Lockdowns ‘The Dynamite’ That Blew Open Social Divide: Report

CSJ chief executive Andy Cook said the lockdown policy has “poured petrol on the fire while the root causes lie in education, work, debt, addiction, and family.
Lockdowns ‘The Dynamite’ That Blew Open Social Divide: Report
A young girl paints a picture of herself on the school window as children of key workers take part in school activities at Oldfield Brow Primary School in Altrincham, England, on April 8, 2020. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Lily Zhou

COVID-19 lockdowns are “the dynamite” that blew open Britain’s social divide, according to a report published on Sunday.

The Centre of Social Justice (CSJ) think tank, which published the report, said the UK is “in danger of sliding back into the ‘Two Nations’ of the Victorian era marked by a widening gulf between mainstream society and a depressed and poverty-stricken underclass.”

The report, titled “Two Nations: The State of Poverty in the UK,” revisited the five “pathways” to poverty that the think tank had identified in a 2006 report, namely family breakdown, addiction, worklessness, serious personal debt, and educational failure, and found that the situation “got worse as a result of successive lockdowns.”

“Two Nations has found a yawning gap between those who can get by and those stuck at the bottom. This gap was stretching apart after years of increased family fragility, stagnating wages, poor housing, and frayed community life, but the lockdown implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic was the dynamite that blew it open,” it reads.

“During lockdown: calls to a domestic abuse helpline rose 700 percent; mental ill-health in young people went from one in nine to one in six; and nearly a quarter amongst the oldest children;  severe school absence jumped by 134 percent; 1.2 million more people went on working-age benefits; 86 percent more people sought help for addictions; prisoners were locked up for more than 22 hours per day, and a household became homeless every three minutes,” the report said.

According to the report, work  doesn’t pay for many of the poorest people in the UK.

Citing a single person in Sutton Coldfield as an example, the report says that if the person is on benefits, he or she would have 34 percent of the income to spend after non-avoidable costs, including housing, but only 32 percent to spend if the person does part-time work on the minimum wage.

While overall crime rates are down, violent crime remains high and concentrated, the report said, “still six percent of families account for half of all convictions,” and only eight percent of the victims felt confident that they would receive justice after reporting a crime.

Addiction has also been tearing apart communities. According to the report, the number of deaths from methadone increased by 63 percent compared to the pre-pandemic time, and 11.5 percent of adult cannabis users consumed it every day last year.

Deaths from alcohol poisoning, which had been falling before the COVID-19 pandemic, rose by 15.4 percent, and almost 5,000 people died from drug poisoning last year, the report said.

However, more government funding has been going to big charities rather than smaller ones, “who are often best placed to form the transformative relationships needed to turn lives around,” the report said.

In 2021, the number of births outside of wedlock in England and Wales surpassed those within for the first time. The trend remained in 2022 despite the return of weddings after COVID-19 lockdowns.

The CSJ said family breakdown hit the poorest families the hardest, with a teenager growing up in the poorest 20 percent of households being two-thirds more likely to experience family breakdown than a teenager in the top 20 percent.

Mental illness is also on the rise, both in adults and in children. The proportion of children assessed as having a clinically recognisable mental health problem increased from one in ten around two decades ago to one in five.

“Our analysis has found that by 2030, if trends continue, over one in four (27.8 percent) of 5- to 15-year-olds will have a mental disorder. If the COVID-19 pandemic never happened, this figure would be less than two in ten (14.7 percent),” the report said.

However, “amidst these alarming numbers, there is concern that mental ill-health terminology may be too loosely applied and is being used as a catch-all term to describe complex social challenges,” the report added.

The report also suggests that the welfare system is incentivizing a “minority of struggling parents” to get their children diagnosed to increase welfare awards.

For some parents, it’s a new way to unlock more benefits since the government imposed a two-child limit to child tax credit and Universal Credit, the report said.

For those on benefits in many of the most deprived areas, work also may not pay as much.

The report also touched on immigration, saying while immigration has “contributed to UK economic growth over time and has helped to boost median wages,” it has also pushed down wages for the poorest workers.

Meanwhile, certain immigrant groups are also “at a greater risk of being trafficked, living in substandard accommodation, working in dangerous and unregulated work, and potentially at risk of falling into crime.”

Attitudes towards immigration are also different between the general public and the most deprived, with the latter being more likely to believe immigration negatively impacted British workers.

The report was produced by its Social Justice Commission, which includes business, charity, and academic leaders and politicians across the main political parties.

Andy Cook, Chief Executive of the Centre for Social Justice, said lockdown policy “poured petrol on the fire that had already been there in the most disadvantaged people’s lives.”

The report shows that “we need far more than discussions on finance redistribution, but a strategy to go after the root causes of poverty—education, work, debt, addiction and family,” he said.