Voices: Why the victims of long Covid deserve much more than being ignored

·3-min read
Covid has forced hundreds of thousands of people out of the workforce entirely  (Getty/iStockphoto)
Covid has forced hundreds of thousands of people out of the workforce entirely (Getty/iStockphoto)

The Covid-19 pandemic has passed yet another grim milestone. As of today, official data shows two million people now report living with long Covid.

They are more likely to be women, living in the most deprived parts of our country and aged between 35 and 69. And, disproportionately, they worked in jobs that got us through the pandemic – in teaching, social care or the NHS – a harrowing injustice in light of their service.

So why is the government ignoring them?

Two and a half years after the pandemic began, people living with long Covid can expect little in the way of recognition, support or compensation. Yet, for the vast majority, the condition has made a large incursion into their lives. 1.4 million say their long Covid symptoms adversely impact their daily lives, while 400,000 say that their lives have been limited “a lot”.

It’s not even as though the government’s attempt to sweep long Covid under the carpet has economic justification. Since the pandemic began, recent IPPR thinktank analysis has shown that a rise in long-term illnesses like Covid has forced hundreds of thousands of people out of the workforce entirely.

For others, it has limited their working hours or ability to get on in the workplace. IPPR put the collective cost to the UK economy at £8 billion this year alone. Simply put, the absence of a government strategy on long Covid has wreaked catastrophic damage to lives, livelihoods and the economy.

This government’s inaction reflects their failure to recognise the value of good health. The last few decades have left the UK with some of the worst outcomes in the G7. A recent ranking showed we are better only than America, and well behind countries like France, Italy, Germany, and Japan.

The problem is this: our government ministers consistently struggle to see spending on health as anything but a cost, to be avoided if possible and contained if not. What could be more indicative of this than the fact NHS budgets are falling across the board, even as a pandemic continues? Good health is too rarely seen as an investment in a better society, a stronger jobs market, and a more prosperous and resilient country.

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This is also related to our cost of living. Poverty creates bad health, and bad health heightens poverty. Poor health has left many avoidably vulnerable to this historic fall in living standards.

However, the government has an opportunity to take much-needed control of the situation. Prioritising and focusing on better health, including providing more urgently needed support for people with long Covid, would be a positive, proactive move. That is, it would stand in sharp contrast to so much recent government policy – which has too often simply reacted to catastrophic world events with high rhetoric and sticking plasters, leaving us on the back foot.

A government with the courage to make better health a national mission would be transformative for people’s lives and our economic security. It would increase our resilience to the rising cost of living. The two million-plus silent victims of long Covid deserve much more than being ignored.

Chris Thomas is head of IPPR’s Commission on Health and Prosperity

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