Lockdowns Unleash a Pandemic of Poverty

The empirical evidence is clear – lockdowns lead to poverty, which is why we must exert caution over their use.

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 19/10/2020

With the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom having implemented some form of lockdown within a week of each other, it could not have been a worse time for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to announce lockdowns lead to “higher levels of suffering and death”. A new study by Edinburgh University also suggests lockdown restrictions can contribute to higher death tolls and argued they are likely to prolong the virus by leaving large numbers susceptible to the virus once restrictions are lifted.

Last week, Scotland re-entered a limited lockdown, Northern Ireland introduced a four-week partial lockdown and the Welsh Government announced it is considering a “circuit-breaker” form of lockdown as the UK Government implemented its new three-tier approach. However, the research conducted by Edinburgh University and published by the British Medical Journal coupled with comments by the Special Envoy on Covid-19 to the World Health Organisation portrays another narrative.

Dr David Nabarro, speaking on behalf of the WHO in an interview with Andrew Neil, said: “We really do have to learn how to co-exist with this virus in a way that doesn’t require constant closing down of economies but, at the same time, in a way that is not associated with high levels of suffering and death.” He added: “We should stop using lockdowns as the primary control method. Lockdowns have one consequence that you must never belittle and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.”

From 2009, Dr Nabarro spent eight years at the United Nations (UN) as a former Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition. In that time, he aligned the UN approach on food security, livelihood resilience and sustainable agriculture, set up the Committee on World Food Security and oversaw the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge as well as pioneering and coordinating the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement. His words, therefore, come as a stark and experienced warning.

In another report published only last month, the newly-appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Olivier De Schutter, stated that most developed economies still not fully recovered from the preceding decade of austerity, were “… ill-equipped to deal with the socioeconomic impacts of this pandemic…” He added: “… one-off cash transfers are a drop in the bucket for people living in poverty…” and said a “major change in direction is needed.”

The empirical evidence is clear – lockdowns lead to poverty. It is why I have argued since the outset, and been widely criticised, for suggesting we should exert caution over lockdowns. 15 years of working alongside people experiencing poverty has made plain a grim reality to me, which is many reside on a restricted income and any major macro-economic turbulence, especially that which is preventable, should be avoided at all costs if the preservation of health really is priority number one.