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Community-based research and engagement is crucial in understanding the lived experiences of Londoners

October 7th, 2020

The Ubele Initiative’s recent report calls for action to tackle inequality as the voices of the lived experiences of Londoners ring out to confirm the stark extent of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minorities, disabled people and those living in deprived areas.

We have been working with the University of Manchester as part of a team commissioned by the Greater London Authority (GLA) to undertake a rapid review of the impact of COVID-19 on those with protected characteristics as defined in the Equality Act 2010. The final report was published by the Greater London Authority (GLA) on 1st October and highlighted the shocking disproportionate effect of Covid-19 in relation to disability, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic position, age and other factors, including homelessness and being in prison.

Our Rapid Review report was based on the lived experiences of Londoners, seen through the work of voluntary and community social enterprises (VCSEs), which showed that many of them are firefighting with buckets of water compared to pressure hoses; that without funding, many have ceased to continue while others continue to stay afloat working as best they can to deliver services in a voluntary capacity, even if it is to drop off groceries and to say hello to some isolated individuals. The voice of one respondent summarises well what many people are saying: 

“The COVID-19 experience has changed my way of thinking and living. It is changing the way I socialise and interact with others. Most of all, it has left me disillusioned and suspicious of those charged with our health, safety and security.” (respondent)


The research analysed evidences from 275 organisations and individuals, including surveys conducted, 53 interviews, discussions and blogs. Based on those voices, we hear that despite some of the measures put in place, we are seeing some impact in reducing the spread of the virus and the knock-on effects in how lives are now having to be lived. Isolation, bereavement, financial difficulties, insecurity and inability to access support systems were widely recognised and repeated across the nine protected groups. Indeed, evidence showed that the pandemic had also unleashed some undesirable practices around domestic abuse and violence, for which, as a society, is intolerable, and for which legislation exist and should be enforced.

The report clearly demonstrates that a community-based, bottom up, evidence gathering capacity within VCSEs is vital in reaching those impacted upon. VCSEs in their role as brokers of engagement with communities at the local level evidenced through a range of consultative dialogues and processes (e.g. surveys, blogs and case studies), can (and do) play a crucial role in understanding the impact of COVID-19 where it intervenes in the lives of people on a daily basis. The voices of Londoners revealed:

·      Health and wellbeing: Isolation, bereavement, financial difficulties, insecurity and inability to access support systems is contributing to mental health challenges;

·      Finance and economic: The impact has hit some communities more than others and will mean major challenges ahead post ease down, with organisational sustainability being a key factor for many VCSE organisations and not just micro and small organisation as widely reported;

·      Social and education: Fear of the unknown with implications for social interaction, especially those being ‘shielded’, most notably the elderly and across all the protected characteristics; 

·      Risk factors, complications and mortality: Postponement and cancellations of medical appointments and health care is having significant implications across some of the protected characteristics, but especially those deemed most at risk: elderly, disabled, gender, BAME communities and religious groups';

·      Policy and decision making: the pandemic is affecting some communities disproportionately, but some VCSE organisations are faring well with others developing new areas of delivery by accessing opportunities. 


Karl Murray and Yansie Rolston, The Ubele Initiative’s authors to the report said: 

“The Ubele Initiative’s report sought to bring together in one place as many of the voices of Londoners as we could to help shine a light on the lived experiences of Londoners as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“From our work across the UK, we know that voluntary and community social enterprises often find themselves at the sharp end of those most impacted upon by major challenges and crisis that befall society, as they are at the forefront of action and response. With COVID-19, this has been no different and, through their work we hear the voices of how COVID-19 has impacted upon them. At times their voices are forceful and straight talking, while at another level, they are reassuring, inspirational and hopeful.”

“Some of the recommendations contained in the report recognise the role that voluntary and community social enterprises can make in responding to the crisis. We hope, as we move to a new normal coming out of the crisis, that the role and contributions of voluntary and community social enterprises (VCSEs) are given due recognition and support as part of any transformational planning that is being planned for London.”


Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard said: 

“This report shows that Covid-19 has had a shockingly disproportionate impact on disabled people, those in low-paid manual work and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. The voluntary and community sector has played a critical role in supporting some of our most vulnerable communities throughout this pandemic and deserves the Government’s full backing.

“I hope Ministers will carefully consider the findings of this report in developing a sustainable and inclusive strategy for recovery so that existing inequalities do not become further entrenched.”


Professor James Nazroo, from the University of Manchester, said: 

“This report clearly documents the wide-ranging inequalities that exist in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. These inequalities reflect, and amplify, pre-existing inequalities in social, economic and health conditions. And they are present in relation to COVID-19 related illness and mortality, and in relation to the social, psychological and economic consequences of Government responses to the pandemic.”

“It is crucial that policy responses to the pandemic are developed to address these inequalities, and that this is done in partnership with those representing the groups who are experiencing these inequalities.”

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