There is no doubt we are navigating through uncertain times. The pandemic is affecting millions of people across the world, impacting not just the groups traditionally thought to be vulnerable (people who are older, sicker, or unhoused) but across a gradient of socio-economic groups particularly those struggling to cope financially, mentally or physically with the crisis.
Structural inequalities and vulnerability
The other night, Emily Maitlis on Newsnight put this more clearly than I could: “the disease is not a great leveller”. Although Covid-19 does not discriminate along racial, ethnic or socio-economic lines, existing structural disparities and health inequities means preventing and mitigating its harms is not felt equally in every community.
The relationship between structural inequalities, poor health and vulnerability to pandemic is most acute in the reports from the US. In Louisiana, black people accounted for more than 70 percent of deaths in a state population that is about 33 percent black. Around 33 percent of the state’s 512 deaths as of Tuesday morning have occurred in Orleans Parish, where black people make up more than 60 percent of the population. Closer to home, Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre warned that a third of critically ill Covid-19 patients in the United Kingdom are from Black and Minority Ethnic background, despite constituting only 13 percent of the population. While the report’s findings are preliminary, there is evidence that the UK poverty rate is twice as high for BME communities than for white groups, due to levels of unemployment and low-paid work.
Victims of disasters often experience trauma both as individuals and as communities. We have seen in both Hurricane Katrina and closer to home in Grenfell how disaster can leave whole communities particularly vulnerable. This is not just because of the ongoing stress and upheaval of the event, but also of the challenging circumstances that many victims lived before the events.
For many years, we have heard from our forum members as well as thousands of people we have interviewed that what brings people to the ‘revolving door’ is a combination of traumatic life events and significant structural disadvantages. We know many have had to (and still do) cope with household dysfunction, abuse, neglect, multiple and often traumatic losses, as well as poverty so profound that three meals a day are not guaranteed. We know they had no one they could trust or turn to during difficult times, and those they loved and trusted let them down.
Nobody yet knows to what extent the pandemic will impact on communities facing chronic adversities, particularly those young people who are already at the cusp of entering the revolving door.
Reports from the sector is, so far, bleak. Some charities we work with have had to withhold frontline services, report concerns about domestic abuse rising, foodbanks running low on food, children going missing. Informal support is becoming scarce, employment and training interrupted, and people feeling the heavy burden of digital exclusion and not being able to stay in touch with friends or family. Many charities are likely to close, even with the unwavering support from charitable foundations or trusts, and the recently announced stimulus package from government. We can safely predict that the sector will look different in the months ahead. The additional pressure this will put on already stretched public services is hard to quantify, but it is real.
Rightly the efforts to date have concentrated on emergency support and individual welfare. But the health risks do not stop even after we find a vaccine against Covid-19. Communities who were already facing multiple structural disadvantages are not only more likely to be affected by the disease most, but more likely to be affected by the social and economic upheaval at the other end. The combined impact of difficulties at home, sudden loss of income, limited access to social support and the grief and trauma that will come with the loss of lives cannot be underestimated and will potentially be a challenge for many more years to come.
Towards community resilience and recovery
Most people are remarkably resilient in the face of trauma, however, those who have already suffered trauma or loss and are already experiencing other forms of stress in their lives are at most risk for a post-event psychological distress.
Across the country, we are walking by rainbows that symbolise hope and healing. In remarkable ways, we are witnessing the power of communities to organise and look after each other. But at the same time, some of us are having a daily reminder of problems at home, struggling to feed themselves, dealing with addiction, losing their friends and family members to all sorts of sudden deaths not limited to coronavirus. For some communities, Covid-19 is just a reminder of their own powerlessness, an inability to make ends meet, an inability to prevent deaths, and a feeling of being left behind that was already present prior to this pandemic.
This is why we need to put trauma and structural-inequalities in the core of design, development and implementation of all public services with urgency. It is also critical to ensure people with lived experience most affected by trauma and poverty can play a central role in the resolution of, and their recovery from it.
We will continue to talk to people with lived experience of revolving door and police services up and down the country to move this agenda forward. Next week we’ll be discussing what this means in practice. We would love to hear your views. Join the conversation on Twitter @RevDoors #NewGenPolicing or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The new podcast produced by Revolving Doors Agency brings together academics, practitioners and people with lived experience. The podcast highlights the prevalence and impact of loss and bereavement among people in the criminal justice system, as well as opportunities and challenges professionals face in supporting them. This episode features: Ms Nina Vaswani, University of Strathclyde; Dr. Sotirios Santazoglou, Keele University, Professor Sue Read, Keele University and Dr Panagiotis Pentaris, University of Greenwich and Sat Kalvinder and Vicki Cardwell Revolving Doors Agency.
We need to temporarily stop short prison sentences; limiting the rapid churn of people vulnerable to Covid-19 in and out of prison to keep the prison staff and prisoners safe.
Having spent 20 years talking to people with multiple needs, who are homeless or in the criminal justice system, it seems to me that there are two main pathways through life that might lead to someone ending up in that situation.