Three thoughts about post-pandemic inequality

  • If smart phones become the platform for vaccine passports then this will amplify inequality. Around 15% of the British population doesn’t own a smartphone. Furthermore, the NHS app requires a recently updated iOS which creates problems for people with older iPhones given Apple’s propensity to push planned obsolesce through operating system upgrades. I’m not sure if the same is true of Android but I suspect it must be to at least some extent, even if it’s simply a matter of brute computing capacity of older handsets and withdrawing security updates to older operating systems. It’s likely possible for at least some of this group to upgrade but when smart phone penetration is so high in the general population, we should assume ‘lifestyle reasons’ are a fairly small factor in shaping non-ownership. What about the people who can’t afford a smart phone? Or can only afford one to share between a household? Furthermore, should we be concerned about the implications for surveillance capitalism of mandating smart devices as a means of personal identification? I find it difficult to see how this could do anything other than amplify existing digital inequalities within the UK.
  • Given explicit rejection of a zero Covid strategy, we can assume this pandemic won’t end as a one-off event. Instead we’ll see a gradually dampening down of infection rates and hospitalisation (as well as periodic resurgences possibly on a seasonal basis) with a sense of normality returning in structured ways. Who gets to feel thing are back to normal and who doesn’t? Who still experiences a crisis and who doesn’t? The government’s framing suggests an individualisation of the pandemic response after the vaccine programme, inviting the population to find biographical solutions to the system problem of Covid. It seems unlikely that social behaviour will snap back to normal at this point, as a result of the epidemiological folk consciousness living through this pandemic has generated. This raises the question of how the impulse to return to normality will intersect with the capacity to shield from endemic Covid. In this sense the inequality revealed in the pandemic between those who could comfortably work from home (particularly when they were part of large organisations) and those forced to work outside will develop into another form. For example will consumers pay a premium for secure experiences?
  • How will the existing inequalities of the pandemic period be compounded in the post-pandemic? It looks like vaccination rates will be lower among deprived communities with populations who already suffer a greater health risk from COVID-19. If SARS-COV-2 continues to circulate within these communities with the potential for mutation implied by this, how will this perceived threat to biosecurity and normality intersect with existing forms of classism and racism within the UK? What politics will emerge around the threat ‘they’ pose to ‘us’? A similar question could be asked about how ongoing border restrictions, which will presumably stay in place to some degree while Covid circulates around the world given vaccine nationalism precluding global collective immunity, will intersect with rising forms of neo-nationalism which predate the pandemic.

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