This blog post was written by Dr Saffron Karlsen, (Senior Lecturer in Social Research, University of Bristol)
On the last weekend of May 2020, much of the world watched with horror scenes of US urban disturbances in response to the death of George Floyd – another Black person killed in police custody. On the other side of the pond, many in the UK also awaited the release of an official report into the higher rates of infection and death of Black and other ethnic minority people from COVID-19.
Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash
Delays and disappointment
This Public Health England (PHE) report was heralded as an opportunity to finally provide answers to questions we’d had since evidence of these inequalities first emerged. The inquiry’s lead, Professor Kevin Fenton, described the pressing need for open discussion, to listen to the views of people from Black communities and those who worked with them to find out what was producing these inequalities.
Unfortunately, the report which was finally released is very far from fulfilling these ambitions. It does not provide a detailed investigation of the drivers of these ethnic inequalities and includes very little new information from which to make sense of these patterns.
The large number of deaths of BAME people due to the coronavirus has quickly disproved the claim that the pandemic is a ‘great equaliser’ and has instead brought to the fore the many social ills in society. As most determinants of health are socially created, it logically follows then that the fact that socioeconomic deprivation disproportionately affects BAME people will be a precursor to the impact of the virus on those communities. With living space, gardens, and local areas (or the lack thereof) dictating our wellbeing, the gap between the rich and the poor has never been more obvious. The coronavirus will therefore not be felt equally and – compounded by the already profound challenges to wellbeing in non-OECD countries – will only serve to further entrench existing racial and economic disparities.
Racial disparities have a history. The product of centuries of colonialism, apartheid and racial exclusion, South Africa’s welfare system has struggled to provide the freedoms promised in 1994. It has been 26 years since South Africa’s first democratic election, and it is still one of the world’s most unequal societies. With unemployment levels at a decade high of 30% (reaching 40% in some areas), poor levels of basic service provision (StatsSA, 2018), over 2 million AIDS orphans, and the highest level of people with HIV of any country (UNAIDS, 2018), the impacts of Covid-19 will be acutely felt in this part of the world.
Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license Photographer: Ed Gregory
Dr Elizabeth Fortin, PolicyBristol Coordinator for Social Sciences, Law, Arts and Humanities, E.Fortin@bristol.ac.uk
Having spent my British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship researching forms of governance that aspire to achieve that nebulous concept of ‘sustainability’ in relation to certain parts of the global agro-food/fuel system, it seemed fitting that the last event I attend in this capacity should be City University’s annual Food Symposium.
This year’s Symposium enabled Prof. Tim Lang, who is passing the baton of running City’s influential Food Centre to Prof. Corinna Hawkes, and a number of his colleagues, to reflect on the past 25 years of food policy. But it also provided an unprecedented opportunity to 40 audience members from both academia and civil society to imagine a more utopian future – not difficult in our troubled present – to table their vision of ‘How to do food policy better‘. We heard from a headteacher, a producer, a proud ‘Colombian peasant’, a farmer’s daughter, a student, the BBC chef of the year, a former advertiser, a community food network coordinator. We then went on to hear from a panel of those who have been working to enable such diverse voices to be heard both in relation to the research they have been undertaking or the programmes they have been endeavouring to implement. Continue reading →
There’s an interesting debate that’s been going on for some time now about measuring poverty and getting the issue onto the agenda so people sit up and take notice in the right way. It’s an area of academia that I haven’t really engaged in before, but one where I have a personal interest in seeking to see the debate move in the right kind of direction. A direction that takes us away from the concept of demonising the poor and those living in poverty and instead acknowledges the levels of inequality and seeks to do something about it in a way that benefits those most in need. The recent Policy & Politics conference in Bristol had inequality and poverty as one of its main themes and at the time I wrote a couple of blogs on the plenary sessions – the human cost of inequality (Kate Pickett) and why social inequality persists (Danny Dorlling). Both these presentations provided plenty of evidence to illustrate just how significant a problem we have in the UK and how it is getting worse.
Last week I went to a seminar on this very issue run by the Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice at the University of Bristol, where the subject of debate was about how to gain traction and create change from academic research and evidence. The focus of the discussion was about using living standards rather than poverty indicators and the difference this can make when trying to attract the attention of politicians and policy makers. It was an interesting and thought provoking debate which gave some pointers on how we can translate measures and indicators into policy and action, as well as why it’s helpful to look at living standards for everyone rather than just looking at those in poverty.