Luke Evans: Snapshot from Leicestershire. We haven’t beaten the Coronavirus. But nor are we letting it beat us.

8 Jul

Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.

I left you last week on something of a ‘columnist’s cliffhanger’.

The County of Leicestershire, and the city of Leicester that lies in its centre, had gone through days of speculation about the possibility of a local lockdown, and subsequent uncertainty about exactly where lines would be drawn. On a personal level, that included working out whether my own constituency of Bosworth would be affected, and if so how, and what that meant.

As it transpired, in the end Bosworth remained free from local lockdown. Even the areas which may loosely be described as the outer suburbs of the city were left untouched.

The focus for my own constituents quickly, and understandably, changed from fear that they could be part of a Coronavirus spike with all the implications which that brings, to concern that, especially as nationally enforced lockdown restrictions were being lifted, what might be the implications of Leicester residents escaping their locked down city to enjoy the pubs and restaurants of Hinckley and Bosworth?

After I left you last week, a great deal of time was spent trying to answer exactly that question.

I held several meetings with our local policing unit commander and two further ones with the County’s Chief Constable.

County MPs, all Conservative, met virtually to discuss strategy; and, as you would expect, I stayed in close contact with council leaders, chief executives and the head of our local resilience forum.

Not least, I spoke with councillors, especially those whose wards lay nearest to the city, and whose concerns were entirely understandably at their most heightened.

There were serious discussions about whether, even at an informal level, the lifting of lockdown restrictions should be postponed. Should I speak with publicans and ask them to stay closed? Should they take a further hit to their livelihoods to ensure that the heightened spread in the city could not be brought out to our rural communities?

As with so many other things there is seldom a binary choice when it comes to protecting health and livelihoods and inevitably, as with crime, there is a significant difference between the fear of what might happen, and what actually does.

It was interesting to see that research published by YouGov last Friday indicated that in this case the fear of what might happen was substantially greater than the likely reality.

In one of those oddly specific polls that the YouGov panel seems so proficient at producing, regular pub goers, regular prior to lockdown that is, were asked how soon they would return to their locals after July 4th.

Just four per cent of regulars said they would venture out on the day itself, and another four per cent in the first week, but not on Saturday.

Of course, that type of research certainly doesn’t mean that city dwellers would definitely stay at home but it does indicate that whatever happens it wasn’t going to be likely that pubs, and the police, would be inundated.

My conversations with the police were clear. They had planned, and part of their planning meant having more officers on duty than they would typically have on New Years Eve – but they weren’t expecting a day of mass rebellion.

I was delighted on Monday morning to be able to share a tweet from the Chief Constable stating that over the weekend in Leicester ‘the was huge compliance with the lockdown rules’, whilst in the county the ‘vast majority of residents were acting responsibly and adhering to guidelines’.

Of course, we always knew there would be incidents, which with a camera to hand and a media willing to share them will always gain penetration.

But we can’t lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of decent people within the city and county are doing all that they can, and all that they have been asked, to beat this virus. I keep coming back to the same point that when the majority stick together we will win this fight.

Last weekend wasn’t the end of the local lockdown and it isn’t the end of the lifting of restrictions. We know that there are going to be outbreaks, people testing positive leading to the need to track and trace and temporarily close pubs. Indeed there have already been such cases.

But those cases aren’t indications that lifting the restrictions are failing but rather signs that this new normality is working.]

We haven’t got to the stage where we can say we have beaten Coronavirus, but by the great majority of us following the rules we can at least say we are not letting it beat us.

Phillipa Stroud: Coronavirus has hit those in poverty hardest. The Government must support employment, fast.

2 Jul

Baroness Philippa Stroud, Chair of the Social Metrics Commission.

The UK is living through the most significant health, social and economic crisis of modern times. But not everybody is being impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic in the same way. A new report from the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), which I chair, shows that those who were already struggling to make ends meet are being hit hardest.

Research we conducted with YouGov reveals that almost two thirds (65 per cent) of those who were living in deep poverty – that is, more than 50 per cent below the poverty line – and were employed before the virus hit have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or seen their hours and/or wages drop. This compares to just over a third (35 per cent) of those living more than 20 per cent above the poverty line prior to the crisis.

Our analysis shows that, over the last 20 years, rising employment rates for those in poverty were helping families move out of deep poverty, so they were more likely to be able to escape poverty in the future.

Families in poverty where the adults work full-time are less than half as likely to experience deep poverty than those with part-time work or no job. A reversal of this success story could have a profound effect; increasing poverty rates and deepening poverty for those already below the poverty line. So supporting employment, especially for those on the lowest incomes, must remain a key priority for Government as the country emerges from the lockdown restrictions that have caused the economy to contract so severely.

We also need to empower those in or at risk of poverty to increase their financial resilience. The SMC’s analysis shows that, before the crisis hit, nearly three in ten people in poverty lived in families that were behind paying the bills and seven in ten were in families where no-one saves. This means they did not have a buffer available to them when the pandemic struck and are therefore more likely to have fallen further into poverty.

However, it is not all bad news. The SMC’s analysis also shows that, after rising for the last three years, the poverty rate for both children and pensioners had plateaued before the crisis, and that, since the turn of the millennium, poverty levels haves fallen for lone-parent families.

In addition, there has been a drop in the poverty rate for families that include a disabled child over the last 10 years, and across all age groups there has been a fall in the proportion of people in poverty who are also in persistent poverty.

These success stories demonstrate that poverty can be tackled and reduced. But with millions of people still in poverty, we cannot be complacent.

The first step is to ensure that poverty is properly measured. This is essential if action is going to be taken to improve the lives of those currently living in, or at risk of falling into, poverty, and to ensure that those individuals, families, communities, and areas of the UK that have historically been left behind are supported to improve their situation.

After decades of damaging debate that has distracted focus away from the vital action needed to drive better outcomes for the most disadvantaged in society, a new consensus is needed so that policymakers and politicians can track progress and can be held to account.

I am delighted that the Government has committed to creating new experimental national statistics based on the SMC’s approach, as the first step towards adopting it as an official measure.

While it is entirely appropriate that this work was paused during the pandemic so the Government could focus on providing support to those individuals and families whose health and livelihoods have been impacted by the virus, the need to return to it is clear.

The next step is for a full Poverty Commission to be established to develop solutions based on this measurement data. We already know that poverty is more likely to be experienced by some families than others, and that the nature of that experience is incredibly varied.

The causes and implications of the various types of poverty are different, which means that the approach needed to tackle them will be different. As with the SMC, it will be important that the Poverty Commission has support from individuals and organisations across the political spectrum as well as from business, the charity sector, and those who are in poverty.

However, while the Poverty Commission will need to conduct further work to assess what really creates an enabling environment for different people, the existing data clearly shows that work is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. Therefore, as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, an employment- and skills-based recovery will be vital.

We must enable the smooth transition of those on low incomes who have been furloughed and need to increase their hours, to avoid them falling deeper into poverty. We need to re-open schools so that the education of the poorest is protected and to allow their parents to work the extra hours that could make all the difference.

And we need to ensure that schools are preparing students for the jobs that will be available in the future, equipping them with the skills they will need in a world of artificial intelligence and new digital technologies.

In addition, given half of those in poverty live in a family with a disabled person, we must increase support to help those with disabilities find full-time employment. The inescapable cost of housing, and especially private renting, is also one of the major factors contributing to poverty, so it is also vital that we make housing more affordable.

My hope is that the SMC’s poverty measurement framework can inform the creation of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. Where there are obstacles, we need to remove them, and where individuals can build their own pathway out of poverty, we need to ensure that they have the tools and support they need to do so.

This will require a partnership between those in poverty and policymakers, business leaders, and community builders across the UK. Together we can ensure that poverty is less prevalent in the UK after the coronavirus crisis than it was before and that as many people as possible can enjoy a life free of poverty in the future.

Phillipa Stroud: Coronavirus has hit those in poverty hardest. The Government must support employment, fast.

2 Jul

Baroness Philippa Stroud, Chair of the Social Metrics Commission.

The UK is living through the most significant health, social and economic crisis of modern times. But not everybody is being impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic in the same way. A new report from the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), which I chair, shows that those who were already struggling to make ends meet are being hit hardest.

Research we conducted with YouGov reveals that almost two thirds (65 per cent) of those who were living in deep poverty – that is, more than 50 per cent below the poverty line – and were employed before the virus hit have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or seen their hours and/or wages drop. This compares to just over a third (35 per cent) of those living more than 20 per cent above the poverty line prior to the crisis.

Our analysis shows that, over the last 20 years, rising employment rates for those in poverty were helping families move out of deep poverty, so they were more likely to be able to escape poverty in the future.

Families in poverty where the adults work full-time are less than half as likely to experience deep poverty than those with part-time work or no job. A reversal of this success story could have a profound effect; increasing poverty rates and deepening poverty for those already below the poverty line. So supporting employment, especially for those on the lowest incomes, must remain a key priority for Government as the country emerges from the lockdown restrictions that have caused the economy to contract so severely.

We also need to empower those in or at risk of poverty to increase their financial resilience. The SMC’s analysis shows that, before the crisis hit, nearly three in ten people in poverty lived in families that were behind paying the bills and seven in ten were in families where no-one saves. This means they did not have a buffer available to them when the pandemic struck and are therefore more likely to have fallen further into poverty.

However, it is not all bad news. The SMC’s analysis also shows that, after rising for the last three years, the poverty rate for both children and pensioners had plateaued before the crisis, and that, since the turn of the millennium, poverty levels haves fallen for lone-parent families.

In addition, there has been a drop in the poverty rate for families that include a disabled child over the last 10 years, and across all age groups there has been a fall in the proportion of people in poverty who are also in persistent poverty.

These success stories demonstrate that poverty can be tackled and reduced. But with millions of people still in poverty, we cannot be complacent.

The first step is to ensure that poverty is properly measured. This is essential if action is going to be taken to improve the lives of those currently living in, or at risk of falling into, poverty, and to ensure that those individuals, families, communities, and areas of the UK that have historically been left behind are supported to improve their situation.

After decades of damaging debate that has distracted focus away from the vital action needed to drive better outcomes for the most disadvantaged in society, a new consensus is needed so that policymakers and politicians can track progress and can be held to account.

I am delighted that the Government has committed to creating new experimental national statistics based on the SMC’s approach, as the first step towards adopting it as an official measure.

While it is entirely appropriate that this work was paused during the pandemic so the Government could focus on providing support to those individuals and families whose health and livelihoods have been impacted by the virus, the need to return to it is clear.

The next step is for a full Poverty Commission to be established to develop solutions based on this measurement data. We already know that poverty is more likely to be experienced by some families than others, and that the nature of that experience is incredibly varied.

The causes and implications of the various types of poverty are different, which means that the approach needed to tackle them will be different. As with the SMC, it will be important that the Poverty Commission has support from individuals and organisations across the political spectrum as well as from business, the charity sector, and those who are in poverty.

However, while the Poverty Commission will need to conduct further work to assess what really creates an enabling environment for different people, the existing data clearly shows that work is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. Therefore, as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, an employment- and skills-based recovery will be vital.

We must enable the smooth transition of those on low incomes who have been furloughed and need to increase their hours, to avoid them falling deeper into poverty. We need to re-open schools so that the education of the poorest is protected and to allow their parents to work the extra hours that could make all the difference.

And we need to ensure that schools are preparing students for the jobs that will be available in the future, equipping them with the skills they will need in a world of artificial intelligence and new digital technologies.

In addition, given half of those in poverty live in a family with a disabled person, we must increase support to help those with disabilities find full-time employment. The inescapable cost of housing, and especially private renting, is also one of the major factors contributing to poverty, so it is also vital that we make housing more affordable.

My hope is that the SMC’s poverty measurement framework can inform the creation of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. Where there are obstacles, we need to remove them, and where individuals can build their own pathway out of poverty, we need to ensure that they have the tools and support they need to do so.

This will require a partnership between those in poverty and policymakers, business leaders, and community builders across the UK. Together we can ensure that poverty is less prevalent in the UK after the coronavirus crisis than it was before and that as many people as possible can enjoy a life free of poverty in the future.