Opinion: Inequality - now a truly deadly business

Cllr Angela Mason, "Coronavirus is holding up to us an image of ourselves and our society."

Cllr Angela Mason, "Coronavirus is holding up to us an image of ourselves and our society." - Credit: Archant

Coronavirus is holding up to us an image of ourselves and our society. Inequality has become, not a matter of just regret or concern, but a truly deadly business. The coronavirus divide means that those in the poorest areas are dying at twice the rate of the richest areas. Death rates from Covid-19 infections are higher in BAME communities. Unemployment seems to be hitting our BAME communities harder. Among council tenants 50 per cent of new claims for universal credit are from black, Asian or mixed communities.

Council services have had to adapt fast to these new realities of life. Providing food and financial support have become frontline services. The council has been working with a network of local groups and food banks.

Over 3,000 food parcels have been packed and delivered by volunteers in partnership with Age UK Camden and last week we worked alongside Arsenal Football Club and local partners to distribute 15,000 meals to households across Camden.

Providing financial support will become more and more important as a pandemic recession bites. We have launched a new hardship fund worth £3 million which includes emergency one off payments and a three-month break from paying council tax for those on the lowest incomes.

We have worked with faith and community leaders to make all public health information available in a number of languages in videos and on local TV and with local groups and Age UK to distribute Ramadan food parcels.

I’m very proud of the way our school community has stepped up and worked together. Camden Learning has been organising weekly conference calls with all our schools to share best practice on distant learning and dealing with the digital divide. It is a huge concern to hear about the digital lottery, which we had been scarcely aware of, with 65pc of pupils in some primary schools not having access to a device. Camden was amongst the first to press the government for help and the most vulnerable will now receive devices, but we are also launched the camden.gov.uk/digital-divide campaign asking you to donate spare laptops and iPads.

The coronavirus crisis is teaching us a bitter lesson about the consequences of inequality. It amplifies need, whether it is the victim of domestic violence and abuse or those losing their jobs, the gaps in our welfare system, the crisis in housing, or on-going racial inequality.

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Going forward local government and Camden Council can learn two lessons. Firstly, public services will have to step in. We will have to try to shape an inclusive local economy. Do more, whether it is house building, education, retail, the green economy or welfare to rebuild our economy.

Secondly it has to be a partnership with our local communities, a people’s programme. Not just recovery this time, but renewal and equality.