A growing gap between the haves and have-nots in the Caribbean will widen owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, regional social policy experts have predicted.
The issue of income inequality came under the microscope on Tuesday evening during a virtual panel discussion on the topic COVID-19 and the Caribbean: Social Fallout and Response.
The discussion was hosted by the Caribbean Sociological Association (CASA), in association with the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), and the Department of Sociology and Psychology and Social Work at UWI Mona.
Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee, Children’s Rights and Social Policy Specialist said physical distancing procedures were implemented in the region with the view that “all of us are equal” but said it “has amplified the social inequalities in the society”.
She explained that families living in poverty especially those in one-bedroom households, would find it difficult to practice physical distancing, and the situation was made worse if they did not have the requisite amenities or access to basic social services.
“So when you say to a family that has five adults and five children in one room to practice physical distancing it is absolutely impossible. The social inequalities are also amplified when we speak about working from home, what kind of home, where is home? When you say to a lady with five children ‘stay home’, how will she feed the hungry children?” said Professor Henry-Lee.
The UWI professor, who was speaking informally as part of a panel, also pointed out that the physical distancing could take a toll on the elderly population, especially those who would religiously go out on a weekly basis to break bread or spend time with their peers.
She said: “A lot of the elderly like their independence and go out and talk to people and go to church. This business of staying home because I am of a certain age is going to have a psychological impact on them.
“The other thing I would like to bring up is the stigma. When you have the COVID-19 as patient Y or patient A, how do you go back into the community without having a stigma . . . how do you deal with that stigma – your family and yourself and how do you cope with a situation like that?”
Clinical Psychologist Dennis Edwards said the measures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic could result in emotional and psychological changes.
He explained that people who were usually calm, quiet and content could become irritable, boisterous and restless, and others could exhibit “regression type of emotional and psychological behaviours”.
“Those who may not be wetting the bed for a long time could well be again wetting bed as it is known to happen emotionally,” he said, adding that others could develop a sense of helplessness or become worried that there was something “invisible outside” that will infect them.
Edwards called on the UWI and psychiatrists and psychologists in the region to “get together” to see how they could assist in the reintegration process post COVID-19, stating that societies should expect a number of emotional and psychological issues to come to the fore.