How has Covid-19 Changed our Work and Home Lives?

During the Pandemic our ordinary lives and norms were suspended because of government mandated rules enforcing Lockdowns and other protective measures agains the spread of the virus.

And it is precisely when our ordinary daily lives are disrupted or suspended that social norms are illuminated, and the Pandemic highlighted some of these, such as our reliance on technology (digital platforms) and gender relations within the household.

Furthermore, the social polices developed in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic reproduced already existing inequalities and power relations.

All of this is according to Will Davis, Professor of Political Economy at GoldSmith’s University, who featured in a recent Thinking Allowed Podcast

Davis argues that the Pandemic shows us the power of the Nation State – what it can achieve when there is political will to spend money (and neoliberalism as usual is suspended!) – as evidenced in the ‘Covid Secure Housing’ scheme – all of a sudden, homelessness was almost eradicated, because it was deemed necessary to get people off the streets.

However for the most part the government’s policy approach during the Pandemic was one of ‘rentier nationalism’ – further blurring the boundaries between the public and private sector by giving generous contracts to companies in managing the Pandemic.

One such example was awarding SERCO the track and trace contract, and there are many more.

This policy, according to Davis was a continuation of several decades of post-neoliberal policies in which the role of the State is to ensure that those with assets can make a profit out of them – this is true for people with houses and for companies too.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t neoliberalism which is more global and free-market, it is the State having more of a role – and in fact this was the case with the political response to the Pandemic which was less global and more national according to Davis – as evidenced in ‘Vaccine nationalism’.

Inequality in the experience of Covid-19

Davis suggests we went through a ‘crisis of space’ during Lockdown with the home the chief weapon in combatting the spread of the virus.

He notes that for those with larger homes and spare rooms, Lockdown was relatively easy, and the wealthy were more able to spend money on technology to transition to home working, for example.

Property prices even increase during the Pandemic, further benefitting the rich!

Meanwhile the poor had a much worse time, and in extreme circumstances where there was overcrowding in multifamily households with share bathrooms, it was even impossible to isolate in family bubbles, meaning higher rates of infections.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a useful update of some very contemporary sociology illustrating how inequalities are relevant to understanding our responses to Covid-19.

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Covid-19 and Disadvantage Gaps in England 2022

A recent report published by the Education Policy Institute examined the trend in the education disadvantage gap in England over the last decade.

It found that the gap for ‘disadvantaged’ pupils (pupils who had been eligible for Free School Meals for one out of the last six years) had decreased over the last decade – meaning there is less of a gap (more equality) between the results of disadvantaged and all other pupils…

However, for ‘persistently disadvantaged’ pupils (who had been on FSMs for 80% of their school careers) there had been no closing of the achievement gap.

This means that government policies which have aimed to reduce inequality of educational achievement over the last decade (such as the Pupil Premium) have had mixed success… they seem to have helped those pupils who have been in ‘not too bad’ deprivation, but none nothing for those in persistent poverty.

The impact of Teacher Predicted Grades on educational inequalities…..

The report also notes that teacher predicted grades did not confer advantage of wealthier pupils overall at GCSE level – it seems that teachers were ‘fair’ in their awarding grades based on the social class backgrounds of their pupils.

HOWEVER, at A-level – A-level students were awarded on average a grade higher than previous years (when students actually sat exams) while BTEC grades did not increase from the previous year.

This means that at the 16-19 more affluent students got a relative advantage because they are more likely to do A-levels.

Sources and Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a useful update for the education policies topic and social class and educational achievement topics.

For links to posts on education please see my Education and A-level sociology page!

You can read the full report here: Covid-19 and Disadvantage Gaps in England 2022.

Covid-19 and the Increase in Illegal Schools.

Back in 2019 OFSTED estimated that around 6000 pupils were taught in unregistered, illegal schools in England and Wales.

The most common type of unregistered schools offer ‘alternative provision’ – 28%, while 25% are general educational schools and 21% are religious (although the media tends to focus primarily on the later!).

Since Covid-19 OFSTED have been unable to do anything about such illegal schools, with many of the remaining uninvestigated, and many more seem to have emerged, probably as a response to children’s education having been disrupted due to the Pandemic.

It is illegal to run a school which is not registered with OFSTED, and to to so is a criminal offence which may result in fines or a prison sentence, but this hasn’t put people off setting such schools up, or put some parents off sending their children to them.

The problem with unregistered schools, according to OFSTED is that they may fail to have adequate checks in place when recruiting staff, lack adequate safeguarding provisions and not put sufficient resources into teaching the ‘British Values’ agenda.

However it seems like illegal schools may continue going forwards as Local agencies lack the power to investigate, so it’s down to OFSTED, and apparently they don’t have the power to shut down illegal schools which are performing below standards anyway.

Even if the people running them face prosecution, which is rare, the penalties handed out don’t appear to be very tough – in one example in which two people were prosecuted – they only received suspended prison sentences and a tiny fine, and that’s after having been caught once before and ignored the instruction to desist running the school!

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This topic is clearly relevant to the education module, and could also be applied to Crime and Deviance.

The existence of such ‘illegal schools’ shows us that there isn’t consensus across the education system as there are hundreds of teachers and parents willing to avoid OFSTED.

You could apply labelling theory to this – these schools are only illegal because OFSTED exists and there is a legal requirement to register – just because OFSTED labels them ‘illegal’ doesn’t mean they are bad schools.

In fact you could say it’s fair enough that such schools have increased (probably, it’s difficult to count!) since Covid-19 – given the disruption to education in regular schools, and what I can only imagine is an extremely stressful environment which is very unpleasant to be in, maybe it’s BETTER that some parents and teachers are ignoring the rules and setting up their own ad-hoc schools.

Don’t go falling into the trap/ myth that formal-‘legal’ state sanctioned ways of doing things are the best or only options!

Why the Covid-19 Death Rate might be misleading

The latest figures show that 6% of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 die of the disease.

A 6% death rate, and only a 94% survival rate, I don’t fancy those odds!

However, writing in The Spectator, Dr John Lee points out that these death rates may be misleading, and that Covid-19 is possibly no more deadly than the flu, something we are all familiar with and which has a death rate of 0.1%

So far, relatively few people have been tested for Covid-19, and those that have are probably those displaying the most serious symptoms who have presented themselves at a hospital, or they’ve been tested because they were already in hospital, which means they’re likely to be more susceptible to infection because of being in sub-optimal health.

In short, the type of people already tested for Covid-19 are probably not representative of the wider population!

It could be the case, as has been suggested by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific Adviser, that the actual infection rate is 10 to 20 times higher in the general population with most people displaying only minor symptoms, not getting tested and recovering without us ever knowing about it!

If it were the case that the real infection rate is 20* higher then the actual death rate would be nearer 0.3%, which is in the same realms as the flu.

Furthermore, Covid-19 has now been added to the list of ‘notifeable diseases’ (along with Smallpox and Ebola and other nasties), which means that anytime someone dies having contracted Covid-19, it must be recorded as the cause of death.

This isn’t the case with flu, so while someone in their 80s may well die of it, this may not be recorded as the actual cause of death.

Thus overall, while Covid-19 may be more infectious than the flu, it may not be more deadly!

Ultimately we need more testing for the virus to be done to get a more valid picture of how deadly it is.

Managing risk in an age of uncertainty

Having said that, even if the real death rate may be lower than reported, the extreme contagiousness of Covid-19 has still led to a rapid increase in the number of critical cases and deaths in a short period (as I understand it flu isn’t as contagious, so there simply aren’t as many people who catch it such a short period of time), so the extreme control measures we’ve put in place may just be worth it!

It may sound cold, but this is a great example of managing a threat in a risk society where we have limited available data.

NB – it’s worth pointing out that you have much less chance of dying from it if you’re young compared to if you’re old:!

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