Following reports highlighting the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on people from Black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds, Camden Council established a working group of voluntary and community organisations, leaders, public health officials, councillors and others.
The group embarked on a six-week programme during the 2020 Summer to investigate the wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19, shine a light on existing structural inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, and gather evidence of disproportionate impact quickly to take immediate action to protect residents, and develop a call to action to make long-term, substantive changes.
This programme produced Building Equal Foundations Report and Building Equal Foundations Action Plan. The report summarises the group’s findings and the evidence collected, while the action plan sets out 140 concrete actions to tackle racial inequalities and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in Camden. At the time of writing, many of these actions were completed, and almost all remaining were in progress to embed this progress in the council’s long-term everyday activities and services.
In addition, Camden Council created a new Equalities and Disproportionality Service in Autumn 2020. The Equalities and Disproportionality service oversees, monitors and steers work across council services, spanning six core priorities: Justice for Young People, Equality in Education for Young People, Inclusive Workplace, Tackling Racial Inequalities in Health, Social Value in Commissioning, Procuring and Governance, and Pan-London, National and International Work. A three-tiered governance approach was developed to support cross-council delivery of strategic and operational actions under each priority, including the delivery of the actions outlined in the Building Equal Foundations report, involving:
- a Catalyst Group to bring together key officers responsible for the delivery of key equalities work across the organisation to support the operational implementation of actions against workstreams and priorities.
- a Task and Finish Group, to maintain strategic oversight of all equalities and cohesion workstreams and their interdependencies, maintains responsibility for the implementation of actions against workstreams and priorities.
- a Race and Equality Stakeholders Group, to bring together external stakeholders, including councillors, who are knowledgeable about or do work related to one of the six core priorities. This group provides a sounding board for the council’s equalities work, ensuring that it is community-facing.
The service also includes a Director of Equalities and Disproportionality and Senior Policy and Projects Officers. The Director of Equalities and Disproportionality attends the council’s most senior meetings, ensuring that all decisions made at a senior level are scrutinised through an equalities’ lens.
Impacts and Achievements
The council has delivered a range of activities relating to equalities, diversity and inclusion, including but not limited to:
- community engagement work around COVID-19, including development of strong relationships with community groups and leaders who have fed directly into the council’s communications and public health work. Community leaders and the voluntary and community sector (VCS) have used council information and services in their own efforts to support and reach out to residents and share vital information with their networks. The council has translated COVID-19 resources into various community languages and BSL.
- officers and members working groups, set up to promote diversity in the public realm, including an ongoing review of existing and future statues, street names and buildings in the borough to ensure they are representative of Camden’s Black, Asian and other Ethnic communities. The council has also progressed a strategy for promoting diversity in the public realm, including celebrations of the contributions of Camden’s diverse communities to the history and culture of the borough.
- Camden’s leader and chief executive signed a Disability Charter, developed by the Camden Disability Network, committing the organisation to a number of actions to progress disability inclusion e.g. development of a wellbeing passport, the development of a Disability Leave Policy, appointment of a senior sponsor, and a disability awareness learning offer
- work with staff forums and networks including activities undertaken through the women’s forum and LGBTQ+ network, including appointment of senior sponsor and staff network
- Camden’s Race Equality Action Plan was shaped through staff inclusion forums, including over 30 actions to tackle the structural and systemic organisational barriers that prevent Black, Asian and other Ethnic staff from accessing opportunities equally
- the council created safe spaces to have conversations about race, for staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, to share lived experiences of racism and to encourage staff to understand how colleagues are feeling. These conversations helped colleagues to understand how to be better allies and critically reflect on their own actions
- the creation of a new resources hub and delivery of compulsory training sessions for all staff, focused on enhancing equality, diversity and inclusion
- Partnership with the Black Curriculum, involving work with Camden’s primary and secondary schools to broaden the education curriculum to make it inclusive of perspectives beyond white and European
- work supporting Black-owned businesses and Black entrepreneurs, including a partnership with Black Pound Day
- development of a Memorandum of Understanding for Zero Tolerance of Racist Abuse in Adult Social Care settings
- a Renewal Commission, involving a set of mission statements to be delivered by 2030, including to achieve borough-wide diversity in positions of power, the mission to eradicate food poverty, and a general focus on equality and sustainability underlying all of the missions
- a project working toward achieving greater social value and improvement of equalities, diversity and inclusion practices in commissioning, procuring and governance.
A range of factors contributed to the above steps taking place, not least of the programme that led to the Building Equal Foundations report. The six-week turn around period was helpful as the fast pace ensured momentum was retained and services across the council were aware of its urgency.
Council wide commitment to furthering greater equalities, diversity and inclusion provided further traction, with colleagues across the organisation engaging in conversations on equality and disproportionality, sharing resources and communicating issues and commitments via online platforms. That Camden’s Chief Executive and Leader have been involved pan-London groups aiming to tackle racial inequality and other structural inequalities further enabled fast-paced changes and helped to keep momentum.
Effective communications were integral, including continuous internal listening exercises (e.g. staff surveys and discussion groups to share ideas about how to tackle inequalities and disproportionality) and engagement with communities. Listening to the views of VCS organisations and community and faith leaders, who work closely with underrepresented communities—particularly black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities—has helped to address language barriers and/or a distrust of government institutions.
The council have also highlighted several core principles underpinning their approach:
- the need to listen and learn – to be open to uncomfortable conversations
- to not treat people as a homogenous group – recognising differences in experience and taking a ‘neighbourhoods’ approach (tailored to specific groups’ needs)
- an intersectional approach to equalities – acknowledging and responding to individuals’ different and overlapping identity characteristics (e.g. gender, sexuality, race), which has helped the council to better understand communities and to avoid homogenising groups
- a strengths based approach – with a focus on helping communities to build resilience to short and medium-term impacts of the pandemic.
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