We are all affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, whether by the virus itself, government restrictions, or the economic uncertainty it is causing. Many of us are doing what we can to support others in our communities, by helping those who are unwell or cannot get out and about.
Sadly, we also know that there are many groups in society who will be hit harder by the outbreak: not only older people and those with underlying health conditions, but those who are vulnerable simply because they do not have the same opportunities to stay well.
These groups are at the sharp end of health inequalities – unjust and avoidable differences in people’s health - resulting from a lack of the things many of us take for granted: stable, well paid work, secure housing or a support network of friends and family to rely on.
We asked some of the members of our Collaboration for Wellbeing and Health to share their thoughts and advice on what we can do now to support those in need in these uncertain times.
'The coronavirus outbreak is affecting us all, and the 14.5 million people in poverty across the country face particular challenges in staying afloat. Workers in poverty are more likely to have insecure jobs with fewer rights, and less savings to help them bridge any gaps in income. People on low incomes face additional costs from rising prices in shops and higher bills from staying at home. They are more likely to be in poor health, disabled, and/or caring for others, and services they rely on, such as food banks and advice teams, are also at risk of disruption.
The Government has rightly committed to some bold and compassionate measures to support to those in employment and the self-employed, as well as boosting some areas of social security. The government must now take more targeted steps to make sure those on the lowest incomes can weather the storm. These include boosting levels of support through statutory sick pay, Universal Credit and other benefits, extending sick pay to low earners, and suspending debt repayments.'
‘There are a range of political, cultural, social and economic factors that will determine the impact of COVID-19 on black and minority ethnic communities. For example, people in black and minority ethnic groups are twice as likely to be living in poverty and are more likely to be employed in a key worker role or experiencing housing deprivation.
At Race Equality Foundation, we want to shine a light on the likely disproportionate impacts that these groups are facing, in a context where health inequalities are already more pronounced for black and minority ethnic groups. Our latest blog includes a list of useful resources, including guidance from the Roma Support Group, the Sickle Cell Society and The Muslim Council of Britain.’
'The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many communities and organisations developing ways to support each other, especially those most vulnerable. Evidence shows that having someone to rely on in times of trouble is the top driver of a high-wellbeing nation. Helping others and having purpose supports personal wellbeing. Yet, there is already evidence showing that 5% of the UK population feel chronically lonely, and the overlap between loneliness and those at risk of low wellbeing.
With physical distancing, being on lockdown, and relying increasingly on technology to connect, there is a risk that loneliness will increase along with social isolation. To understand the psychological and social effects of COVID-19 in the UK and how we can best support people during this crisis, we are helping to share a survey by University College London that anyone can take. The results will be used to better understand how loneliness, social isolation and physical distancing are affecting our mental health.'
'In this crisis demand for charities is greater than ever. But with fundraising events cancelled, trading arms shuttered and public sector contracts in jeopardy, budgets are very squeezed. Many charities need to step up, not scale back, to keep serving people through this crisis. Others will be needed again when it’s all over. Yet many of these charities are at severe risk of going to the wall now.
Government support is needed and needed now. Philanthropists also need to be much more dynamic and proactive in their giving, not needing to wait to be asked, responding to developments and newly identified vulnerable groups - as highlighted in my recent blog. Consider the charities you never got around to supporting and take the lead in keeping them going. Give unrestricted funding. Bring forward your planned giving. Charities, and those they serve, need it now.'
'Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. At a time when many expect that coronavirus could make or break many small businesses, charities and other enterprises across the UK, we are calling on all businesses to support each other, the people they are responsible for and the communities of which they are a part.
Larger businesses can work with and support SMEs and organisations in their supply chains and networks. For example, it is heartening to see major banks take interventions such as repayment holidays. There are also practical actions to keep business going through financial and logistical challenges, including looking after the health and wellbeing of employees, from coping with anxiety to overcoming loneliness.
In turn, there are ways the business community can support their communities, including checking in with community partners to understand the needs of the schools, charities and community groups they are engaged with, and adapting traditional volunteering methods to deliver ongoing support differently.'
'The relationship between people’s current health and COVID-19 is complex. People facing greater socio-economic disadvantage risk greater exposure to the virus; for example, as key workers or through crowded housing conditions. These groups are also more likely to be in poorer health to begin with (such as respiratory conditions or heart disease) and therefore more likely to experience severe symptoms and hospitalisation.
Aside from the virus itself, the social and economic hardships caused by the lockdown risk harming health through losses of income, poorer diet and closure of local services. Even as the NHS diverts resources away from routine care to manage COVID-19 admissions, it is important that people who are already experiencing poorer health and wellbeing are protected now. A longer-term strategy is also needed to mitigate the immediate effects of the lockdown to ensure that health inequalities do not become more entrenched.'
'Ensuring people remain connected but physically distant is critical at this time. There is clear evidence that social connection is highly health protective: it provides valuable networks which in turn offer knowledge, particularly of hidden need and poverty, which can otherwise be missed. Funders such as People’s Health Trust must release the restrictions on our grants and trust the wisdom of local groups to determine what is needed in their neighbourhoods right now.
We know that neighbourhoods experiencing disadvantage are likely to be hit hardest by COVID-19 and therefore our support must be appropriate. It is critical that funders with close neighbourhood ties are listening carefully to the emerging challenges on the ground over the coming weeks, rather than assuming what needs to happen next. In this way, we can respond beyond emergency actions and plan for the medium term challenge this crisis will bring. By working closely with local and national government, we can represent neighbourhoods and ensure our support is useful to local communities.'
'The economic decline and social disruption resulting from COVID-19 will almost certainly harm health and widen health inequalities, at least on a scale with the illness itself. The Marmot Review 10 years on highlighted some concerning trends before the COVID-19 crisis began, including improvements in life expectancy stalling, and declining for the poorest 10% of women. The health gap has grown between healthy and deprived areas, and rates of child poverty have increased since 2010/11, with over four million children affected.
The response to COVID-19, both now and in the longer term, must account for the extent of health inequalities before this crisis began.'
The LGA have a dedicated webpage for the COVID-19 response. The organisation is providing information and guidance across the full range of council activities – from social care, to business support and housing – to support the valuable work underway across the country.
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