CREDIT where it’s due. Last week the Government changed its policy on vaccinations to ensure that those with learning difficulties were prioritised in the roll-out.
The decision followed a campaign from the DJ and broadcaster Jo Whiley who was offered the coronavirus vaccine before her sister Frances who has the rare Cri du Chat genetic syndrome.
The Government should be congratulated for doing the right thing in making this change but there is a question as to whether it would have done so without Whiley’s high profile intervention? This week in a BBC documentary called Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour?, the black actor David Harewood said it is “scandalous” that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are three times more likely to die from Covid 19 than white people.
And then there is the work of footballer Marcus Rashford in his continuing campaign for children and food poverty. Why are such causes left to celebrities to highlight and push for Government action?
One reason might be in the failings of those bodies whose work is to raise these issues in public and private with the Government of the day. It’s been more than a decade since the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was established by the then Labour Government. It took over the responsibilities of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission in addition to having responsibility for other aspects of equality law.
Yet the EHRC has been almost silent since the outbreak, with seemingly nothing to say on the plight of older people in care homes, silent on the issuing of Do Not Resuscitate orders during Covid 19 for those with learning disabilities and autism and older people and not a peep on the vaccination needs of those with learning difficulties or the increased risk of death from Covid by people of colour.
One reason for the inaction might be the funding cuts which the body has had to deal since its creation. In 2017,the National Audit Office reported that the Commission's budget had been cut by almost 70 per cent in the ten years since it was created, with further reductions since that time.
Accompanying the lack of funding has been the appointment of commissioners who seem not to share its basic outlook, with one recent appointee questioning the validity of the existence of the gender pay gap in companies – an interesting outlook given the role of the EHRC which takes legal action against employers that fail to report gender pay gaps for their workforces.
Similarly, another recent Government appointee to the commission is a supporter of the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy, with the EHRC charged to investigate the Home Office’s implementation of that policy, not least in relation to the ensuing Windrush Scandal.
So with a lack of resources and appointees who seem compliant in the face of the scandalous treatment of the elderly, disabled and minorities, perhaps it is no surprise that if you want to get the Government to act you need more than examples of suffering and injustice – you need a celebrity.
The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas’ Church in Durham