Instant Opinion

‘Levelling up cannot just be a sound bite. It must be a prescription for saving lives’

Your digest of analysis from the British and international press

1

Angela Epstein for The Telegraph

Northerners were sitting ducks for Covid-19

on regional health inequalities 

Having lived in the north of England for her entire life, it’s easy for Angela Epstein “to become inured to the idea that we’re a disenfranchised part of the UK”, she writes in The Telegraph. Sadly the “oop north” cliché “achieved devastating traction throughout the pandemic”, with a recent Northern Health Science Alliance report finding that northerners “were more likely to die from Covid-19, spent nearly a month-and-a-half more in lockdowns, suffered worse mental health and were made poorer than the rest of England during the first year of the pandemic”. This week’s damning Covid report from the cross-party health and science select committees “highlighted the incompetence of this government in its preparedness for a pandemic”, says Epstein, “but what was not stressed was that here in the north we were a sitting duck for Covid-19”. It’s shocking that the life expectancy for men in Blackpool is 68.3 years, while men in Kensington and Chelsea “enjoy 27 years more”, Epstein adds. The government needs to redress this regional health disparity: “levelling up cannot just be a sound bite. It must be a prescription for saving lives”.

2

Polly Neate for the i news site

Michael Gove needs to get a grip on the housing emergency and admit it is a major cause of ill health

on harmful housing

One in five renters – around 1.9 million households – says their home is harming their health, according to new research carried out by the homelessness charity Shelter. Issues plaguing renters’ health “range from mouldy cold homes to living under the constant threat of eviction”, writes Polly Neate, the charity’s chief executive, for the i news site. These risks will become “even more acute” once winter sets in, when energy costs will soar, “evictions pick up and the cut to Universal Credit starts really hurting families”. Many renters are also “in debt to their landlord”, but the government is ignoring this crisis, she adds. The prime minister’s move to give Michael Gove both “levelling up” and housing as part of his brief would have been welcomed by Neate, but last week’s Conservative Party Conference “left us none the wiser about what the government believes ‘levelling up’ means for housing”, she writes. “‘Levelling Up’ begins with home. You cannot solve the housing emergency without building decent homes people can afford to live in.”

3

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett for The Guardian

Women are still being blamed for society’s problems with fertility

on perpetuating fertility myths

News that “fertility seminars” are being offered at the single-sex Cambridge college Murray Edwards is “irksome”, writes Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. These lessons are just the latest example of “the myth that women somehow need ‘reminding’ our ability to procreate won’t last forever, as though a baby were something we had simply lost down the back of the sofa”. Cosslett says that the women of her generation spent “much of their teenage years being told not to get pregnant lest it ‘ruin your life’” – warnings that changed “almost overnight” when they entered their 20s. Where, asks Cosslett, does this “patronising belief” that women need reminding about their biological clock come from? “I do not know a single woman” who hasn’t internalised the notion “that your fertility ‘falls off a cliff’ at the age of 35”, she adds, even though “this statistic is based partly on a study of French peasant women living 300 years ago”. Instead of perpetuating the myth that women need reminding of their fertility, there are “far more fruitful discussions we could be having about why many young people feel unable to have children”. 

4

Rupert Hawksley for The Independent

Matt Hancock proves once again that failure for government ministers is no barrier to future success

on a surprising career move

Since resigning as health secretary in June after footage of his affair with an aide was leaked to The Sun newspaper, “Matt Hancock has been doing rather well for himself”, writes Rupert Hawksley in The Independent. There was his Swiss Alps holiday, a London marathon attempt and now “an exciting new job”: the role of United Nations special representative, working “to help African economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic”. What, asks Hawksley, has Hancock done to deserve this? “Lest we forget” that the very same day he announced his “whizzy new job”, we learned that the government’s response to the pandemic “contributed – so far – to the deaths of 138,000 people”, he writes. The letter from Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, appointing Hancock to the role, failed to mention “the lives lost or the fact that Hancock’s previous boss, the actual prime minister, described him as ‘totally f**king useless’”. “I, for one, can’t wait to see what Hancock does next,” concludes Hawksley. “First the UK, now the UN. Keep on failing and what next… the world? If at first you don’t succeed, fail and fail again.”

5

The Scotsman leader

If Glasgow becomes the ‘greenwash summit’, the world is heading for dangerous climate change

on a make-or-break conference

It’s 18 days until the Cop26 climate summit – “a chance to finally put humanity on a path to net-zero emissions”, says The Scotsman in a leader column. But will Glasgow end up being like the Cop15 summit, held in Copenhagen in 2009, which “was widely regarded as a dismal failure”? “Will we have to wait another six years, as the wildfires, droughts and storms continue to grow, before real action is taken?” the writers ask. The Conservative MP Alok Sharma, who is the Cop26 president, has warned that “if temperatures continue to rise, we will step through a series of one-way doors, the end destination of which is climate catastrophe”, the piece adds. In a similar vein, Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband is warning “of the dangers of Glasgow becoming ‘the greenwash summit’”. “This is the decisive decade for efforts to stop dangerous climate change,” the article concludes. “To have any chance at all, it needs a good start.”

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