The coronavirus pandemic has revealed and exacerbated, pervasive inequalities health, ethnicity, education and occupation that may threaten the fabric of society, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
In a review chaired by Nobel prize-winning economist Sir Angus Deaton, the IFS found that divisions in society have grown in 2020.
Without urgent action, these gaps will widen further, Sir Angus warned.
In an update on Tuesday the IFS said there is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle the disadvantages faced by many that this pandemic has so devastatingly exposed”.
“We now face a set of challenges which we cannot duck”, it adds.
Sir Angus said: “As the vaccines should, at some point this year, take us into a world largely free of the pandemic, it is imperative to think about policies that will be needed to repair the damage and that focus on those who have suffered the most.
“We need to build a country in which everyone feels that they belong.”
Researchers highlighted how children from poorer households found it harder to do schoolwork during lockdown and have been more likely to miss school since September.
While older people have suffered the worst health impacts from Covid-19 younger people have borne more of the economic consequences.
As Boris Johnson announced that schools would close again due to a rapid surge in case numbers, Sir Angus’ team called for additional help for children who have fallen behind and help for school and university leavers to find jobs.
The new year briefing also underlines the fact that ethnic minority groups and deprived communities suffered higer mortality rates from the virus.
Meanwhile, the best-paid and most highly educated have been less impacted with many able to work from home in comparative safety.
By the third quarter of 2020 there had been a 7 per cent reduction in the number of graduates doing any hours of paid work, but a 17% reduction in the number of non-graduates doing any hours of paid work.
The welfare safety net must be adapted to support insecure and self-employed workers.
Progress in reducing poor mental and physical health could be “one of the clearest indications of success of economic and social policy”, it adds.
Mark Franks, director of welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the review, said: “Individuals are subject to a wide range of potential vulnerabilities around dimensions including age, ethnicity, place of birth, education, income and the nature of their employment.
“Where these vulnerabilities intersect, they can amplify and reinforce one another and play a huge role in driving unequal outcomes.”
A government spokesperson said: “We’re doing everything we can to ensure our coronavirus support reaches those who need it the most, which is why we’ve invested more than £280bn to protect the incomes, livelihoods and health of millions of people across the UK.
“This includes protecting those most in need by investing an additional £9bn to make our welfare system more generous, and by creating jobs for those most at risk of long-term unemployment through our £2 billion Kickstart Scheme, tripling traineeships, incentives for firms hiring apprentices and doubling the number of work coaches, so that nobody is left without hope or opportunity.”