England & Wales, Scotland Communities and society, Covid-19, Welfare and equalities

Leaving no one behind: why local government should take an intersectional response to Covid-19

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This article is part of our work on Post-Covid Councils: Place and Community.

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives” the feminist Audre Lorde famously said, back in 1982. Covid-19 has reaffirmed this assertion. By now, the disproportionate impact of the pandemic, and the corresponding social and economic crises on different groups in society has been widely documented. Yet the intersection of inequalities relating to factors such as the places we live, our income, work, gender, age, and ethnicity – to name only a few examples – has been given less attention. During the early stages of the pandemic, many rightly pointed out that while we may all be in this together, we are not in it equally. Understanding and acknowledging these inequalities – and their interconnections – is extremely important. But how do we now shift from talking about them, to action? And what is the role of local government and our communities in the process?

For a number of years, the Carnegie UK Trust’s Enabling State programme of research and advocacy has sought to better understand the conditions that could facilitate a shift to a more enabling state. An Enabling State is one that supports individuals and communities to achieve positive change for themselves, and in doing so, ensures that no one is left behind. Based on principles of fairness and equality for all living in society now, and in the future, it recognises the profound impact that agency, participation, and our relationships can have for our personal and collective wellbeing. It sees the diversity of our communities as an asset.

Over the past few months, the Trust has been exploring how Covid-19 has affected the relationship between local government, public services and citizens. Early evidence suggests that the pandemic has accelerated a shift to a more agile model of delivery – moving towards one that supports people and communities to achieve positive change for themselves. More relational, creative, and showcasing strong leadership, the immediate responses from local government has demonstrated that there is a different way of working with communities. However, in moving forward and thinking about the future, it is important not to assume that this positive energy can be easily retained without significant effort and resource.

Building on the Trust’s existing knowledge base, and conversations with representatives from third-sector organisations, public services, and local government during the immediate response stage of the pandemic, we have developed 7 guiding principles for public services to take as they move to recovery. We believe that these steps could help to further accelerate the shift to an enabling state model. These principles are:

  1. Put wellbeing at the centre;
  2. Give people permission to take control;
  3. Help people to help each other;
  4. Support people to participate fully;
  5. Move upstream;
  6. Build in radical kindness; and
  7. Tell an authentic story of change.

In many ways, these steps provide an inclusive framework for an intersectional response to Covid-19. They recognise the diversity of experiences, and offer co-designed methodologies which could enable communities to come together to share and learn from each other. In turn, local government should use this knowledge to build on the collective strengths of citizens, and develop public services that are responsive, compassionate and human.

Covid-19 has affected all dimensions of our lives and intersectionality rejects a universal conception of individual experiences. To simultaneously respond and recover, we need to recognise these different experiences, and build on this learning to move beyond siloed approaches to public services. Those responsible for shaping places and providing services should focus on this holistic understanding to better understand the conditions in which people and communities can flourish.

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