By Angus Lambkin, a UN expert on humanitarian planning and coordination for complex emergencies, who is from Belfast.

The penny is slowly dropping. The magnitude of all this becoming clearer. But still there is a clear need for an agreed assessment of the challenge, and a common understanding depth of the scale and depth of the transition society requires.

We may have a strategy documents but are we all together in terms of proactively pulling together to get through this. This article offers the broad brushstrokes of a holistic strategic approach.

The government will lead – it’s why we have have – but we need to bring together private and community capacities at all levels to leverage complimentarities between efforts.

First make a clear separation between critical activities that must be continued – ie life saving.

Second we need to make sure everything else is either adapted to go online or be stopped and people must stay at home with only a tiny number of exceptions.

To ensure that the critical work is rationalised and enabled a comprehensive strategy must include the key sectors of health, food, water, energy, communications, transportation and security.

And of course it must have coordination structures at multiple levels to pull all the capacities – public, private and community – together. And we must protect them, for by definition their work is critical to our survival.

This means that key workers should be given the equipment, training, infrastructure and time to ensure the virus does not remove them from the critical workforce. The more critical and high-risk the work is, the higher the support required. With resources clearly scarce, this prioritisation must be applied strictly or the critical support system risks collapse.

The abandoned nursing home in Spain should be a lesson to us all. And of course, for critical workers with no other option, childcare must be found for their children – with schools being a last resort.

For everyone who no longer has income must be supported to stay at home. Schemes offered to date must be comprehensive and cover all those whose livelihoods have been affected including the self-employed, zero hours contracts, gig economy in effect all unsalaried workers and those who have been made redundant.

General social support and business strategies will of course be required to support a huge section of society which is now going to live the vast majority of its life or online. This implicates all aspects of society from faith, arts, sports, community etc organisations.

And then if we ask the question – And what of the ongoing support structures that help the most vulnerable in society, the homeless, the transient, the trapped migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees, people with mental and physical health problems who require medicine/treatment. The only way this works effectively is if everyone has somewhere stable to be, and that they are supported to be there safely – from the virus and everything else.

Both these challenges were huge prior to the arrival of the virus – homeless had already been rising due to lack of provision – and funding was already declining. Social service provision – be it state, private or non-profit – will be critical to supporting the range of vulnerabilities. These include but are not limited to those affected by Domestic Abuse, Drug and Alcohol Abuse etc.

The critical support sectors must be capacitated . The defunded and therefore dormant counselling and therapy capacity must be remobilised remobilised for example. These vulnerable groups require a specific and resourced strategy to ensure their wellbeing, and indeed that of society – for the virus has shown us just how interconnected we are. Simply put, these challenges cannot be ignored or diminished. Addressing them is critical to us all getting through this emergency.

And yes we need to talk about suicide. People were taking their lives at a rate of five a day before the crisis.  The loneliness and claustrophobia of isolation will have a huge impact on mental health, All of society needs to do its bit to reach out and ensure connections of friendship, family and community are sustained. All structures, be they state, religious, sports, community, arts etc must do their utmost to ensure inclusion and support as they transition into this new and unprecedented dispensation.

My key recommendations are:

  • Access to internet and telephone communications for all.
  • Commitment to a Universal Basic income for all and a moratorium on means testing and sanctions.
  • Everyone must have home/base where they can safely adhere to the lockdown.
  • Food vouchers are issued for products that are no longer on the shelves – could have one size fits all food pass for shops
  • Re-mobilisation of community engagement capacity and support to enable it to work online/remotely.
  • Lift restrictions on asylum seekers accessing public resources
  • Ensure critical maintenance for public housing.
  • Rent and debt payments to be made possible

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