WITH a second full national lockdown in effect, one of Blackburn’s leading voices on safeguarding and policing issues has warned authorities must work proactively with vulnerable groups.

Councillor Saima Afzal MBE has worked in policing and safeguarding for over 30 years and says that, though people must obey the rules, the authorities failing to consider people’s differing circumstances could endanger people’s physical and mental health.

The national lockdown, which came into effect on Thursday, has closed non-essential venues and requires people to stay in their homes.

Speaking in her capacity as a safeguarding expert, cllr Afzal said: “On one end of the spectrum are people who are really struggling with Covid. They are terrified of it, terrified of passing it on and absolutely want to observe the rules.

“They will challenge people if they’re not wearing their mask properly and will even report their neighbour to the police for allegedly having more than six people in their homes.

“But then you’ve got another set of perspectives from people who are also struggling with the effects of the pandemic but in a different way.

“They could be struggling with cancer, they could be struggling with putting food on the table or struggling with domestic abuse or mental health, or with not seeing their friends and loved ones so these are all genuine struggles.”

She added: “What we are creating is a scenario in which one group of people may feel justified in breaching the rules and they see that as justified as part of their struggle.”

National charities have supported these claims with research conducted by Women’s Aid showing that the pandemic has made the situation far more difficult for women in abusive relationships.

Their findings show that 67.4 per cent of survivors who are currently experiencing abuse say it had got worse since the onset of the pandemic and 76.1 per cent saying they are having to spend more time with their abuser.

The Health Foundation has found that lockdown has hit people with mental health issues particularly hard, with depression and anxiety worsening during lockdown.
These findings have also found that not all groups in society have been hit equally, with the burden falling especially hard on women, young people, ethnic minorities, and people living in poverty.

Councillor Afzal pointed out that unless these inequalities are addressed then people will feel disproportionately targeted by the regulations.

She said: “If you think about the already minoritised who are likely to need to go out to work and who are likely to be fined you end with the crime being individualised.”

Instead, she believes that the government and local authorities must work closely with relevant organisations to ensure that people in vulnerable situations have their needs catered for, which will allow people to obey the rules without being harmed or endangered.

Councillor Afzal said: “My own view is that a proportionate, fair and less judgemental or accusatory approach is needed.

“Those who work in this arena will refer to this as policing by consent.
“I identify and associate the principle of policing by consent with some of the following characteristics, not making assumptions, challenging one’s own perceptions, exploring perspectives and not judging without the facts.”

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