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Lockdowns had ‘catastrophic effect’ on nation’s social fabric – report

People walking past a Government sign warning people to stay at home on the High street in Winchester, Hampshire (Andrew Matthews/PA)
People walking past a Government sign warning people to stay at home on the High street in Winchester, Hampshire (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Covid lockdowns had a “catastrophic effect” on the nation’s social fabric and the most disadvantaged are no better off now than at the time of the financial crash, a new report says.

The UK is in danger of sliding back into the Two Nations of the Victorian era marked by a widening gap between mainstream society and a depressed and poverty-stricken underclass, according to an inquiry by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).

Some 13.4 million people lead lives marred by family fragility, stagnant wages, poor housing, chronic ill-health, and crime, the centre says.

The CSJ’s Social Justice Commission’s report, Two Nations: The State Of Poverty In The UK, argues that the most disadvantaged in Britain are no better off than 15 years ago, the time of the financial crash, and cites evidence that for them the jump from welfare into work is not worth it.

The CSJ study also finds that the pandemic lockdowns had a “catastrophic effect” on the nation’s social fabric, especially for the least well off, where the gap between the so-called “haves” and “have nots” was blown wide open.

The report says: “During lockdown calls to a domestic abuse helpline rose 700%; mental ill health in young people went from one in nine to one in six and nearly a quarter amongst the oldest children; severe absence from school jumped 134%; 1.2 million more people went on working-age benefits, 86% more people sought help for addictions; prisoners were locked up for 22.5 hours per day.

“There is a growing gap between those who can get by and those stuck at the bottom.”

Six in 10 of the general public say that their area has a good quality of life, but this drops to less than two in five of the most deprived.

Twenty years ago, just one in nine children were assessed as having a clinically recognisable mental health problem, that figure is now one in five, rising to nearly one in four for those aged 17-19.

If trends continue, the report argues that by 2030 over one in four five to 15-year-olds, which may be as many as 2.3 million children, could have a mental disorder.

There are likely to be 108% more boys with mental health disorders by 2030 than there would have been if the lockdown had not happened, the CSJ adds.

After higher benefits, the most deprived cite improved mental and physical health as pivotal to a better life.

The report has found that 40% of the most disadvantaged report having a mental health condition compared to just 13% of the general population.

Coronavirus
The pier at Llandudno, north Wales, stands empty as the UK continued in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus (Peter Byrne/PA)

The report says: “Britain is sick but being sick pays.

“The total UC caseload has risen by 106% since March 2020 and the number of claimants with No Work Requirements has increased by 186%.

“There are over 2.6 million people economically inactive because of long term sickness, an increase of nearly 500,000 since the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Over half of those signed off (53%) reported depression, bad nerves or anxiety.

“The most disadvantaged view mental ill health as the biggest factor holding them back, which only comes fifth for the general public.”

Lord King, the former governor of the Bank of England, and one of those who produced the report, said: “Money is not the only solution to the problem of deprivation.

“One glimmer of light is the institution of the family, rather than government, as a place of nurture, support, and fulfilment.

“No family is perfect, and families come in all different shapes and sizes.

“But if we are able to do more to support the family, then we can prevent the creation of an ‘unhappy generation’.”

Andy Cook, chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice, said: “This report makes for deeply uncomfortable reading.

“Lockdown policy poured petrol on the fire that had already been there is the most disadvantaged people’s lives, and so far no one has offered a plan to match the scale of the issues.

“What this report shows is 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.”

The report includes a poll of 6,000 people conducted by J.L. Partners, 3,000 drawn from the general public and 3,000 on the lowest income.

The report also heard from more than 350 small charities, social enterprises and policy experts, and the commission travelled to three nations of the UK and to more than 20 towns and cities.

Crime and an erosion in faith in the justice system, shabby housing and drug addiction are major obstacles.

Both the general public and the deprived cite crime as the worst thing about living in their area.

The most disadvantaged worry twice as much as the mainstream about the quality of their housing and communities being “torn apart” by addiction, the CSJ says.

The report adds: “Although overall crime rates are down, violent crime remains high, and still 6% of families account for half of all convictions.

“Outstanding cases for the crown courts continue to rise, eroding the public’s trust that justice will be done and emboldening criminals.

“Only 8% of victims are confident they would receive justice as a result of reporting a crime.

“Only 17% of the most disadvantaged who rent in social housing rate their quality of life at least eight out of 10, compared with 52% of those who own a property.

“There has been a 63% increase in deaths of people on methadone than before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“11.5% of those who have consumed cannabis in the last year take it every day.

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic deaths from alcohol poisoning, which had been dropping, have now risen 15.4%.

“Over one in seven children, which could be as many as 1.3 million children, have been classed as children in need at least once in the past eight years.”