COVID-19 Equality Impact Assessment

As we find ourselves in what may be, for many of us, one of the most challenging times in our lives, we want to reach out to our community and make you aware of the various forms of support that are available. We have undertaken a detailed Equality Impact Assessment (.docx) of our current circumstances, as we know that the seismic shifts in our living, working, and studying arrangements will have significant consequences, and unfortunately, may impact disproportionately on those who are already most disadvantaged in society.

We understand that staff and students working and studying in different ways and locations presents both opportunities and challenges. Some staff and students may be enjoying the level of increased flexibility. However, others may be struggling with the new approach to working and studying.

Support and advice from our Inclusion Champions

Age - Professor Maria Fasli 

Age Inclusion Champion: Professor Maria Fasli

As Age Inclusion Champion, I am aware of some of the challenges related to age that might have presented themselves during the current circumstances. We all have an age, and the different possible impacts of COVID-19 based on our age are many and varied.

Those of us who are younger might be living at home with parents, or balancing childcare commitments with working or studying from home.

You might be contending with setting up a new workstation, or are being distracted by family members or flatmates in your home. Staff can use our new Working Remotely Moodle course, which includes our working from home guidance, and links to our Ways to Wellbeing webinars.

Students can look at Times Higher Education’s Tips for studying online and at home for advice on managing your time during this period of remote study.

Some of us might also be caring for older family members, who are in the vulnerable or at-risk category, or we might be worried that our own age puts us at higher risk. Age UK has published guidance, which includes advice on caring for someone you live with and for someone who lives in another household.

If you are worried about your own wellbeing, the Government has produced some excellent advice for looking after your wellbeing.

Disability - Bryn Morris

Disability Inclusion Champion: Bryn Morris

In my role as Disability Champion, I would like to highlight some of the issues that have come out of the Equality Impact Assessment, and raise awareness of the support available, both within the University and externally.

Those of you who are in the vulnerable or at-risk category, as set out in Public Health guidelines, might be feeling anxious about contracting COVID-19, worried about your health condition deteriorating, or are feeling isolated from your friends, loved ones and co-workers. It’s really important that you keep connected with others through technology, as this will help boost your mood and strengthen your relationships – remember, we are all in this together, and talking about how you are feeling is the first step to managing any difficult emotions.

The Government has produced some excellent advice for looking after your wellbeing, which includes additional information for anyone with specific mental health needs.

For staff who have a health condition or impairment, who may have needed adjustments to their work station, working from home may be presenting certain challenges. All staff should also have completed a DSE risk assessment for your new home-working set-up. If you need any adjustments, speak to your manager and they will help facilitate any adjustments as appropriate. If you have a health condition, new or existing, you can talk to your manager about any additional support you might need, or you can contact Occupational Health at ohquery@essex.ac.uk with any queries.

Managers should be keeping in regular contact with their staff, to help support their direct reports and identify any challenges as they arise. Our Managing Remotely webinar can help you learn how to remotely manage a productive and motivated team in uncertain times.

Staff can subscribe to the Essex Access ForumEssex Access ForumEssex Access Forum, which is an email-based space for staff to discuss access, disability and inclusion issues. The Access Forum is just as relevant in supporting your needs while working from home as it is promoting the accessibility of our campuses.

Students can get in touch with your Student Services Hub if you have any concerns about a new or existing health condition, and how this might impact your remote studying and assessment. Your Personal Tutor can also help with any questions you might have.

You can also find support and information on particular health conditions and disabilities:

Domestic abuse - Monica Illsley (gender), Professor Madeline Eacott (race) 

Gender Inclusion ChampionMonica Illsley
Race Inclusion Champion: Professor Madeline Eacott

As Inclusion Champions for Gender and Race, we are painfully aware of how the COVID-19 lockdown has placed many women in a difficult and dangerous home situation. Domestic violence disproportionately affects women, particularly those from a black or minority ethnic background, although it can be experienced by anyone of any gender, race or sexuality.

The current circumstances have meant that more people in abusive home situations are now trapped with their abusive partner or family member, and a number of domestic abuse charities have reported a surge in calls to their services since the lockdown was implemented in the UK; The National Domestic Abuse Helpline reported a 120% rise in the number of calls it received across a 24-hour period on 9 April 2020 and an even greater increase in traffic to its website.

Domestic abuse includes physical and sexual violence, verbal abuse, coercion and threats, and financial control between intimate partners and family members. These behaviours might escalate in times of lockdown, constant physical proximity and emotional intensity. The government measures of social distancing and isolation can also be used by perpetrators as a tool of coercive and controlling behaviour.

The government has provided a comprehensive list of support services for survivors of domestic abuse, and Galop is an anti-violence charity that provides specific support for LGBTQ+ survivors.

Additionally, as we spend more of our time online, we are also at higher risk of cyber-bullying, cyberstalking, cyber-harassment and image-based sexual abuse, so it’s important that we take steps to keep safe online.

Staff, students and visitors can report relationship abuse, sexual violence, harassment, hate crime and bullying on our Report and Support system, whether it has taken place online or offline.

If you are worried about your own behaviour, you can get in touch with Respect, who offer a confidential helpline, email and webchat service for anyone who is concerned about their behaviour toward their partner or loved one.

Faith or belief - Andrew Keeble, Jewish students and staff - Professor Andrew Le Sueur

Faith or Belief Inclusion Champion : Andrew Keeble
Jewish Students and Staff Inclusion Champion : Professor Andrew Le Sueur

The global pandemic has caused major disruption to our lives, and the physical distancing measures have prevented us from carrying out our usual daily tasks and activities, which will have greatly affected our sense of equilibrium. Although all of us have been impacted in various different ways, it is important for us to acknowledge the impact this will have had on our staff and students of faith, who may not be able to attend their places of worship, or celebrate key faith events with their loved ones and communities.

We think of our Muslim community at this time, a lot of whom will be taking Ramadan online and at home, a time which is usually marked with social gatherings with friends and family. Passover seders also took place online earlier in April, with Jewish family and friends connecting over Zoom as they marked this occasion. Our Christian community were unable to attend church as they usually would over Easter, instead church leaders, including the Pope and the archbishop of Canterbury, led Easter services digitally.

Although our Faith Centre is no longer operating on our campuses during this time, students and staff can seek support from our chaplains and faith representativesour chaplains and faith representativesour chaplains and faith representatives online.

LGBTQ - Professor Moya Lloyd (sexual orientation), Professor Christine Raines (trans)

Sexual Orientation Inclusion Champion: Professor Moya Lloyd
Trans Inclusion Champion: Professor Christine Raines
LGBTQ Staff Forum: Dr Kyle Jerro
LGBTQ Allies, Essex LGBT Alliance: Madelyn Wright

Although for some of us, this might be a time to pause and reflect, and reconnect with our family and enjoy the unexpected time together, it may also be a difficult time for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community, as the physical distancing measures can have specific negative effects on the lives of LGBTQ+ people.

We know that owing to societal stigma, members of the LGBTQ+ community experience loneliness and isolation more frequently than cis or straight people, and since the lockdown measures have been in place, some of us may have found ourselves living alone, or with unsupportive or unsafe family members or partners, and cut off from our usual support network. You might be feeling heightened emotional distress, anxiety or depression.

Trans and non-binary people may also be unable to attend their appointments or surgeries owing to the current emergency measures, and may be feeling further distress as a result.

Staff can find support through our LGBTQ staff network, which includes the LGBTQ Staff Forum, LGBTQ Allies and Essex LGBT Alliance.

Staff who are members of the LGBTQ+ community can join the LGBTQ Staff Forum by subscribing to the mailing list, and you can also reach out directly to the Chair, Kyle Jerro at k.jerro@essex.ac.uk.

Staff who are not members of the LGBTQ+ community but would like to be involved in advocating for LGBTQ+ people can join the Allies.

We also have an LGBTQ+ Society for students, and you can join their Facebook group to keep in touch with other LGBTQ+ students and friends.

Our approach to supporting trans and non-binary staff is a resource for our trans and non-binary staff, as well as for colleagues and managers.

There are specific sources of external support for our LGBTQ+ community:

  • LGBT Switchboard and Helpline can be contacted for any reason, such as confidential support or just for someone to talk to when self-isolating.
  • Mind is another mental health charity who have specific LGBT+ support services.
  • Mind Out are an LGBT+ specific mental health service and they have an online messaging service for urgent support, as well as an open email for any advice or information.
  • Galop are an LGBT+ anti-violence charity, who provide support for survivors of abuse and violence.
  • Outhouse East are a charity in Colchester, which provides support and information to the LGBT+ community.
  • Cliniq provide holistic wellbeing support for trans and non-binary people .
  • The LGBT Foundation have put together a Wellbeing Hub, which includes resources and ideas for taking care of your wellbeing.
  • If you are the parent or carer of a young trans, non-binary or gender questioning person, you can both find support through Mermaids, which offers a helpline, webchat and email support.

Marriage and civil partnership, being estranged, care-leavers, socio-economic background - Monica Illsley

Gender Inclusion ChampionMonica Illsley (Marriage and civil partnership)
Susie Morgan, Director of People and Culture

For some of us, this time working or studying from home will be a time to reconnect with our family members or the friends that we live with. But of course, there are also a number of us who will be living alone, or who might not have a support network, and who are feeling isolated and lonely. This group could include care leavers, those who are estranged from their family, or those who are single and live alone.

Additionally, although some of us might be enjoying the extra time with whom we share our homes, we are all feeling to some degree the pressure of this precarious economic climate, causing anxiety and symptoms of stress.

It’s important to remember that whatever your situation, you are not alone in this, and we encourage you to maintain your connections through virtual means. Perhaps you can arrange a time to have a catch up with a colleague over Zoom with a cup of tea, or FaceTime one of your friends. Although we are physically distant, we can still hold on to our social ties through the use of technology.

Colchester Council has put together a COVID-19 resource pack with information for residents, which includes details of online support groups. Southend Council has resources and advice online, and Epping Forest District Council has a webpage for support for residents, for staff and students at our Loughton Campus.

Students can access support through the Student Services Hub. If you are an estranged student or care leaver, you can contact Lynn Bowman-Burns at include@essex.ac.uk in the Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity ServiceStudent Wellbeing and Inclusivity ServiceStudent Wellbeing and Inclusivity Service (SWIS) directly, or visit our dedicated webpage for specific advice and information.

All students are now eligible to apply for the Hardship Fund. If you are in particular financial hardship, you will be prioritised, and you may also apply for the award more than once.

As the Vice-Chancellor has stated, we are taking steps to protect the jobs and salaries of all our staff, whether permanent, fixed-term, or on-demand. Staff who have been furloughed can find out more information from our People and Culture team. We also have more information about our financial strategy online.

If you have any financial concerns or worries, staff can contact our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), and we also encourage you to use the Mercer financial wellbeing toolkit, which has tips, ideas and resources.

Pregnancy, maternity and caring responsibilities - Monica Illsley

Pregnancy, Maternity and Caring Responsibilities Inclusion ChampionMonica Illsley
Parents’ Support Network: Alex O’Neill

Those with caring responsibilities are facing a multitude of competing priorities at the moment, as working or studying from home is now juggled with home-schooling or caring for older or vulnerable relatives. Women can be disproportionately impacted, as they often do the majority of household chores and caring. Prospective parents may also be dealing with additional anxiety, as they prepare for an addition to their family in the midst of a global crisis.

For all those in the University community who are balancing home and work commitments, we want to assure you that we know you are doing the best you can, and that we will support you by being as flexible as possible. Managers should be supporting staff within their teams who have caring responsibilities by discussing suitable work patterns, and having open and honest conversations about what works best for individuals and adapting as necessary as the days and weeks progress. As we are all learning how to work from home, managers have been reminded to focus on work output, as opposed to time spent ‘at the desk’, which should help staff to balance their work and home priorities.

When working or studying at home, it is not always easy to follow the ‘standard’ 9-5, 5-day week, so you might find you are working at non-standard times perhaps when the children are settled down with a school task, or after you have dropped off some shopping to older relatives. For staff, please make sure that you have these conversations and come to an agreement with your manager and that you communicate with colleagues when you will be available, and also that this might be subject to change. We are all having to shift our ways of working, and your team will be supportive as we navigate through these difficult times.

Students can be assured that we will take into account your current circumstances to ensure that you will not be disadvantaged when it comes to your assessment in the Summer term. If you are unable to complete your assessment, you can simply update us using the Notified Absence from Exams form found on your MyEssex portal, and you will not need to make an extenuating circumstances claim for any disruption that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pregnant staff and students will be contacted by their line manager or first point of contact, to regularly revisit their pregnancy risk assessment, and to see if any adjustments need to be made whilst we are working within the current context.

As well as looking after others, it is also really important that you take care of yourselves, and make sure you prioritise looking after your wellbeing. The NHS has produced guidance on taking care of your wellbeing, which includes resources and links to support services.

Our Parents’ Support networkParents’ Support networkParents’ Support network has updated its webpages for staff and students with resources, online events and activities, and you can subscribe to the mailing list to connect with other parents across the University. The Essex Women’s NetworkEssex Women’s NetworkEssex Women’s Network is also available to staff and PHD students who identify as women to share ideas and provide mutual support.

Remember that you are not alone, and that we are part of a community, so please do reach out to your manager, colleagues, department or the Parents’ Network if you need help or support during these trying times.

Race - Professor Madeline Eacott

Race Inclusion Champion: Professor Madeline Eacott
BAME Staff Forum: Dr Hannah Gibson and Dr Sandya Hewamanne
Global Forum: Dr Cara Booker

The current global crisis has meant a change in working patterns for many of us. While changes are taking place across the University, we are also aware of the ways in which existing inequitable structures continue to play out. There is a growing awareness that COVID-19 has hit our Black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities disproportionately, in terms of health care workers and in terms of health inequality. Many of the inequalities which have long affected our communities are once again being brought to the fore.

Across the country, University staff from BAME communities are more likely to be on fixed term or precarious contracts and continue to be affected by the ‘ethnicity pay gap’. The current time may bring increased concerns about job security and financial pressures, including for those on fixed term contracts and graduate teaching or laboratory assistants. Colleagues may also have concerns about visas, travel restrictions and being far away from friends and family members with the closure of international borders. Inequalities in job stability and pay may result in more difficult conditions for working from home or reduced access to support for those with caring responsibilities.

Evidence has emerged to show that experiences of in-person racial abuse and harassment has increased, particularly towards those who are perceived of as being of an East Asian background. Similarly, a shift to online teaching, meetings and conferencing has meant that colleagues and students may experience an increase in online racist abuse and hate.

This time is also challenging in terms of maintaining and building our community. However, there have been numerous creative responses to the crisis and colleagues are encouraged to continue to meet and interact, albeit remotely. Please get in touch with the BAME Forum Chairs Hannah Gibson and Sandya Hewamanne if you wish to be added to our mailing list. You can also join the Global Forum.

We have a zero tolerance approach to harassment and hate crimezero tolerance approach to harassment and hate crimezero tolerance approach to harassment and hate crime. If you experience abuse, hate crime, bullying or harassment you can report this on our online Report and Support system.

Students can find social support through Students’ Union societies, or you can get in touch with your SU Officers.

A list of support and resources for members of Black and minority ethnic communities can also be found online.

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