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Fri, 27 November 2020

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Inequality has widened - it’s time for action

Inequality has widened - it’s time for action

A food bank during the pandemic. A new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission reveals the impact of coronavirus across 5 areas of life and the hardship faced by people who already face disadvantage | Credit: PA Images

Caroline Waters, Interim Chair | Equality and Human Rights Commission

5 min read Partner content

Hard-won equality and human rights are at risk of going backwards with clear and long-lasting damage to society and the economy as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a new report has revealed.

There have been times recently when you could be forgiven for thinking that we were on the brink of the apocalypse. But this is by no means the end.

We can reshape our country to reflect our long-cherished British values of fairness and equality.

It struck me that the Greek word “apocalypse” which translates as revelation is actually pretty apt for the situation we find ourselves in.

Although many of us have serious concerns about the future for our loved ones and for our livelihoods, the ancient Greeks had a point when they equated crisis with clarity.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown into the spotlight serious equality and human rights issues for millions of individuals in Britain.

We have seen almost daily news headlines on issues from the digital divide in home schooling, immense pressure on carers and parents and stark figures revealing higher death rates for some ethnic minority groups.

To truly understand these complex issues, pre-existing inequality, the effect of the virus and crucially, to help us to move forward together, we need robust data considering the cross-cutting impacts of inequality on the life chances of individuals. In other words we need greater clarity.

A new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission provides the clues to this and vitally the measures we need to take to achieve shared progress.

“How coronavirus has affected equality and human rights” reveals the impact of coronavirus across 5 areas of life and the hardship faced by people who already face disadvantage.

Findings include:

  • Certain ethnic minority groups, such as Bangladeshi, Black African and Pakistani people, are already closest to the poverty line and are more likely to be affected by the rise in poverty.
  • Compounded by the educational attainment gap already prevalent for boys, some ethnic minority groups, pupils with SEND and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged, there are growing fears that these groups could fall even further behind.
  • The pandemic has disproportionately affected older people, some ethnic minority groups and disabled people living in care homes, but morale among care sector staff is low as workers face an increased risk from the virus, lack of recognition and staff shortages.

Be it employment, social care, or education, ethnic minority people have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s an injustice we’ve raised concerns about before and have repeatedly called on the UK Government to produce a comprehensive race equality strategy to address racial inequality across all areas of life.

Take a look at our recommendations for action. They will help us work together to reduce inequalities so we can emerge from this pandemic with a stronger, fairer country for everyone.

Many young people who returned to school this autumn have had to play catch-up having missed out on formal education for months. They’re also at a higher risk of losing their jobs and many have had to start university life in lockdown choosing the first 5 people they meet to stay in their bubble.

There are legitimate concerns that these young people could become “a lost Covid generation”.

What this report doesn’t show is the human impact and stories behind the statistics. 

It’s important to remember that people’s lives and communities are being directly affected and in some cases, very sadly lost.

People are claiming benefits perhaps for the first time in their working lives and older people may not see their loved ones for months on end due to visiting restrictions with, an often, detrimental impact on their mental health.

We know that people living in the poorest areas are more likely to die from Covid-19.

Coronavirus has laid bare regional inequalities with longer-term restrictions being enforced in some areas including the North West and North-East. To “level up” the country, a Government commitment, we need to close the gaps across every area by working with Metro Mayors, town halls and central Government.

This is a snapshot of the impact on protected groups over a period of a few months and by no means the full story as the pandemic is not over yet. But the evidence is clear; inequality has widened during the pandemic and we’re at a critical juncture.

We hope our report will be a valuable resource for organisations who wish to track the impact of coronavirus on the equality and human rights of those affected

Our findings have prompted a number of big pieces of work at the Commission to tackle some of the most immediate concerns such as racial inequality and how we can make sure the human rights of care home residents are observed as we head into the winter period.

On the latter, we’ve today published new guidelines to help National and Local governments and Care home providers and regulators put equality and human rights at the heart of their decision-making.

It’s crucial we get this right and make sure care homes are prepared for uncertain times ahead. We cannot risk more lives, either of older or disabled people or of the frontline staff who are potentially putting their lives at risk to provide care.

We hope our report will be a valuable resource for organisations who wish to track the impact of coronavirus on the equality and human rights of those affected and we’ll continue to monitor this as more evidence becomes available in the coming months.

Take a look at our recommendations for action.

They will help us work together to reduce inequalities so we can emerge from this pandemic with a stronger, fairer country for everyone.

This demands attention from central governments, employers and from all of us.

In the meantime, staying safe and looking after each other has to be a priority.

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