Last week was unprecedented – this week needs to be too

March 23, 2020

As we reflect on the last seven days, three things are clear: This is an unprecedented time, both in terms of the issue and the response. Second, the pandemic will almost certainly have a disproportionate impact on certain groups of people. And third, this is a cross-sector issue which requires a coordinated and cross-sector response. Those of us working across homelessness, substance misuse, mental health and criminal justice have a vital role to play in ensuring that the pandemic does not disproportionately affect people facing multiple disadvantage.

Last week, we saw unprecedented action from government and local areas to tackle the impact of the coronavirus on people facing multiple disadvantage.  This included a £3.2m emergency fund to support people sleeping rough, guidance for hostels, day centres and prisons, and an historic statement from the Chancellor in which he increased Local Housing Allowance and Universal Credit, as well as backing wages for people working in charities. Locally, we saw areas swinging into action across the country, following advice from Homeless Link to form local Covid-19 taskforces and over 800 people dialling into a webinar on local responses.

This is a great start, but if last week’s response was unprecedented then this week’s actions need to be even more so.  Bold decisions are going to be needed in the coming days – locally and nationally – to ensure that people facing multiple disadvantage have equal options when compared to the wider population. We need a clear plan for every area, backed by national action, to:

  • Move those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 away from shared accommodation settings in nightshelters, hostels and prisons.
  • Develop effective options for self-isolation for those who need it.
  • Support frontline agencies with testing.
  • Ensure ongoing personalised support for people facing multiple disadvantage during this period.
  • Protect and support staff working in local services, including vital PPE.

We are seeing movement on this in many areas (for example the work that the GLA did last week on hotel accommodation) and we expect further national announcements later today, but it is clear that the scale of the challenge will require more unprecedented action this week from local and national decision makers. We will need to make sure that everyone is supported, not just those judged to be owed a duty.  If we do not act, there are already plenty of predictions (e.g. see here and here) about what will happen.

This is a cross-sector issue and so MEAM Approach and Fulfilling Lives partnerships can play an important local leadership role.  We’ll be seeking to collate and promote good practice from across the network in the coming days, including areas that are working alongside people with lived experience to shape their response. Of course, this is a public health issue, but local public health teams will need support and active engagement from housing, social care, substance misuse and mental health if effective plans are to be developed.

As I read online this week, “how a pandemic ends depends entirely on how it starts”.  Let’s collectively take the right actions this week to limit the impact on people facing multiple disadvantage.

Oliver Hilbery

Director, MEAM