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Comhar policy bulletin – April 2021

This edition covers a range of issues, including changes after Brexit, proposed changes to trespass laws and the changes as lockdown reduces. There is also an update on a report launch we are running on digital technology and older Irish people.

·       Digital inclusion and solutions

·       Brexit update

·       Compliance amid changing lockdown rules

·       Race and Ethnic Disparities Report

·       Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

·       Census and passport data


Digital inclusion and solutions

Age UK have released a useful briefing paper entitled Digital inclusion and older people – how have things changed in a Covid-19 world?, which analyses data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing carried out in June/July 2020. Its findings and recommendations include:

·       Among those aged 75+ more than two out of five (42 percent) do not use the internet.

·       There is little evidence that significant numbers of those previously digitally excluded have been prompted to get online during the first few months of the pandemic.

·       The best approach to gaining digital skills is through ongoing support, tailored to their needs and preferences, and delivered on a one-to-one basis.

·       There is a need for far greater resources to be available.

·       Those who cannot, or do not want to be online should be able to access services and support in a way that suits them.

On a similar theme, Irish in Britain is launching a report on 6 May by the Fréa charity group (which includes Irish Community Care Manchester, Irish Community Care Merseyside, and Leeds Irish Health and Homes). The report is entitled Digital solutions programme for older Irish people in the north of England and explores digital isolation and exclusion, detailing varied levels of access, understanding, usage and ambitions that older Irish people have towards digital technologies and a strategy to tackle these findings.

You can register for the launch of the report here.

Brexit update

Take a look at our update on Irish citizens’ rights in Britain after the UK left the European Union on 31 December 2020. There has been no change to Irish citizens’ status due to the continuation of the Common Travel Area agreement – they remain able to live, work, travel, study, vote and access social security in the UK on the same basis as British citizens. There are changes however in accessing the European Health Insurance Card, pet travel, and cars registered in the UK will require a Green Card to be driven in Ireland.

Compliance amid changing lockdown rules

From Step 2 (12 April) events organised by businesses, charitable organisations, sporting and public bodies are permitted, within the restrictions set out in this guidance, providing that:

·       Event organisers follow all relevant COVID-secure guidance depending on the type of event and complete a related risk assessment. This guidance varies according to the type of event and could include outdoor events, funfairs, performing arts or sports events (full list in the Existing guidance section).

·       Organisers and attendees adhere to all legal requirements, including maintaining group sizes permitted by social contact restrictions at the relevant step in the Roadmap and preventing mixing between groups, enforcing social distancing guidelines and mandating face coverings in indoor areas where required.

·       All reasonable action has been taken by the event organiser to mitigate risk to public health.

·       As per regulation 2(6)(f) of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020, a place is indoors if it would be considered to be enclosed or substantially enclosed for the purposes of section 2 of the Health Act 2006 under the Smoke-free (Premises and Enforcement) Regulations 2006.

Step 3 will take place no earlier than 17 May. The government’s intention is that indoor events and all remaining outdoor events can commence from Step 3, subject to meeting COVID-secure requirements including social distancing.

Step 4, in which the government aims to remove all legal limits on social contact, will take place no earlier than 21 June.

For more information click here.

Race and Ethnic Disparities Report

Originally formed in July 2020 after the reporting of disproportionately high numbers of Covid-19 cases and health inequalities in UK ethnic minority communities, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities published its report at the end of March. Some of its recommendations and conclusions have been challenged by campaigners and in the press.

The report claims that terms such as ‘institutional’ and ‘structural’ racism are used too liberally and the narrative around race relations in the UK is too pessimistic. It states that the UK is no longer a place where “the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”. This is despite the commission being created to investigate health inequalities along ethnic identity lines. Campaigners have also said that the report omits serious engagement with the Windrush scandal and the Home Office’s hostile environment policy.

While the report states that racism exists in the UK, the inequalities that ethnic minorities face are primarily due to other factors like socio-economic status, education and geography. The British Medical Journal published a critique of the report’s coldness towards recognising structural racism in the UK as a cause of health inequalities. It pointed towards the large body of work about race and ethnicity as a key factor in inequalities and the absence of an expert in this area in the Commission.

‘White Irish’ people are listed in the report as the ethnic group with the highest average earnings and are also high in terms of educational attainment. However, these findings – picked up in the Irish Times – neglect the health inequalities the community in Britain experiences.

The report has become politically compromised and is seen to reflect the government’s public scepticism about institutional and structural racism in UK society.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

There has been lots of coverage of protests against and criticisms of the bill, which proposes a raft of changes to the criminal justice system such as giving new powers to the police in England and Wales. These powers include new controls and limitations on protests, as well as changing trespass from a civil to a criminal offence. This follows a public consultation last year and has been much criticised by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) groups, who see it as criminalising the nomadic way of life and giving law enforcement unnecessary and strict powers.

Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) have been particularly critical and shared evidence that in a previous consultation, a majority of police forces did not want an expansion of powers or think this was a necessary course of action. FFT have prepared a briefing on the issue, arguing that the proposals will exacerbate inequalities experienced by GRT communities, overlook the lack of site provision, and neglect other solutions like negotiated stopping.

Census and passport data

Ahead of the local and devolved elections on 6 May, you can explore our interactive map of Irish-born residents in parliamentary constituencies. We published the map in January and look forward to updating it when the data from the recent census in England and Wales is released. The Office of National Statistics is planning on publishing the initial findings in March 2022 and the full findings in March 2023. The census in Scotland was delayed until 2022.

The Department of Foreign Affairs released data about Irish passport applications last month. Just over 422,000 applications were made in Britain from 2016 to 2020. Applications in 2019 were more than double those in 2016. The number issued fell in 2020 as the passport service paused operations.