Are vulnerable groups even more vulnerable in times of COVID-19 pandemic?

Contribution by: Dr Jelena Arsenijvic and Dr Erna Ruijer

Coronapatiënt ©
Coronapatiënt ©

Contribution by: Dr Jelena Arsenijevic and Dr Erna Ruijer for the Gender, Diversity and COVID-19 platform. The platform offers a series of short blogposts in which we invite different Hub members and researchers to share their findings, insights and reading tips on issues of inclusion and exclusion related to the Corona crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demasked some social inequities that are often neglected in developed countries. This requires governments to re-think their social protection policies.

People from low-income households, low-educated people and ethnic minorities are in higher risks of being infected with COVID-19. Some international studies have tried to explain this by comorbidities – for example the high rate of hypertension among Black population, with hypertension being one of the risk factors for COVID-19 (see here, here and here). However, it seems that higher prevalence of COVID-19 among vulnerable groups is not only matter of comorbidities but also of social protection policy. People from vulnerable groups often have jobs that cannot be done from home. Moreover, their jobs often imply direct physical contact with others (nurses, shop assistants, bus drivers). Recent reports in the Dutch newspapers show that the majority of IC hospitalized persons in hospitals in Randstand area, the Netherlands, have a migrant non-western background and do not speak Dutch fluently (see here, here and here).   

Educational inequities

COVID-19 has also exposed educational inequities. During the pandemic, most of the educational activities were done online. For some children, with for example a migrant background or with parents with a low-income, having a good internet connection at home and having their own digital tools (i.e. a tablet), are a luxury. In some parts of Amsterdam, local municipality and schools were able to provide computers and tablets for their students in order to decrease the digital divide.

The increasing social gap

Some undertaken government measures during the pandemic helped disadvantaged groups. In the US for example, unemployment benefits were topped up, which resulted in families living under the poverty line receiving in average 600 dollars per week during the first months of the pandemic. For some of the families, this was much more than what they earned in regular times, buoying millions of families above the official poverty line. In the Netherlands, directors from CPB, PBL and SCP in a recent appeal (see here and here) asked the Dutch government to protect vulnerable groups and the pay attention to the increasing social gap. It indicates that governments should reflect on their current social protection policies and analyze whether additional social protection policies are necessary for vulnerable groups in light of the COVID-19 crisis.