The Government’s record on Covid-19 has been defined by two big successes and one recurring deadly failure With the worst of the crisis behind us, it is right to assess how the Government has handled the pandemic 19 March 2021 by Mike Brewer Mike Brewer The first anniversary of the first national lockdown falls on 23 March. With the worst of the crisis behind us, it is right to assess how the Government has handled the pandemic. Even the Prime Minister’s former Chief Advisor Dominic Cummings thinks the need for an inquiry is urgent. We can break down the Government’s handling of the crisis into three areas: controlling the pandemic, protecting people from the economic effects of the crisis, and getting us out of it. Based on this criteria, the Government has had two big successes, and one large recurring, and deadly, failure. Let’s start at the end – getting us out of the crisis. The Government’s vaccine programme has been a collective triumph. The UK was the first country to start a clinically approved vaccine roll-out on 8 December, and is delivering jabs three times faster than Europe. Despite recent news of supply delays, the UK is still on course to vaccinate all adults aged 50 and over by early April, and all adults by July. The Government’s second key success has been on protecting firms and families from the economic effects of the crisis. The Government has spent around £340bn fighting the Covid-19 crisis, half of which has gone direct to supporting firms, workers and their families through business grants, the furlough scheme and boosting Universal Credit and Housing Benefit. This income support – equivalent to £6,700 for every household in Britain – has meant that despite the UK experiencing the biggest economic contraction in over 300 years, typical household incomes have actually remained flat, and business insolvencies have even fallen. The common theme to these successes is going early and going big. But failing to take this approach leads us straight to the one huge, and recurring failure, that will ultimately define the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic: repeatedly failing to lock down the country in the face of rising Covid-19 cases has cost many thousands of lives. Lockdown dithering has led to the UK having among the worst excess death rates per population of any G7 country. Delays to lockdowns have also meant that they have then had to be tighter and longer-lasting, leaving the UK to experience among the most stringent restrictions of all G7 economies over the past year. This helps to explain why the UK has had the deepest economic contraction among that group of countries. The failure to lock down early this time last year can be partly justified by not knowing enough about the virus. But that excuse cannot be used for the winter wave, as the Kent variant took hold across the country. At the Resolution Foundation, we calculate that delaying the start of the latest lockdown until January, despite evidence of fast rising cases, is estimated to have led to around an extra 25,000 Covid-related deaths compared to the situation in which restrictions were put in place quickly enough to prevent the death rate rising from early December levels. This is a terrible human price to pay – and one that must never be forgotten, not least while Covid-19 is still with us, and future pandemics lie ahead. As we start to look beyond the crisis, we can also start to see its legacy. Last year, commentators called Covid-19 ‘a great leveller’. That is wrong. While everyone has been affected by the crisis, some groups have been affected more than others. The UK’s big income and wealth gaps that predated the crisis have been cruelly exposed. Mortality rates are almost twice as high in the most deprived areas. And, while high-income households have saved more, and are poised to spend that extra cash, the poorest households have seen their savings diminish and their debts rise. Those divides must be remembered – and tackled – as we look to rebuild post-pandemic Britain. First published in i paper opinion.