What are some coronavirus worries?

What does a former UK science minister make of this crisis?
28 April 2020

Interview with 

Lord David Willetts, Resolution Foundation


A woman with her back to the camera in a lab, using scientific equipment


Lord David Willetts, former UK minister for Universities and Science, joined Chris Smith in the studio, and started off by putting health impacts aside for a moment, and told Chris what worried him the most at the moment from where things stand...

David - Well in terms of how people are affected in Britain, there are two groups who are clearly most affected. There's about 8 million or so people who, key workers, who are out and about in the health service, delivery drivers, they're the ones who are most exposed to the virus, and then there's about 6 million people who have worked in sectors that are now completely shut down. Those are the ones most affected and our work at Resolution shows, sadly those people are disproportionately low paid, they tend to be young, they tend to be female. So some of our more vulnerable groups, who are ready below average on income for example, are the ones who are most heavily affected by this crisis.

Chris - And tell us about Resolution cause you mentioned that. What's that?

David - Well, that's the think tank of which I'm President and we have been doing a lot of economic analysis of the effects of the virus, and we can see how at the moment it looks as if the people who are best protected from it, people who can, for example, work from home, who have preserved jobs, tend to be by and large, older and better paid. So it looks as if the economic effect of the virus is it's, sadly it's hitting hardest, some of the people who are most vulnerable.

Chris - So when Boris Johnson said this is an equal opportunities virus, in some respects it is because it takes no prisoners. It will infect you. But in terms of its repercussions, reverberations and ramifications, it certainly isn't then?

David - Yeah. At the moment, the way it's playing out, sadly, is that the economic effects are not evenly distributed. Of course, thank heavens we've seen interventions by the government to help fund people on furlough scheme, things like that. But as we look ahead, the danger is that this virus makes life tougher for the most vulnerable people. Then there's another group we need to think about, which is people leaving education, be they leaving school, college or university, who will be heading out into a labor market, that's incredibly difficult at the moment. So another issue coming down the track is; should we be providing them with further educational opportunities rather than expecting them to graduate from school or university in the next couple of months, and try to find a job? Because it's going to be a very hard time to find a job. And if they don't find a job and they're unemployed, there are longterm scarring effects.


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