There can be no doubt that the pandemic, lockdown, and related measures have deepened existing inequalities in Scotland. Several leading voices on the equality front contributed to the EIS Equality Fringe in advance of the EIS AGM and highlighted the many ways in which pre-existing gaps have widened, significantly threatening our progress as a nation towards equality.
Jordan Daly from the Time for Inclusive Education Campaign explored the findings of TIE’s ‘Online in Lockdown’ report which deals with young people’s experiences of bullying, wellbeing and prejudice during lockdown, finding that the rates of bullying online had increased. The advancement of LGBT inclusive education will be an important tool in progressing LGBT equality as a component of recovery.
Neil Cowan of the Poverty Alliance highlighted that before the pandemic, one in four children in Scotland lived in poverty. The pandemic has exposed the ways in which poor political decision making has led to this crisis and underlined why education recovery should not mean a return to normal – we cannot allow for this to happen.
Heather Fisken of Inclusion Scotland echoed other speakers’ reminder that inequality was rife even before the pandemic, and, when it comes to disabled people, the UN has already found the UK to be in violation of human rights. The stark ways in which disabled people’s lives and support systems have been affected by the pandemic was an important reminder of the need to involve disabled people in decision making.
At a meeting of disabled EIS members in January 2021, alarm was expressed over the ways in which prevailing negative attitudes and lack of understanding impacted disabled members’ workplace experiences. Subsequently, the EIS AGM decided to establish an informal network for disabled members to facilitate further activity towards achieving greater equity in this area.
Emma Ritch, from Engender spoke about how, whilst there is increased risk to the women who are overrepresented in frontline roles from the pandemic, spending on and delivery of services for women and girls is deprioritised politically. Already before Covid-19, women were juggling travel, food shopping, caring responsibilities and so on, with over 68% of all caring for children and adults in Scotland being carried out by women. Calling for a revolution in unpaid work, and a reform of family systems and support, Emma advocated for the role of trade unions in lobbying for a recovery that properly values both paid and unpaid care work done by women and commits to an increase in state services.
Emma’s message very much resonated. The EIS’s One Thousand Women’s Voices project found that 93.5% of respondents experienced increased anxiety, stress, low mood or depression during the pandemic, with the vast majority of respondents noting that domestic work had increased – 65% saying it had impacted their ability to carry out their paid employment.
The final speaker, Dilraj Watson from Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre shared information about their work supporting women experiencing Gender Based Violence during the pandemic, and how reduced access to support has come at a time of an increase in the numbers seeking help. Dilraj detailed the ways in which women have borne the brunt of the pandemic and lockdowns, being affected financially and in terms of their health.
Questions to the panel regarding institutional racism echoed calls from EIS BAME members and discussions at anti-racist learning events in the past year, for a strengthened trade union competency to support members who experience racial discrimination at work. All panellists at the EIS Equality Fringe emphasised the intersectional nature of inequality and marginalisation, and the importance of avoiding a one size fits all approach but listening to people’s individual needs and experiences.
During the last year and a half, the EIS has amplified members’ voices about the range of ways in which the pandemic has affected them and created new member networks – a network for BAME members and a network for Disabled members to accompany the existing LGBT network.
The EIS’s informal member networks act as important conduits for underrepresented voices in the union and strengthen the work of the EIS Equality Committee and Sub-committees by widening engagement with members who have lived experience of marginalisation or are underrepresented within the profession. Over the next few months, members of informal networks will be encouraged to stand for election to EIS Council, and will receive tailored sessions on their workplace rights.
The EIS will channel members’ voices into our range of equality related activity to demonstrate where change is required and facilitate members mobilising towards a more equitable workplace and education system. Over the next few months, the EIS will offer a series of Equality in Focus webinars, as forums to explore what equality may look like in our recovery, and beyond. The programme will both grow the EIS’s anti-racist learning strand developed in 2020/21 and lay the seeds for further activity in relation to other equality strands.
The equality related learning programme intends to increase the confidence of EIS members in relation to equality matters, equipping them with practical tools to push forward on equality in their workplaces.
In recovery from the pandemic and learning from lockdown, is an opportunity – to empower the teaching profession and ensure equality is at the heart of our efforts as we demand, rather than a return to business as usual, the shaping of a better future in recovery.
The EIS wishes to express our condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Emma Ritch, who sadly passed away over the summer. In her many contributions to the work of the Institute and beyond, Emma leaves a powerful legacy with the EIS.