December 12, 2023 - 3:45pm

As the Covid inquiry continues, the prevailing narrative seems to be that Britain locked down too late. Meanwhile, the Centre for Social Justice has just released a paper, “Two Nations: The State of Poverty in Britain”, which lays bare the ills for which lockdown can be held accountable. The gap between those who can get by and those struggling had long been widening in Britain, but according to the CSJ the successive lockdowns implemented during the pandemic were the “dynamite that blew it open”. 

The paper found that, 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 school absence jumped by 134%; 1.2 million more people went on working-age benefits.” What’s more, “86% 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.” 

Executive Director of the CSJ Andy Cook joined Freddie Sayers in the UnHerd studio to talk through the paper’s findings, from the impacts on mental health to economic activity, drug abuse and crime. 

Having spent months looking into the effects of lockdown on the most vulnerable in society, Cook found it bewildering that more focus has not been drawn to the issue during the Covid inquiry. How to mitigate any harms caused by the policy barely gets a look-in at the hearings, and Cook believed that this sets an unpromising precedent for the next crisis, whatever that may be. 

“We’ve nowhere near got back to where we were [pre-pandemic],” he told UnHerd. “The scale of response does not match the scale of need, purely on policymaking terms. It terrifies me that you’ve got an investigation going on into what happened, and they’re not even analysing this kind of stuff. It genuinely terrifies me.”