisis. So, it’s really necessary to keep talking about income. Because if you’re already struggling to make ends meet at the end of the month, where’s the capacity to manage these extraordinary expenses in this time, for extra care, for household support, for extra meals, or to compensate for school meals which aren’t available?
For us, it’s crucial to keep talking about money, and it’s impossible not to during this time of the crisis because it really is a crisis which highlights the class divide, and it really is hitting the poorest hardest.
Is the COVID-19 crisis hitting the poorest hardest? Or should we stop talking about “rich and poor” during the pandemic? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!