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- Author or Editor: Simon Halliday x
Public understanding of the risks posed by COVID-19 understandably has focused squarely on health and mortality. As government officials throughout the UK during the first few months of the crisis offered daily hospitalization and death counts, minds inevitably concentrated on the medical risks of COVID-19. Yet the subject of this book is the social costs that will also come in the wake of the pandemic: problems of social disadvantage and suffering that will be less visible – perhaps less compelling in the public imagination – than the primary health impacts. How might law matter to such social problems? What role can law play in the alleviation of this social suffering?
When answering such questions, it is tempting to frame the discussion purely in terms of what government, Parliament or the courts might do to alleviate suffering. The image of law here is one where it has a formal status: enacted through Parliament, interpreted and developed in the courts, and enforced by administration. Equally, the understanding of law’s relationship to society is primarily a ‘top-down’ instrumental one: law as a tool of governance to bring about change in society. There is much to commend this way of thinking about law and society. It captures a great deal of what lawyers and social scientists study when exploring law’s potential to improve society and the actual impact of law on society. However, to understand the role of law in the response to social suffering fully, we must make two basic adjustments to this familiar way of thinking about law in society.
In March 2020, the government introduced a set of restrictions to ‘lockdown’ the United Kingdom in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the central purpose of which was to protect public health by both containing the rate of infection and protecting the NHS’ capacity to treat a potential influx of patients. These rules represented a profound interference with everyday life, but it was clear that this interference was experienced differently throughout the population. In this chapter, the authors draw upon an extensive dataset – constituted of national surveys, focus groups, and interviews – gathered during the first wave of the virus in the UK to provide an analysis of how this was experienced by women. The authors test the hypothesis that it may be that women are more likely to find certain rules that interfere with prior caring responsibilities more challenging than others, and argue that research examining compliance to individual rules might better highlight gender differences in compliance than overall compliance.