This response is submitted on behalf of Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council (NREC). NREC is a voluntary sector organisation and a charity which campaigns for social justice in Northamptonshire.
To do this we:
* support individual victims of discrimination
* support victims of hate incidents and monitor hate incidents
* raise awareness of the rights of individuals not to experience discrimination and to have their human rights upheld.
NREC’s vision is to challenge and eradicate discrimination (both personal and institutional) and prejudice or hostility in all its forms; so that all Northamptonshire’s diverse communities and citizens can enjoy peace, achieve their full potential and live free from injustice. We aim for a socially cohesive society in which diversity and human rights are recognised, celebrated and valued.
The evidence submitted is based on reports which the organisation has received from clients, members and Directors. In particular, our response focuses on the following questions as requested by the WEC:
How people have been affected by the illness or the response to it
If there have been specific impacts on people due to them having a protected characteristic
The response will give examples based on the protected characteristics and, in addition, social economic status.
Social Economic status/age/disability:
One of our Directors had the following to say about the indirect consequences of a reduction in staffing and resources at the housing association, due to the virus, on particularly vulnerable tenants as well as the general impact on people living in social housing. “I live on a ‘dispersed housing’ complex and the lack of care offered to residents is appallingly low. Residents have received many letters since the virus arrived and we are constantly told what we can no longer have or gain access to. All negative information that implies that we should endure the hardship. There are some vulnerable people living here. Our housing association used to have a representative come once a week to a meeting in the community room. There, you could raise any problems or failings. Not any more! Repairs, too, are only being done if they are life-threatening or emergencies. We have a lifeline link, but often that is not answered.”
It is clear from this statement that the impact of having reduced resources and staffing at the housing association means that basic services and maintenance is no longer being carried out. In addition, the mechanisms for raising concerns and alerting the housing association of emergencies is not functional thereby leaving vulnerable tenants without means of redress or emergency response.
Another Director, who is also a lecturer at a local university, raised the following concerns regarding their disabled students. They have noted that students who have a registered disability or who have DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) are reporting that getting onto the vulnerable register to qualify for home delivery slots has been difficult. Getting medications delivered on time and or getting a full supply has also been problematic. DSA are giving no extra hours of support if a student is stressed or has anxiety relating to Covid-19, only study related, which is problematic given the change from face to face lectures to everything now being online. There also does not seem to be any flagging up of students who live alone or have recorded mental health difficulties who could be at increased risk.
Other examples of the way the virus and responses to the virus have impacted on disabled people have been reflected in the treatment of some of our clients. In one case a client, who is in the process of submitting a claim of disability discrimination, has been told that there is no more work for them and they have been furloughed, despite the fact that others in the organisation continue to operate and have been transferred to a new organisation. In another case, a client is going through a disciplinary and believes this is happening as a result of their requests for reasonable adjustments and their employer failing to implement them. Despite the COVID-19 crisis the employer is progressing with the disciplinary, which the employer states will happen via skype. Our client has underlying health conditions and has been unwell and does not have access to broadband at home. The employer’s response was that they could “attend the hearing by phone”. This disadvantages our client if others are presenting evidence via video.
There has also been some evidence of an increase in fraud and crimes against elderly and disabled people. As has been stated by one PCOS: “Certainly there has been a rise in reported fraud against vulnerable people, with a lot based around “services offered” to those in isolation because of Covid 19 – offers to withdraw cash, to pay people to collect goods etc., money scams. This would have a detrimental effect on those elderly or disabled in our communities who might be not be having as much face to face support as they usually do. “
One Director, who also researches far right activity, has noted that here is an increase in far-right activity due to some politicians blaming, China, then the EU etc. This feeds into the narrative of blaming the ‘other’ and could have serious implications for far right activity in the UK. Connected to this, it has also been noted that there is a growth in racism directed at Chinese/China on local social media. There seems to be reasonably good responses from Facebook group administrators when it comes to removing the posts as well as other members of the group challenging such racist posts. However, the rise in this kind of online hate crime is concerning and has implications for policing and reporting of such incidents.
In addition, there has been an issue with people from some countries not being repatriated and therefore being stranded abroad since the travel restrictions were imposed. The members and Directors who have been impacted by this have tended to be from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) citizens. NREC has a member in Grenada unable to return to Northamptonshire as a result of flights being cancelled as well as one staff member who is stranded in Jamaica.
The information on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website seems to be about GDRP and not about the support citizens can expect. Efforts to get citizens back from other countries have focused on European co-operation. https://www.ft.com/content/1bf986e6-ae9c-4afe-975c-0e51997ea3c4
Citizens who have gone to Caribbean countries that are smaller, for example, do not seem to have been able to access support to come home.
Stop search data has also disappeared from Northamptonshire Police’s website. Given the number of stop and account stops that are happening, due to the guidance asking people to only go outside if essential, this is concerning. There needs to be continued accountability of Public Authorities, and particularly the police, given the disproportionality of stop search in terms of race and ethnicity.
Finally, as an organisation we have noticed some problems in the way local Councils are interpreting the new regulations/requirements to house homeless people. One local Council is making it very difficult to house people who have been newly made homeless, particularly those from migrant communities. The Council has made it very difficult for them to access accommodation, sometimes made worse by the Council’s failure to use interpreters and putting bureaucratic barriers in the way.
As stated by 38 Degrees – ‘Women’s Aid has seen a 41% increase in survivors trying to access support online. But for many women, digital support won’t be enough. Many desperately need accommodation away from abuse…’ It has been reported that domestic abuse has increased during the lockdown (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/27/domestic-abuse-surge-coronavirus-lockdown-lasting-impact-mps). The provision of emergency hotel accommodation for survivors of DV is therefore urgent. This is particularly the case in parts of Northamptonshire, such as Wellingborough, where refuge services had to close in the past couple of years due to lack of funding (http://encs.org.uk/wellingborough-east-northants-womens-aid-closes/)
The local PCSO has commented that: “At the moment it is hard to tell if there has been an increase in domestic abuse, although we are all prepared for that to be the case. Personally, I feel I am hearing more domestic related jobs at work at the moment compared to before, but that’s just my personal opinion. As a force we are supporting the governments #youarenotalone campaign, the campaign, under the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, is intended to create a community around those affected by domestic abuse and reassure victims that support remains available and sharing the gov.uk/domestic-abuse address where people can find out more information, including helplines. It’s important for us to help people understand that isolation rules do not apply to anyone at risk and that the support services are still there for them 24/7.”
For further general information about the impact of Covid-19 on instances of DV, see for example Bradbury‐Jones, C and Isham, L (April 2020) ‘The pandemic paradox: the consequences of COVID‐19 on domestic violence’ accessed via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32281158
This response is not meant to be a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of Covid-19 on people with protected characteristics, but provides some examples which have come to our attention as an organisation over the past few weeks since this crisis began.
29th April 2020