This government has a moral duty to help the widows of the Covid-19 pandemic
As a child I witnessed first-hand the poverty and suffering my mother faced as a widow. The government must set up a Covid-19 widows support group to provide financial and practical assistance – and help them overcome their loss
As I look back, 2020 has been an unprecedented, unpredictable and unforgettable year. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed many thousands of people and destroyed economies all over the world. It has spared no country. There are not words enough to describe the impact of this terrible pandemic.
Sadly, more men have died leaving behind many Covid widows. Even in the UK, more than 125,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19. I suspect that more than 50 per cent of those left behind are women, who have lost their loved one. They are now lonely, insecure and victims of bereavement grief.
I set up the Loomba Foundation in 1997, in memory of my late mother, who became a widow at the early age of 37-years-old in Punjab in India. Losing a loved one is heart-breaking at the best of times. But facing a bereavement at such an early age can be more challenging than usual.
Although I was then very young, 10-years-old, I saw first-hand the grief, loneliness, suffering and discrimination that my mother faced as a widow. My grandmother who herself was a widow ordered my mother to remove all her jewellery, her bindi from her forehead (a sign of a married woman in India), and wear white clothes for the rest of her life. I was heart-broken, as it was no fault of my mother that her husband died of tuberculosis. Her suffering was two-fold: she was a woman and she was a widow.
This dreadful virus has killed more people from BAME backgrounds
The former UN general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, has said: “All widows should be protected by the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other international human rights treaties.” He also added: “Despite the many difficulties widows face, many make valuable contributions to their countries and communities. We can reduce the suffering that widows endure by raising their status and helping them in their hour of need. This will contribute to promoting the full and equal participation of all women in society.”
Our government has left no stone unturned to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. It has invested billions of pounds to support the NHS and research for the vaccine to save lives. The government has also spent billions more to save jobs and the economy through the furlough of millions of people and grants to numerous businesses. Vaccine rollout is an exemplary achievement as more than 20 million people have already received the first dose. It is a matter of pride that the coronavirus infection rate and fatalities have been drastically reduced in the UK as a result of the vaccine, lockdown and government’s restrictions.
Therefore, I urge the UK government to set up a Covid-19 widows support group to provide financial support and practical help to overcome bereavement grief. This group should be set up soon as possible. We know that this dreadful virus has killed more people from BAME backgrounds. They are poor and are faced with a double burden likely to impact both their – and their children’s – lives for years to come. So it is our moral duty, particularly at this moment – where so many women are in need of empowerment and championing – to set up financial help and support for their bereavement grief. Their unique stories deserve to be heard and prioritised.
Lord Loomba is a Crossbench peer
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