‘Hardest to reach' may hold a key to pandemic recovery

A new report has argued that the so-called 'hardest to reach' may hold a key to pandemic recovery, but are not being listened to.

Learning to listen again, published by the Centre for Public Impact UK and charity Changing Lives, warns that a failure to meaningfully connect with so called ‘hard to reach’ individuals by government and public services at national and local level has potentially wide ranging implications for public health and well-being, as well as collaboration on coronavirus safety guidance in the ongoing pandemic.

However, the report says that doing it well could hold a vital key to the coronavirus recovery in the coming months.

The report establishes that not enough is being done to engage people whose lives are already tough and traumatic. Many didn’t feel heard or understood by public services and government but did feel a sense of connection with people they already knew well. Instead, they have a small circle of trust to stay connected to support and to hear and seek advice. The Centre for Public Impact UK suggests that this circle could hold the key to future collaboration over Covid measures, and to more inclusive discussions about the future of policy and Britain.

Yet continued lack of good engagement with the seldom heard poses a serious risk to wider public health and the ability to manage the second wave. With numbers unemployed and living in poverty set to sharply rise, the report offers a stark warning: “If we cannot effectively listen to and engage with people who have varying levels and types of need, our policies and responses at a local and national level will always fall short.”

Nadine Smith, UK Director of the Centre for Public Impact, said: “There is growing recognition that a successful response to coronavirus hinges on our ability as a country to communicate effectively across places and populations, yet we seldom hear from people experiencing the most serious life challenges. Trust in public services locally is fragile and we heard trust between people and government nationally deteriorated in lockdown too, so we need to remove hierarchy, assumptions and bureaucracy from all communications and engagement processes and instead enable those who have that trust to be vital connectors to the parts of society others are failing to reach, whoever they are.”

“Listening better not only saves lives but enhances people's sense of belonging at a time when services are struggling to cope with the knock-on effects of people who feel ignored. It is our duty as a democracy and to all those who work in government and public services to ensure every voice can be heard, valued and acted on now and in the rebuilding of Britain.”