Virus outbreak brings social inequalities to light

Daily life is affected by COVID-19 and sociologists play a vital role in easing inequalities caused by it: Sociologist

Firdevs Bulut   | 26.04.2020
Virus outbreak brings social inequalities to light


Although it curbs the spread of the virus, staying at home is not an option for some, and this process resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak sheds further light on social inequalities in societies, says a sociologist from Turkey.

Many countries, including Turkey, have founded science councils to coordinate the fight against COVID-19. However, social, economic, psychological, and political problems that will emerge after the pandemic will require the presence of more than doctors and health care workers on these councils.

Socially, culturally, we will feel the impact of COVID-19 for a long time, and for that reasons sociologists should be on the lead to come up with solutions for the people.

Prof. Lutfi Sunar, a sociologist from Istanbul Medeniyet University, thinks there is a possibility to have interdisciplinary cooperation in Turkey, and all sciences should do their part in achieving this.

According to him, one thing is certain: Sociologists should leave their ivory towers and return into real life, in time as vital as this.

Sociology is for life, and we should do our part in this crisis

Sunar believes that societies are not mechanical beings. 

“Society has a “sympathetic” operational structure, which means when there is a challenge, it is programmed to emerge out of it one way or another. This somewhat irregular structure is achieved because of cooperation and solidarity between humans, which is regarded as “irrational actions” by sciences.”

For instance, emotions/situations such as love, motherhood, and friendship are mistakes that mechanical social sciences simply cannot resolve, he adds.

However, these “perfect mistakes” keep the society going in times of crisis, rather than mechanical state institutions and orderly structures.

Risk society and virus

From a sociologist’s point of view, this outbreak has shown how fragile biological human life is, Sunar said.

“It was a painful wake-up call from modernity’s creating a “sterile society” ideals. This ideal is based on the immortality claim of humans, but it is now once again shaken by unprecedented death tolls coming from around the world,” he commented.

The fear of contracting the virus causes irrational actions in many people. We have seen in some countries, policy-makers and leaders did not comprehend the seriousness of the crisis, resulting in irresponsible policies, which also worsened the crisis.

“We are about to reach the limits of socio-economic endurance of some countries, which makes an effective structure to fight with the virus essential. To achieve this, the collaboration of sociologists, anthropologists, virologists, epidemiologists, and public health experts is needed. The priority today is to find solutions for the disease, but we also need to understand the reasons behind this crisis on a global scale, and bring them to the agenda.”

Coronavirus demonstrates social inequalities in Turkey, around world

According to the expert, measures that many countries have taken, mostly focusing on people staying at home and businesses shutting down, is meaningful for those with a stable income and a job guarantee.

However, the outbreak affected many private business owners, workers who work at these businesses and cost many people their jobs, and their income.

According to data analyses by International Labour Organization (ILO), shared with Anadolu Agency by Sunar, national holidays announced due to the COVID-19 outbreak are affecting 2,7 billion workers, which is 81% of the overall workforce in the world.

In the second quarter of the year, working hours worth of some 195 million full time working people (total of the working class and white-collars) will be lost; and the working class will compensate for this loss.

In sectors under serious risk, 1,25 billion workers are employed. The world economy is expected to shrink 3% in the best-case scenario, 6% if we make a moderate estimate, and 10% in the worst-case scenario.

For Sunar, not everybody is equal in terms of working from home. If a sector is not suspending work and making workers come in, these workers face a much higher risk.

The same goes for income differences. Low-paying jobs such as cargo and transportation, food, and basic industry product provision are still working day and night.

Turkey’s Employment Agency (ISKUR)'s data in March shows this critical situation.

"The number of registered unemployed people in Turkey rose by 400 thousand from Feb. to March 2020. Short term work fund of the government was enforced at the end of March, therefore we can estimate that the real impact will yet to be seen in April," commented the expert.

According to this, there might be a 13% total loss of employment in Turkey at the end of this process. This equals to at least 2 million unemployed people.

The biggest loss of employment will be in the housing and food sector, followed by retail and textile.

Staying at home is not an option for some

Sunar emphasized staying at home is not an option for some, although it curbs the spread of the virus.

"When we look at the measures taken by governments around the world, funds allocated to save the big bucks cannot be compared to that allocated for these classes.

As long as governments’ bailout programs prioritize big capital, while at the same time a global economic crisis is around the corner, limited resources and allocation of funds will only deepen inequalities in the societies," he added.

COVID-19 outbreak has become a real game-changer in pulling masks off of countries, specifically developed countries with unorganized – or very expensive health care services.

According to him, "poorer sections of society, who even under normal circumstances do not have proper access to healthcare, are the most vulnerable of the crisis times. While governments and the rich have a bigger share of the gross income, this means more debt for the rest."

As expected, the economic losses of COVID-19 for governments will oblige them to get more loans. While the economy shrinks, the tax income of the governments decrease as well, thus their debts hit the roof.

This will widen the gap between countries, and between different income level groups in the same country, commented Sunar.

Along with the pandemic, inequalities also claim human lives and create much wider problems, the effects of which are felt for a long time.

Sunar added, "Hopefully, the pandemic in Turkey and around the world will at least be balanced, and maybe a vaccine will be found in the next year or two. However, if social inequalities are not resolved, there will be long-lasting traumatic results for societies."

For that reason, sociological data from inequality and poverty research should be utilized regularly, to preserve and rehabilitate the social order.

Sociologists should always keep in mind the fact that control measurements and economic shrinking will be different impacts on different classes of people, he stressed.

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