29 December 2020
What is Talking Point?
Cambridge News asks a representative of each local political party to answer a question on a local issue in just 300 words. The answers are then published in the physical copy of the Cambridge News every week. Here, we share our response to the question.
Today's Question: What were the biggest challenges the city faced in 2020 and how successful were attempts to cope with these?
This year’s biggest challenge was the COVID-19 pandemic. It has rocked our society and changed the world.
The risk of a global pandemic has long been known yet our government seemed ill-prepared. National guidance has often been unclear; exacerbated by high profile officials failing to follow their own rules. Nevertheless, as the seriousness of the disease became evident the response started to come together. We all got used to scrubbing our hands, keeping our distance and wearing our masks. Those who could worked at home. Local councils, working with the NHS, contacted vulnerable people advising them to self-isolate. Shops and businesses took steps to protect their staff and customers. Our city centre was marked out to enable safe usage.
The costs have been high. Lockdown, as well as the pandemic itself, has had impacts on mental and physical health. Businesses have closed and many more are on the brink of bankruptcy. Unemployment has risen and poverty in the city has increased. Cambridge City Foodbank saw an 8% increase in referrals from March-July 2020, representing a 23% increase in the number of people fed.
There are reasons for optimism. The city council has set up mutual aid groups and other forms of support. We’ve come to appreciate more our green spaces, our wildlife and our neighbours. We’ve seen the emergence of new ways of working and socialising remotely, which could have long term benefits for traffic and air quality.
How successful was the city in coping with the challenges of 2020? I’m not sure how you would measure success: numbers of cases, deaths, level of mental illness, poverty, school success rates, unemployment, bankruptcies? Despite poor national leadership and tight funds, organisations and individuals have done what they can, with many inspiring stories of community, compassion and innovation overcoming a difficult year.
Our response was written by Elizabeth May. Elizabeth is Co-Chair and Secretary of Cambridge Green Party, a former Biology & Environment Lecturer and University Environment Manager, and an active grandmother as much as the Covid rules allow!