Mike Adamson: The current approach to coronavirus does not reveal a true picture of need

A one-size-fits-all approach to the pandemic will not work. Until we are given a platform with government, people will continue to fall through the gaps

Mike Adamson (Photograph: Laura Lewis/British Red Cross)
Mike Adamson (Photograph: Laura Lewis/British Red Cross)

Charities across the UK have responded to the biggest crises in our country’s history, from the Second World War to the deadly floods of 2007 and the Grenfell Tower fire. Our unique insights can help save lives in this crisis too.

In the weeks since coronavirus took hold in the UK, the government has so far identified 1.5 million vulnerable people who will be affected. But this number does not reveal the true extent of need created by this outbreak.

That’s why the British Red Cross is doing its own data mining, along with partners across the voluntary and community sector, to identify the needs that are currently falling under the radar of government and statutory agencies.

This data is already being used by some local councils, as well as partners throughout the charity sector, to ensure that the most marginalised communities are getting the tailored support they need throughout this crisis.

We know from our own research that factors such as irregular immigration status, homelessness and geographical isolation are often forgotten about during an emergency. Our insights are proving this is truer than ever in this current crisis. How are the calculations factoring in undocumented migrants, who are too scared to seek medical help in case their information is used for immigration enforcement? Or domestic abuse victims who are unable to call for help because they can’t afford to buy credit for their phones?

There are so many vulnerable people who fall outside the 1.5 million identified by the government and who are in desperate need of support.

Even those who are recognised as being among the country’s most vulnerable 1.5 million aren’t necessarily getting the right kind of support. We are already hearing stories of people going without food because they are simply unable to carry heavy food parcels into their homes and prepare meals.

We also know that people with pre-existing conditions, such as cancer and diabetes, often need specialist diets to manage their illnesses. How do you avoid a hypoglycaemic attack when the food you’ve been given isn’t suitable? Delivering food to the most vulnerable is only one step towards ensuring someone has been fed.

Insights such as these are crucial to saving lives and are proof that simply recognising someone as vulnerable is not enough to ensure their needs are being met. One size fits all will not work when it comes to supporting people affected by coronavirus.

That’s why, to ensure no person is left behind in this crisis, there must be better collaboration across Whitehall and between government and the voluntary and community sector. Engagement with civil servants is high, but it is difficult to get real traction on the design of a coordinated, joined-up response that considers everything a person might need during this time.

The voluntary and charity sector has crucial insights into the true picture of need that coronavirus is creating, and we have solutions to offer. But until we are given a platform with government, people will continue to fall through the gaps and will not receive the personalised support they need.

This is an unprecedented time for everyone, and we’re all rapidly trying to find our feet to save as many lives as possible, but coordination is critical if we are to adequately support the most vulnerable people in our society. Only by working collectively can we reach all the people who need us, with the right support, at the right time.

If coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that we are all vulnerable and we’re all in this together. We are already seeing the power that collective action can have on people affected by this crisis. Just last weekend, the Home Office announced that it would halt all evictions from asylum accommodation for the next three months, something the charity sector has been calling for since social-distancing restrictions were put in place.

Only time will tell how long changes like these will last. For now, we can only hope that the government will listen to what the charity sector has to say and recognise the crucial role we play to ensure that human needs are put at the heart of this response.

Mike Adamson is chief executive of the British Red Cross and chair of the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in