Hinterland - 20 April 2020

In Hinterland this week - pressure on council spending, care homes and the virus, the way we’re living now, two rural tourism angles at different ends of the spectrum and some sheep applauding the NHS. Read on…

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Coronavirus UK: English councils welcome extra £1.6bn support

Not a moment too soon in my view. This article tells us…

The government has moved to shore up shaky local authority finances, announcing a £1.6bn cash injection for English councils to prevent a series of town halls collapsing into insolvency as a result of the spiralling costs of the coronavirus pandemic.

The housing, communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, praised local government workers as “unsung heroes” and said the extra cash – which followed an earlier £1.6bn injection in March – would enable councils to maintain essential services.

The announcement followed dire warnings that the costs of providing extra services as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, such as social care and housing rough sleepers, coupled with shrinking income from council tax and parking charges, had pushed several councils to the edge of bankruptcy.

There was widespread panic among councils earlier this week when Jenrick suggested in a meeting with council leaders that ministers were no longer totally committed to a promise in March to “do whatever is necessary” to support local government financially through the crisis.

But on Saturday Jenrick gave an apparently clear commitment to continue to meet the extra costs of tackling coronavirus at local level: “I promised local government would have the resources they need to meet this challenge and today demonstrates my commitment to doing just that,” he said.


UK care home Covid-19 deaths 'may be five times government estimate'

I think many of the perceived overloading challenges in hospitals have been pushed into the care sector. I have personal experience of a relative with covid-19 being discharged from hospital into a care home. This all feels a bit like problem shoving for me. I know we are meant to be pulling together and avoiding any criticism of the efforts being made to tackle the virus. When we look at this episode down the long lens of time we will, I am sure, reflect on the uneven balance of praise and recognition between care workers and those in the NHS. I hope we come out of this with a far greater appreciation for those heroes in the care sector, under paid and undervalued, who risk their lives everyday looking after sick old people like my father-in-law in hundreds of small towns across rural England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This story tells us just how challenging their work is.

The number of care home residents who have died from coronavirus could be more than five times the government’s estimate, the sector’s main charity has warned.

Care England, Britain’s largest representative body for care homes, told the Daily Telegraph that up to 7,500 care home residents may have died of the virus.

This is significantly higher than the figure of 1,400 people estimated to have died by the government earlier this week.

“Without testing, it is very difficult to give an absolute figure,” Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, said. “However, if we look at some of the death rates since 1 April and compare them with previous years’ rates, we estimate a figure of about 7,500 people may have died as a result of Covid-19.”

The figure is also significantly higher than the 217 care home deaths recorded in the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which runs up to 3 April.

The official death toll in Britain topped 15,000 on Saturday, but this only includes data recorded in hospitals. This data can take some days to register, and does not include deaths in the community, such as those occurring in care homes.


Life in the UK has been transformed since restrictions were brought in to curb the spread of coronavirus

Some fascinating insights here. I wonder how much of this change agenda will stick for the long term? This article tells us:

On 23 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all non-essential travel and public gatherings had to stop, with people urged to leave home only for exercise, to shop for essential items, for medical care, or when their work could not be done at home.

1) People are largely keeping their distance

The aim has of the lockdown is to limit the spread of coronavirus, to help the NHS to cope and ultimately reduce the number of deaths from the disease.

The government says the number of new cases is stabilising and suggests there is evidence that the public's adherence to the measures is starting to have an impact.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, said: "It's not taking off in that sharp uptake, it's not gone sky high. And if anything there might even be some flattening. That is because of what we're all doing with social distancing."

The way people are using the health service is also changing. In March, the number of people attending A&E dropped whilst the numbers of calls made to 111 - the NHS hotline - reached record highs.

2) Fewer journeys made

The public's use of transport has fallen dramatically, although this trend started before the lockdown measures were announced, as many people started to work from home.

Overall transport use - road, rail and the Tube in London - fell by 60% between early February and the beginning of April, according to the Department for Transport.

3) Crime is down - but anti-social behaviour is up

In England and Wales, crime fell by 28% in the four weeks to 12 April, compared to the same time last year. Home burglary, for example, was down by more than a third, as people spent far more time indoors. However, incidents of anti-social behaviour rose by 59%.

Meanwhile, the National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls since the lockdown, the charity Refuge says.

4) Shopping sales

In the week before the restrictions started, supermarket sales were 43% higher than the same time last year, as many rushed to stock up amid fear of shortages.

But average sales fell by 7.4% over the first fortnight of lockdown according to consultancy Neilsen.

"When the country was told not to travel people stopped shopping," says Mike Watkins, Nielsen's head of retailer and business insight. "They had already bought a lot of stuff, and their larders and freezers were full."

However, supermarket sales were back up to almost 9% higher than average in the week ending 11 April - perhaps people had eaten all the extra food they had bought.

5) More demand for benefit

Close to one million people have applied for universal credit since the lockdown began. Of these, 473,000 applied in the first eight days, almost as many as applied during the whole of the preceding three weeks, and almost 10 times as many as would apply in an average week.

Universal credit is a consolidated monthly payment for those of working-age, replacing a host of previous benefits including income-based jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit.

6) Better air quality

Air pollution levels in the UK have dropped significantly in the weeks since the country went into lockdown.

The level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has fallen across the UK, with the daily average down almost 40% on the same period last year.


Public urged to re-book UK rural holidays once Covid-19 crisis ends

Everything is connected. Many farms rely on their diversified income to survive. I fear that the loss of tourism income may well deal a death blow to a significant number of smaller farmers in more precarious farming enterprises. This call for action from the CLA makes you think in relation to this issue. The article tells us:

The public have been urged to re-book cancelled holidays in the British countryside once the Covid-19 crisis is over or else it could 'cripple' the rural sector.

Millions of people have had to cancel their Easter holiday plans because of the spread of the coronavirus in the UK.

But the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents 5,000 rural tourism businesses, is now urging them to re-book 'once it is safe to do so'.

Rural tourism is worth a huge £18.5 billion a year to the economy and employs over 600,000 people.

Yet, almost overnight, many businesses have shut down for an unknown period of time. According to the CLA, this is having 'crippling consequences'.

Many farms now provide holiday lets, camping, bed and breakfasts and farm stays as a way to support their business.


‘Coronavirus holidays’ stoke rural fury

This is the flip side to the previous story lamenting the loss of tourists. Im not surprised that the virus is bringing rural/urban tensions to the fore. The story tells us:

The Covid-19 crisis has prompted some to seek to escape the city. Green spaces are more appealing than cramped apartments and quick transmission rates. Culturally, city dwellers have long imagined country life to be cleaner, happier and healthier than being in conurbations. Current war metaphors in politics and the media might also cause people in the UK to think of the Blitz, when more than 1.5million Britons were evacuated to the countryside — with good reason. But the virus is not a bomb nor a visible enemy. Data from genetics professor Tim Spector’s Covid-19 symptom tracker app already suggests that people leaving the city have unwittingly packed the virus with them.

In reality, the impact of second homes can’t be separated from the wider social and economic processes that continue to change the countryside. Change can be necessary and innovative. Change can also cause harm. Research by the Prince’s Countryside Fund found that rural residents across Britain are feeling increasingly remote. Physical distance hasn’t changed. Instead, shops and schools have closed, services centralised and options squeezed. The same sense of getting away from it all that charms city dwellers can feel bleak to locals.

Coronavirus hasn’t created anger that wasn’t already simmering. Those privileged enough to slip the city for a second home haven’t created the challenges rural communities face. But they have exposed the inequalities between those who can relax in the rural idyll, and those struggling to find a house, get a job or catch a bus. We won’t solve these differences with spray-painted signs or forced resignations. But we do need to solve them.


And Finally

Coronavirus: Farmers herd flock of sheep to spell out tribute to NHS workers

Couldn’t resist finishing with some performing sheep – you can watch them via this link!

A farming family have herded a flock of 150 sheep to make a tribute to NHS workers who are treating coronavirus patients which could be seen on a hillside for miles around.

The effort, which was timed to coincide with the fourth “Clap For Our Carers” on Thursday, took an entire family three attempts to herd the flock to spell “NHS” on the hillside in Luss in Argyll & Bute, Scotland.

Sixty-six-year-old Bobby Lennox drove a quad bike to produce the shape of the three letters, while his granddaughter Katie Nicholson followed behind with buckets of sheep feed which the animals stopped to eat.

“We feed the sheep every morning and they come and follow behind the quad bike,” Kay Wilson, Mr Lennox’s daughter, said.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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