Although we frequently heard the term ‘this virus does not discriminate’, a recently published York report looking at the effect of the pandemic in York has shown this not to be true. The key finding of York Human Rights fifth Indicator Report shows the pandemic has infact exacerbated issues of inequality and discrimination, and that it is likely to result in long-lasting socio-economic impacts on our city.
The report looks in detail at the upturn in foodbank usage, the increase in universal credit claimants and the rise in unemployment in York showing very clearly how our city fared. It also delves into City of York Council’s response during the first lockdown, the huge digital divide in the city and the importance of local government, resilience and creativity.
The research done by York Human Rights City Network and postgraduate students at the University of York calls on the City of York Council to make tackling poverty and inequality its priority, ensuring that there is a coherent strategy across all relevant agencies in the city in order to recover after the pandemic. It argues that it is vital that York’s marginalised residents and all those in vulnerable situations are not forced to carry the burdens of 2020 for years to come.
Professor Paul Gready from the Centre for Applied Human Rights said: “Shadow pandemics of poverty, inequality, isolation and mental health problems are likely to be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic in York. But there was also much that was positive in 2020. The pandemic illustrated the importance of local government, local resilience and local creativity. There were good examples of York’s vibrant civil society working in collaboration with the Council to generate a greater sense of social cohesion at a time of crisis.”
Cllr Darryl Smalley, City of York Council’s Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Communities, said: “As the UK’s first Human Rights City, we are committed to building on York’s rich history of philanthropy and societal innovation. This year has been incredibly challenging in ways that none of us could have foreseen 12 months ago, and the pandemic has had a significant effect on communities across the city, including poverty, inequality, mental health concerns and isolation. I welcome the findings of this annual report, which will help us ensure that human rights are at the heart of our policies as we work with partners to support residents and communities through the Covid recovery.”
Alison Semmence, Chief Executive of York CVS said: “COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated the many inequalities we have in York. People who were already struggling are facing even greater challenges now. We know the legacy of the pandemic will be with us for years to come and the only way we will meet the challenges that lie ahead is for everyone, individuals, civil society and health/social care systems to play their part.”
Finally and importantly, Todd Howland, Chief, Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the central role of local authorities in protecting and promoting human rights. The development of human rights indicators at local level should guide efforts to combat COVID-19, from response to recovery and beyond. It also demonstrates that the resilience of populations to similar crises necessitate improving human rights, particularly the rights to adequate housing, social security and universal health access. The efforts of York to produce this report is commendable and should serve as an example for other cities. Its content will certainly be valuable for local, national and international discussions on recovery.”
The research took place throughout the pandemic in 2020.