Image: Tim Dennell – CC BY-NC 2.0

The Covid-19 pandemic has delivered a shock to every aspect of the system we live under. It has shone a light on the failings of government and brought social inequality in the UK into sharp relief.

As of February 2022 there have been an estimated 17 million cases of Covid in the UK and 157,000 deaths. The UK stands out with among the highest number of recorded Covid-19 deaths in the world. Black, minoritised and migrant communities, older people, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and those on low incomes or living in substandard accommodation have been hit hardest by Covid-19 and its social effects, which have included unemployment, homelessness and mental suffering on a huge scale.

The need for a public inquiry

It is widely accepted that the government did too little too late in response to the spread of Covid-19. More than a decade of economic austerity had already reduced the ability of state institutions to respond to the crisis.

In May 2022 the Prime Minister announced an independent public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic, with terms of reference to be released in the spring of 2022. In December 2021, a Chair for the Inquiry was announced.

Given the impact of Covid-19 on all aspects of life and society in the UK, this public inquiry is likely to be one of the widest ranging ever held. However, if it is to be of true social value the inquiry will need to be robust and to pursue its inquisitorial function with vigour.

What should the Covid-19 public inquiry examine?

We believe the inquiry needs terms of reference that will ensure it is able to ascertain why the government failed to:

  1. impose stringent infection control measures promptly and effectively;
  2. provide adequate personal protective equipment;
  3. protect frontline outsourced and gig-economy workers;
  4. protect high-risk workers, including cleaners and construction workers;
  5. protect care homes;
  6. implement a robust effective test-trace-and-isolate system;
  7. implement a safe, sustainable and non-discriminatory system for the reopening of schools and remote learning;
  8. provide adequate resources to children being home schooled and their parents;
  9. protect survivors of domestic abuse; and
  10. protect renters.

The inquiry must also make findings with respect to how underlying social, political and economic factors resulted in:

  1. a disproportionate impact on working class, BAMER and marginalised communities, including homeless families, migrants and those with no recourse to public funds; and
  2. a disproportionate impact on disabled people.

For further information please contact PILC’s senior solicitor paul.heron@pilc.org.uk