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Emily Maitlis blasts claims that coronavirus is a ‘great leveller’ of rich and poor

Emily Maitlis is praised for powerful Newsnight speech blasting claims that coronavirus is a ‘great leveller’ of rich and poor because NHS staff, shop workers and bus drivers are hardest hit

  • BBC’s Emily Maitlis says poorest Britons are less likely to survive the pandemic
  • Claims those most at risk of catching coronavirus infection are in low-paid jobs 
  • Says people ‘do not survive illness through fortitude and strength of character’
  • Her speech on BBC Two last night has received widespread praise on Twitter 
  • But others were left unimpressed, with Adam Smith Institute making a complaint

BBC presenter Emily Maitlis has hit out at claims that coronavirus is a ‘great leveller’ for society as she said the poorest Britons are less likely to survive the pandemic.

The 49-year-old Newsnight host claimed those most at risk of catching the infection are in low-paid jobs such as bus drivers, nurses and care home workers.

In a speech on BBC Two last night which has received widespread praise, she said people ‘do not survive the illness through fortitude and strength of character’.

But others were left unimpressed, with Matt Kilcoyne of the Adam Smith Institute saying her comments breached impartiality guidelines. He said: ‘All of this in my view breaks the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality and I’m making a complaint.’

BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis (pictured last night) claimed those most at risk of catching the infection are in low-paid jobs such as bus drivers, nurses and care home workers

In her speech last night, Maitlis said: ‘The language around Covid-19 has sometimes felt trite and misleading. You do not survive the illness through fortitude and strength of character, whatever the Prime Minister’s colleagues will tell us.

‘And the disease is not a great leveller, the consequences of which everyone, rich or poor, suffers the same. This is a myth which needs debunking.

‘Those on the frontline right now – bus drivers and shelf-stackers, nurses, care home workers, hospital staff and shopkeepers – are disproportionately the lower paid members of our workforce.

‘They are more likely to catch the disease because they are more exposed. Those who live in tower blocks and small flats will find the lockdown tougher. Those in manual jobs will be unable to work from home.’ 

A BBC spokesperson said today: ‘We don’t believe there has been any breach of editorial guidelines.’ 

The presenter added that she was concerned about the consequences of a recession for Britain following a stark warning from the World Trade Organization.

She said: ‘This is a health issue with huge ramifications for social welfare and it’s a welfare issue with huge ramifications for public health.

‘Tonight as France goes into recession and the World Trade Organization warns the pandemic could provoke the deepest economic downturn of our lifetimes, we ask what kind of social settlement might need to be put in place to stop the inequality becoming even more stark.’ 

Her comments received widespread praise on social media, with one Twitter user saying: ‘The opening statement from Emily Maitlis is one of the greatest I have ever heard on UK television.’  

Another tweeted: ‘Emily Maitlis making some very sensible points. Not everyone is affected by the pandemic equally. Economically marginalised sections face the worst of it. So do the people who are at the frontlines in underpaid jobs.’

And a third said: ‘What she said. It’s tough for any of us to swallow, but some people need to listen to this.’

But another, Charlotte Gill, said that Maitlis was sat on the wrong side of the Newsnight table to be making such comments. 

Maitlis’ comments echoed those in a column by John Humphrys in the Daily Mail on March 27, who wrote: ‘The Government may have acted swiftly to protect most incomes, but there will be many who slip through the net or are defeated by bureaucracy. There always are. And they’re almost always the poorest. 

‘We must hope that the current mood of national solidarity lasts long enough to see us through this crisis and beyond.’

‘You do not survive the illness through fortitude and strength of character’: Emily Maitlis’s speech in full on BBC’s Newsnight last night

‘Hello, good evening.

‘The language around Covid-19 has sometimes felt trite and misleading. You do not survive the illness through fortitude and strength of character, whatever the Prime Minister’s colleagues will tell us.

‘And the disease is not a great leveller, the consequences of which everyone, rich or poor, suffers the same. This is a myth which needs debunking.

‘Those on the frontline right now – bus drivers and shelf-stackers, nurses, care home workers, hospital staff and shopkeepers – are disproportionately the lower paid members of our workforce.

‘They are more likely to catch the disease because they are more exposed. Those who live in tower blocks and small flats will find the lockdown tougher. Those in manual jobs will be unable to work from home.

‘This is a health issue with huge ramifications for social welfare and it’s a welfare issue with huge ramifications for public health.

‘Tonight as France goes into recession and the World Trade Organization warns the pandemic could provoke the deepest economic downturn of our lifetimes, we ask what kind of social settlement might need to be put in place to stop the inequality becoming even more stark.’

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