Challenging Lockdown Narratives in Leicester: 'Leaning in' to complexity with compassion when our community is shamed and divided
By PSC Leicester
Communities in Leicester are facing an extended lockdown following a ‘spike’ in cases of COVID-19. Public Health England are yet to find obvious reasons for this and emerging data from ‘backward contact tracing’ trials in Leicester indicate most were following stay at home guidance. The absence of a clear narrative, however, has resulted in widespread stories which ‘other’ and blame. We live in an age where unchecked soundbites or fragments of information spread quickly and carry immense power, often resulting in divisive rhetoric that damages community cohesion and obscures the bigger picture. It’s easy to fall into these traps. We must therefore continue to be curious about wider factors that are likely to have contributed.
Psychologists for Social Change have previously warned that the COVID-19 crisis has increased the visibility of existing social inequalities in our society and could further compound divisions in our communities. Tragically, we are experiencing this in Leicester today. Many of the speculative narratives focus on personal responsibility with even the Prime Minister bemoaning problems “getting people to understand what was necessary to do” in Leicester. This caricatures residents as either unintelligent or unable to speak English; the latter pointing unfairly to our Eastern European, Somali and Asian communities. There is no evidence that social distancing was understood any less here than in other parts of the country, and the reality is far more complex than that narrative implies. Blaming individuals in this way is unhelpful, shaming, feeds into nationalist rhetoric, and takes the focus away from a government who have been slow to act not just in Leicester but from the outset of the pandemic. It also obscures the more powerful and intersected systemic influences at play that people cannot change.