When Covid hit in 2020, many of the metropolitan middle class were able to work from home, but some quickly realised they could work just as effectively from other parts of the country, and those that could fled to their bucolic second homes in Cornwall. There was immediately a big backlash from the Cornish population, clearly apparent on local BBC coverage, as these new ‘Covid refugees’ were met with fear and resentment. This was, however, not a mindless, kneejerk parochialism. To put it in context, Cornwall has only one NHS hospital trust, offering three hospitals for a population of well over half a million people – a population swelled by the new arrivals.
For many decades now, Cornwall has been the retirement village of the U.K., and because health experts warned us that Covid would affect the most clinically vulnerable, including older people, it was no surprise that the new arrivals caused fear. Adding to these worries, it was reported that many of those seeking refuge in Cornwall were fleeing areas of high infection.
While most people perceive Cornwall as a haven for surfers and artists, the reality is that many towns and villages in Cornwall are some of the poorest in Europe. Because of the explosion in second home ownership over the past 20 years, some villages are now 70% holiday homes. Some second home owners claim their properties as ‘small businesses’ and leave a council tax deficit of around £24 million per year. Michael Gove, in January 2022, attempted to close the ‘small business’ loophole by insisting that any second home owners claiming that exempt status has to rent out their properties for a minimum of 10 weeks a year. The new rule kicks in in April 2023.