It was good news that at the Downing Street briefing last night, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced key measures to address domestic violence, modern slavery and homelessness, although some critics are saying they aren’t enough. A task force led by former homelessness Tsar Dame Louise Casey will work on ways of helping rough sleepers and £76m will be given to DV and modern slavery charities. Two concerns about this: it’s not being implemented quickly enough to prevent more DV incidents and fatalities, and putting the voluntary sector in charge is unfair pressure and doesn’t facilitate an overview of the work.
More attention is now being directed to health inequalities as a factor in COVID risk. Marked reductions in council budgets during austerity led to cuts in vital public health spending, affecting mental health work as well as other areas. The damaging thing about this is that public health work is preventative, so its lack will result in worse problems further down the line. Public health expert Professor Kevin Fenton (leading a government review into BAME risk factors) draws attention to ‘sobering findings from a new Institute of Fiscal Studies report (The Deaton Review – Are some ethnic groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others?), showing that Black African COVID deaths are 3 times higher than those in white Britons, saying that ‘we must also look beyond the data to understand and address the life experiences, social, economic and structural factors driving these differences.’
Views on the lockdown are becoming increasingly polarised. An Opinium survey for The Observer found at the end of last week that 17% of people think the conditions have been met to consider reopening schools, against 67% who say they have not been, and that they should stay closed. Nevertheless, there’s a groundswell of protest against lumping together of all over 70s into a further period of lockdown (‘indiscriminate targeting’), when it’s clear that many over 70s are fitter than some in their 40s and 50s. This damaging conflation of age with incapacity needs to be addressed urgently otherwise people will start to make their own decisions, further breaching the already fragile lockdown. The conformity associated with the older generation has limits. Max Hastings in The Guardian said: ‘Britain has not been exceptional in much, except in its refusal to inform and debate with the public over lockdown. It has behaved like an old-fashioned centralist bureaucracy, with ministers and officials mouthing slogans and giving orders. ” Such an approach can add further to general anxiety, because of the feelings of powerlessness it gives rise to, a very clear undermining of autonomy.
Meanwhile, it’s interesting that Spain, allowing people outside for the first time in weeks, is age-segregating these exercise times. This might be a good idea, to help prevent people being mown down by large numbers of cyclists and pavement pounders.
A lockdown exit strategy is expected to be announced on Thursday but some say it’s already broken down and there’s plenty of evidence in some areas to confirm that – busy roads, little or no distancing in shops, people congregating and many more around in streets and on buses than weeks ago. Better understanding of the rise in mental health difficulties during lockdown, including a significant rise in problem drinking, means behavioural scientists could be forced to conclude that 5-6 weeks is the limit of people’s tolerance of such unprecedented restrictions.
Robert Jenrick said ‘the second phase’ of their ‘battle plan’ will be addressed ‘with the same energy, determination and commitment to this effort as the first’, a statement which might not inspire confidence in all quarters. The Guardian yesterday cast a cynical eye over the entire Downing Street Briefing strategy, down to the repetition of the same soundbites including the now classic ‘straining every sinew’. https://bit.ly/3df2AfH
Another programme on COVID19 fallout should be worth tuning into tonight at 8 pm – ‘The decisions being made now by our politicians, our doctors, our scientists and business leaders will affect us all for years to come. Tom Chivers (science writer) meets with leading experts and asks whether the cure is always worth the cost’.
Ending on another nature note, it was pleasing on visiting the nesting coots this morning to see both sets of eggs have now hatched. Interesting that the food I threw in was gobbled up immediately by the male bird. Despite managing to get some near or close to the first nest the female didn’t budge, obviously reluctant to expose the chicks for even a moment. I’m looking forward to seeing them on the water, hoping they survive until then.