COVID-19: “We must learn from what’s happened and do all we can to help those hit hardest” – John Griffiths MS
The Senedd’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has today issued a stark warning that COVID-19 has already entrenched existing inequalities in Wales.
The Committee’s inquiry focusing on the impact of the pandemic has highlighted that our chances of dying, losing jobs or falling behind in education have, in part, been determined by our age, race, gender, disability, income and where we live. The virus, and the response to it, is widening existing inequalities, by reducing incomes and increasing risks disproportionately for already disadvantaged groups of people.
The Committee is setting out a series of recommendations for the Welsh Government and believes that as well as preparing for the recovery phase, it is important that lessons are learnt, in case there is a second wave of infection and that we avoid repeating mistakes.
Many who gave evidence to the inquiry stressed the need for immediate action, rather than the production of more strategies. The Committee believes that the Welsh Government’s recovery plan must be targeted at those who have lost the most.
Data and citizen engagement
The pandemic has shone a light on the fact that data available is not of sufficient quality in terms of employment, or health outcomes. To understand the problems caused by the pandemic and to tackle inequalities the Committee is urging the Welsh Government to gather better data and carry out meaningful citizen engagement to ensure interventions are targeted and don’t create additional barriers.
Knowing what support is available
The pandemic has had a disastrous impact on the Welsh economy, with workers losing income through furloughing, reductions in hours or pay, job losses and many businesses that have had to shut down losing significant amounts of income.
As the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (‘furlough’ scheme) finishes in October it appears likely that many ‘furloughed’ workers will be made redundant. It is critical that these people can access support and advice on their rights and entitlements in relation to employment and benefits. Thousands of people will be accessing the benefits system for the first time during this period and may be seeking advice on help with redundancy rights, help with paying bills and other costs.
John Griffiths MS, Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, commenting on the report’s findings, said:
“The impact of COVID-19 has hit Wales hard and disproportionately affected already disadvantaged groups in society. We must learn lessons from what has happened and we must act fast to support those who’ve been hit hardest.
“Although the Welsh Government has provided some support, the evidence we have gathered demonstrates that this commitment to equality and human rights must now move beyond the immediate situation and begin to plan for a fairer Wales. Alongside the Black Lives Matter movement too, this period has shone an uncomfortable light on inequalities in our society that already existed.
“The UK Government’s ‘furlough’ scheme will soon come to an end and many could lose their jobs at the end of it, it’s critical that people know their rights and what support is available to them to stop people falling into crisis as we move into the next phase of the crisis.
“Our report today sets out significant recommendations for the Welsh Government. We must learn from what’s happened and do all we can to help those hit hardest by this cruel pandemic.
“We’re calling on the Welsh Government for immediate action, rather than the production of more strategies.”