The Economics and Social Costs of COVID-19

Aerial view of Sydney Customs House, a large Building at Circular Quay, Sydney

In Episode Seven of our Race in Society series—the final episode of season 1 on “Race and COVID-19″—Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I are joined by two guests to discuss The Economics and Social Costs of COVID-19. We examine the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on undocumented migrant workers, whose labour is being exploited.

The economy depends upon the work of racialised people, exposing them to higher risk due to casualised frontline services, which have kept the health system and other businesses going throughout lockdown. At the same time, racialised people are provided inadequate protections against infection, including poor personal protective equipment.

Our first guest, Sanmati Verma, is an Accredited Specialist in Immigration Law. She discusses the legal issues faced by temporary visa holders and migrants, as they lack access to economic security. Our other guest is Professor Sujatha Fernandes, who is Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of Sydney. Her research explores the uses and misuses of storytelling to shape understandings of the political activism of racialised people. She discusses how “curated storytelling” narrows the public’s engagement with economic rights during the pandemic.

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Career Progression and Accessibility

Three men and one woman sit at table. They watch another woman who is pointing to the group notes on a wall

Cross-posting research I’ve lead on increasing the promotion and retention of people with disability* within the New South Wales (NSW) public service. We undertook fieldwork to understand the behavioural barriers and solutions. We find that administrative hurdles and inadequate support are negatively impacting the career progression of people with disability. We can improve these outcomes by: 1) Using a feedback loop to increase professional development opportunities for staff with disability; 2) making it easier to implement workplace adjustments; and 3) providing managers with improved resources and training on disability inclusion.

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Race and Indigenous Language Rights in Peru

Quechuan woman carries goods on her back with a child walking beside her. They are on a mountain

On 27 August 2021, in his maiden speech to the Peruvian Congress, Guido Bellido, Prime Minister of Peru, was heckled by his fellow politicians, and reprimanded by the President of Congress for giving an extended welcome in Quechua and Aimara. Quechua is the language of the Quechuan people, the largest Indigenous group in Peru. Aimara is the second largest Indigenous group. Bellido is Quechuan. He was elected as the Cusco representative for Congress on 29 July 2021. Cusco is a Quechuan-majority region, where citizens have a legal right to Quechuan language services, and public servants must speak at least basic Quechua. As a public servant and Indigenous person elected to serve Cusco, Bellido had a legislated right to speak Quechuan.

Quechua and Aimara are both official national languages of the Republic of Peru, alongside Castellano (Español, or Spanish spoken in South America). Quechua has an ongoing influence on the evolution of Castellano in Peru. This includes every day words, grammar, conventions used for the third person, and regional variations of speech.1

Indigenous languages are the original mode of verbal communication in Peru. The events in Congress reflect the pervasive impact of race on politics and all other aspects of society.

To explore the functions of race in Peru, I begin with an examination of Bellido’s speech as a case study of race. I’ll then explore the history of race and language in Peru, before discussing why racial inequality persists despite the development of Constitutional right to language and ethnic (cultural) autonomy. I then deep dive into a racial profile of Quechuan people, using data from the most recent Census.

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How to Improve COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Experience

Infographic on COVID-19 Mass Vaccinaton Behavioural process. On the left, what it is currently: 2 month wait, routine sms, long delays, routine follow-up. On the right what could be improved: timely access, behavioural prompt, enhanced service

Vaccination, effective self-isolation, and adequate socioeconomic support are key public health measures that are proven to reduce the impact of COVID-19. Vaccination is safe,1  and scientifically shown to reduce death, hospitalisation, and severe health issues arising from COVID-19. Vaccination is currently available to everyone in Australia aged over 16; from 13 September 2021, it will be extended to 12 to 15 year olds. I’m very lucky, and thankful, to be fully vaccinated. Vaccination itself was quick, easy, and painless. Health staff delivered excellent service. In particular, the clinicians who carried out the vaccine were compassionate, warm, patient, and good humoured. I urge everyone who is medically able to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Vaccination efforts have been radically advanced in the state of New South Wales (NSW), due to the current Delta outbreak. As of today, 4 September 2021, vaccination doses have already reached 7.3 million in NSW alone.2 Mass vaccination sites are producing extraordinary results given current constraints, including a strict lockdown in Southwestern Sydney.3

Nevertheless, there is a pressing need to rapidly increase vaccination. To date,4 62.1% of people over 16 years have received one vaccine dose in Australia, and only 37.8% are fully vaccinated. Health inequities undermine vaccine efforts. I’ve previously detailed that policing patterns are unfairly targeting racial minorities in working class suburbs, illustrating how race and class impact the management of vaccination.5 As I show below, there has been a lack of vaccine supply and outreach to priority groups at high-risk of COVID-19, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, people living in aged care and disability group homes, and rural and remote regions.

Many countries are struggling to entice people to return for their second vaccination. For example, in early April 2021, five million Americans6 had not gotten their second dose. By early August Britain is lagging behind France on second doses.7

Systemic support could improve vaccination, especially through federal funding to support people who are unemployed or precariously employed, so they are not forced to keep struggling until they are fully vaccinated. Alongside institutional responses, small physical and behavioural tweaks could improve the public experience at mass vaccination sites.

Today, I present a visual ethnography of my experience at a mass vaccination site in Sydney, which took place from late-July to mid-August 2021. Ethnography is the study of people’s behaviour and organisations in their everyday setting. My analysis draws on two ethnographic methods: participant observation and visual sociology.

Participant observation involves watching people, objects, a physical environment, and texts in their natural setting (that is, outside of a lab).8(pp109-120) Researchers can assume various roles to carry out this analysis, from a complete participant who joins in, and records, all activities, to complete observer (someone who watches, but does not join).9 Since I reflect on my own vaccination here, I am closer to the complete participant end of the spectrum. I documented my impressions of the environment, and the procedures used to organise the public through their vaccination.

I also used visual sociology; a methodology for collecting visual data to analyse social phenomena.10 In this case, I took photos and short videos of my experience in line while I waited to be vaccinated, but I did not directly film other people or staff. I did not record audio, personal data, or any other material that would be identifying.

The aim of this visual ethnography is to provide behavioural insights on how the mass vaccination process might be improved. Behavioural insights is the application of social and behavioural sciences to improve delivery of policy, programs, and services. I discuss some of the behavioural barriers in the mass vaccination process, especially things that could potentially contribute to people delaying coming back for their second dose. I also discuss how improved behavioural cues and messages could enhance the vaccination experience.

Continue reading How to Improve COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Experience

Action For Afghanistan

Children run down a dirt road in Afghanistan

Please join me and over 9,000 human rights organisations, lawyers, doctors, researchers and artists who have signed an open letter calling on the Australian Government to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake by at least 20,000 people, and expedite the resettlement of interpreters, guides and other personnel involved in Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.

Sign the petition now.

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Policing Public Health

A person walks in the distance inside Central Station in Sydney. Two COVID posters say: 1 "help protect staff," and 2) "returning from overseas?"

Without warning, on 3 July 2020, the Victorian Government placed 3,000 people living in nine social housing towers into a police-enforced lockdown. They aimed to contain the spread of COVID-19 infection by targeting disadvantaged migrants who were in a dependent relationship with the state (social housing tenants live in buildings owned by the Government). Ultimately, this racial targeting did not work. The entire state of Victoria was still placed into lockdown, which lasted almost four months.

The Melbourne example shows police-enforced segregation of multicultural communities is an ineffective public health model. It is therefore profoundly concerning that such recent history is currently being repeated in Sydney almost exactly one year later.

Announced suddenly on 30 July 2021, police and the military have been deployed into eight multicultural suburbs in South West and Western Sydney, to enforce lockdown through door-to-door visits. Military personnel are not mandated to be vaccinated. This show of state force was not used in previous outbreaks involving white, middle class people in the Northern Beaches, or at the start of the present lockdown, in Bondi.

Heavily policing public health in places where Aboriginal people, migrants and other working class people live sends a damaging message to those communities. There are potential health risks with this plan, including to mental health and safety.

Let’s reflect on some of the lessons from Melbourne, and then explore how racist ableism is operating in the current “hard lockdown” of select multicultural suburbs in Sydney.

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Race, Class and the Delta Outbreak

Entrance to a supermarket. Stickers on the ground say "please stand here." Workers are busy in the background

This is post was previously published as part of my previous blog, Media Representations of Race and the Pandemic.

Three states in Australia are presently under a strict COVID-19 lockdown: New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. New South Wales is experiencing a major Delta variant outbreak, which is highly contagious. It has spread to the other states through working-class workers, who do not have the luxury of working from home. Similarly to what happened in the harsh Melbourne lockdown in 2020, residents in migrant communities have been placed into a tougher lockdown relative to others, even as they are required to continue working, and submit to COVID testing every three days (“surveillance testing”).

Public discourse about the COVID-19 outbreaks continues to be racially coded in media articles and in press conferences. This contributes to a moral panic about racialised people. Blame is placed on multicultural communities for not listening to public health messages, even though the majority of cases originate in ‘essential’ workplaces that are not required to shut down. As some communities remain confused about public health messages, state responses have been heavily criticised for not promoting culturally-appropriate public communication campaigns, while targeting migrants with a heavy police presence.

Continue reading Race, Class and the Delta Outbreak

Applied Sociology of Qualifications

A young white woman stands next to an older white man in an industrial workshop. They are both smiling looking at her laptop

Cross-posting research I’ve led, which examines how to help students complete their qualifications. Our research shows that more apprentices and trainees will complete their training if students are given six behaviourally informed SMS prompts. Messages provided timely and practical advice on workplace rights, and where to seek support if they were struggling. Our results equate to 16% fewer learners dropping out. Our intervention led to a 7:1 return on investment.

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Political Attacks on Critical Race Theory

Crowd of protesters in Sydney

Almost 530 researchers (including me) have signed the Open Letter Against Racism. Critical race theory is an academic field under uninformed and unwarranted political attack in Australia and in other nations. See an excerpt below and please read the full letter.

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LGBTQIA Inclusion at Work

A window with bars and a wall with a stencil of a Black woman's face. Text reads: LGBTQIA inclusion at work

Ending discrimination against gender and sexual minorities requires major social transformation. Institutional change is paramount. As you keep fighting to make your organisation accountable, here are three small but impactful things you can do at your workplace to end this form of discrimination.

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Stop Black Deaths in Custody

Protesters march through Sydney. One of them wears a tshirt that says "Bla(c)k lives matter." Many carry communist flags. A large banner in front has the colours of the Aboriginal flag

There is no more pressing national issue in Australia than justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It has been 30 years since the publication of the report on The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Royal Commission reviewed 99 deaths in custody between January 1980 to May 1989. However, as of April 2021, 474 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the report was delivered in April 1991. This includes five people in past month alone. No police or corrections officers involved in these deaths have ever been convicted, despite CCTV footage, expert witnesses, and other evidence.

If you only do one thing thing today, please sign this petition, asking the Prime Minister meet with families whose loved ones have died in custody.

The Royal Commission made 339 recommendations. Three decades later, the recommedations overwhelmingly remain unfulfilled.

There are many Aboriginal families who are actively fighting for justice, through various coronial inquests and other legal battles. By taking one minute to sign the petition, your quick but valuable action will ensure Aboriginal families directly affected by the failures of the criminal justice system can finally be heard directly by Australia’s leaders.

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