By Tamsin Stirling
Inequality and Covid
We’ve seen how inequality has increased during Covid. Just take income – an estimated £190billion (yes billion) has been saved by some households across the UK while the demand for food banks has soared. The number of people in the UK claiming Universal Credit doubled from 3 million to 6 million between March 2020 and January 2021.
Looking at education, concerns have been expressed about widening inequalities as a result of school closures and the difficulties encountered by many children in accessing effective online learning.
And when it comes to Covid itself, death rates have been higher in Black and Asian communities, linked to a number of factors, including type of employment, differences in the financial impact of Covid and the likelihood of living in poor and cramped housing.
Inequality in our city
Large inequalities were evident across Cardiff before the pandemic. Cardiff Council’s Wellbeing Plan shows that, pre-pandemic there was a 22-24-year difference in healthy life expectancy (the number of years that someone lives in good health) between the least and most deprived areas of Cardiff. And looking at children, the plan notes that nearly half of children in Ely are growing up in poverty, compared to just over 5% in Rhiwbina.
The pandemic will certainly have increased inequalities across our city. The results of recent analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation of the proportion of families with children on Universal Credit by parliamentary constituency are interesting in this respect. In Cardiff South and Penarth, 50% of families with children are in receipt of Universal Credit, the joint highest proportion in Wales. Compare this to Cardiff North where just 26% of families with children receive Universal Credit. And as you may have seen in the news, Universal Credit is due to be cut by £20 a week from 6 October.
The Council’s ten year plan for Cardiff
Given all the evidence about existing inequalities in Cardiff that have been exacerbated by Covid, we might expect key strategic documents published by Cardiff Council since the pandemic to really focus on this issue and what can be done about it. However, when we look at the draft Replacement Local Development Plan which has recently been consulted on, just one of its 11 objectives mentions addressing inequalities and this is largely set in the context of health and wellbeing.
Search the document for any mention of tackling racial inequality and you will be disappointed. This omission extends to no mention of the specific housing needs of ethnically diverse households even though these are highlighted in relation to other groups such as older people and disabled people. I find this a totally extraordinary oversight for a city with Cardiff’s history of racial diversity.
Another glaring omission in the document is any consideration of children and their needs, particularly strange given that Cardiff is actively participating in UNICEF UK’s Child Friendly Cities initiative. If such initiatives are to be meaningful then thinking and action needs to be embedded across the Council and all of its strategic plans. As the song says, children are our future and the way our city is planned should have their needs very much at heart.
Yes, you read that right, in the 42-page document setting out the future of our city, there is no mention of children or the need to tackle racial inequality. That is why I am really pleased to see the Cardiff Civic Society raise these issues robustly in their response to the consultation.
What needs to happen now
Given that the consultation so far on the Replacement Local Development Plan has been solely online, I think it is imperative for Cardiff Council to focus now on meaningful engagement with diverse communities and children/young people so that their voices are, not only heard, but really listened to, in the development of this vital plan for the future of our city.