The “cost” of lockdown

Allister Heath’s recent op-ed reflects an opinion shared by a growing number of media commentators over the “costs” of further national lockdowns. In their view, increased restrictions are tantamount to economic and moral decline. Echoing the austerity era, they draw upon metrics such as GDP and national debt to tell us that we must “learn to live” with the virus, meaning a wholesale return to work and consumption. Not doing so amounts to a lack of fortitude and common sense.

This false dichotomy between the economy and public health has been widely debunked. When the virus is prevalent, consumers become more risk averse. Nations that have effectively supressed the virus have better economic outcomes. However, pitting public health against “economic health” has proved a useful for lockdown-sceptics, who present protective measures as the “the victory of fear and emotion over reason”.

There is of course the human cost. This does not escape Heath, who concedes that 20,000 lives could be saved by a circuit-breaker lockdown. But this is a price worth paying for the economic benefits. Chillingly, he recommends we “relearn to live with death”, and not display “fragility” to the type of illness our “forebearers shrugged off”. An editor of a national newspaper defending tens of thousands of avoidable deaths as the “rational” response, for perspective.  

What informs this position? The implicit understanding of Heath and his ilk that it will not be them, their family, their friends. The burden will fall, as it has already done, on those whose disability, ethnicity, class or place of residence puts them at greater risk to exposure and serious illness from the virus. Disabled women are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than non-disabled women. People from minority ethnic backgrounds are up to four times as likely to die from COVID-19 than white people. Members of poorer communities are more likely to be key workers and to live in multi-generational households, both major risk factors. We may wonder how these findings inform the “cost-benefit” calculation Heath claims to be guided by.

Heath’s argument speaks of (and appeals to) a sense of social dislocation. It equates personal risk with societal risk. For those not in immediate danger, the effects of the virus can seem distant, something that can be escaped or mitigated. The tragedies and hardships happen “out there”, in private, to Others. This leads to a kind of purposeful denial, a non-recognition of the impact the virus has on vulnerable communities. As Heath’s article demonstrates, this contempt motivates scientific, economic, and moral contortions. The social and personal cost of the virus is something that many of us choose not to reckon with, because we don’t have to.

Join us as a participant in our study

We are currently looking for participants for our diary study.

What is this study about?

This research project wants to understand how disabled people experience the return to work after the main lockdown in the COVID19 pandemic. We aim to understand the lived experience of disabled people during the ease of lockdown and potential local lockdowns. The aim is to collect experience as they happen. We want to give voice to disabled people.

Who can join?

This study is open to disabled people who are currently working as employee (full-time, part-time, casual), volunteer, free-lancer or run their business. Disabled people can also participate if they intend to start work as employee, free-lancer or entrepreneur over the coming months. It does not matter if you physically returned to your workplace or are working remotely.

According to the UK Equality Act, disability is defined as any physical or mental long-term condition that impacts someone’s life. Anyone who self-identifies as disabled can join in the study.

You need to be a resident in the UK.

What do you need to do when you join?

  • You will participate in an 18-months diary study. The diaries are written online or can be voice or video-recorded based on your preference
  • Engage in group forum discussions with fellow participants. Identities are kept anonymous so you will use a user name rather than your real name.
  • We will conduct an interview at the start, follow-up interviews plus an exit interview at the end. All interviews are done via Zoom, unless participants prefer a different platform.

Other things you might like to know

Everything is virtual: The study is conducted entirely online and therefore does not require any face-to-face in-person contact.

Aim to be as accessible as possible: We aim to accommodate any accessibility issues participants might have. We will use live caption, are able to use BSL interpretations and use an online platform for the diaries that is screen-reader compatible, has dark mode and high contrast mode. The online platform works on Windows and Mac-based devices as well as on tablets and smartphones. The platform further allows for voice recordings if participants prefer recordings to typing. If there is anything esle you might need, just let us know.

Fully anonymous and confidential: Your identity will be kept confidential and except for the members of the research team lead (Dr. Anica Zeyen) and her Access to Work assistant (Emilio Costales), nobody will know the identity of the participants.

This project has acquired approval by the Research Ethics Committee at Royal Holloway University of London.

you can find further information on the participant information sheet below (link opens PDF file).

Are you interested in joining?

That is great news!! Please fill in the expression of interest form and we will get back to you as soon as possible. We highly appreciate your willingness to support our research endeavour.

embodied narratives of disability