Contradictory messaging, sexual assault scandals and institutional racism

Authors: Jece Shunmugam, Kate Savin
  • Reading time: 5 min.
  • Posted on: August 3, 2020

This week our Social Impact Briefing covers contradictory messaging from the UK government, Conservative MPs embroiled in sexual assault scandals, and institutional failings inhibiting change in the school curriculum.


The big news today is the launch of ‘Eat Out to Help Out’, the government’s key summer scheme to keep the hospitality industry afloat by getting customers back into restaurants and cafes.

Though widely welcomed by the hospitality industry, this sweeping initiative risks exacerbating the UK’s deadly obesity crisis. Just last week, the government announced its obesity strategy, spurred on by the growing body of evidence that shows the UK’s obesity problem fuelling our high death toll during the pandemic. Almost two-thirds of adults in England are overweight, and obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS £6 billion a year. The government’s own data shows that nearly 8% of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population.

And yet, the government is spending taxpayers’ money on subsidising meals in upmarket restaurants, and fast-food chains like McDonald’s, throughout August. This, despite the well-known link between eating out and adverse health. A 2016 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that we eat up to 200 more calories and have larger portions when eating out, compared to eating at home. The government can’t in good faith ask people to eat out more often whilst also telling them to improve their health. The two are in direct opposition.


In the space of a week we’ve had two major stories of sexual assault by senior Tory politicians. 

Ex-MP Charlie Elphicke has been found guilty of three counts of sexual assault against two separate women, and an unnamed ex-minister is currently on bail awaiting charge for two instances of alleged rape by an ex-employee. The woman told police she complained about the MP’s behaviour to a senior party figure four months ago. 

Similarly, it’s been revealed that the Conservative Chief Whip, Mark Spencer, knew about the allegations towards the unnamed MP a month ago, but insisted the staffer didn’t make any allegation of serious sexual assault. In the meantime, the Conservatives will not suspend the MP while investigations are ongoing. Though Charlie Elphicke lost the whip when allegations against him were referred to the police, it was reinstated when Theresa May needed his support during a vote of no confidence in 2018.

Three years after the Westminster sex scandal exposed extensive inaction on sexual misconduct and bullying throughout the political system, we can see the Conservative party is still failing to act on staff accusations and allowing MPs to continue their work when they pose a danger to staff. It’s as if the 2017 scandal, and the resultant independent inquiry, did not happen.


Last week, the Guardian revealed that the government has rejected calls to add more Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) history to the English national curriculum. Calls for more representative history to be taught in schools had been gaining momentum since the Black Lives Matter protests in June, with organisations like The Black Curriculum and Fill in the Blanks demanding a change to the syllabus to create the kind of systematic change that can shape our understanding of culture, identity and diversity.

Yet, Nick Gibb, the schools’ minister, revealed that there were no plans to review the current school syllabus. The move has been criticised by many, and as is seen as yet another example of the government’s inability to “follow their platitudes with any meaningful action.” 

“If we are to tackle the institutional racism in our society, the curriculum must not only be diverse, but we must equip young people with an understanding of the historical injustices that have led to that very racism. As a former teacher, I know just how fundamental education can be in driving change in our society.”

— Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson

Such institutional failures are indicative of the wider issue of representation. When the Guardian incorrectly publishes a photo of Kano – instead of Wiley – on a piece about racism, we must go beyond simply asking why such mistakes are being made and instead demand for changes that will stop them happening in the first place.


The first seven days of August marks World Breastfeeding Week, a global campaign aiming to raise awareness and galvanise action around breastfeeding. This year, the theme is “support breastfeeding for a healthier planet”. The theme highlights how breastfeeding is not only critical for babies’ health – it also forms part of a sustainable food system as it’s a healthy, non-polluting and natural source of nutrition. Particularly for those in the Global South, breastfeeding is recommended as an effective way to tackle undernutrition and stunting in children. The Alive & Thrive initiative, part of FHI360, works to improve nutrition levels in Africa and Asia, and advocates for breastfeeding as a tool to improve health outcomes.