Misinformation, Food Security, Domestic Abuse

A month into our coverage of the effects of COVID-19 on social impact, today’s Briefing reflects on misinformation, food security, and how the sector successfully highlighted issues of domestic abuse whilst in isolation.

Authors: Borimir Totev
  • Reading time: 5 min.
  • Posted on: April 14, 2020


The global spread of unreliable and false information has been a growing problem emerging from the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s our misinformation rundown including latest Ofcom figures, new research from the Reuters Institute, and the concerns over death toll figures in the UK:


Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, has found that in the first week of the UK’s lockdown nearly half (46%) of all adults came across some sort of false or misleading information, with young people in particular finding it hard to know what is true or false. 

The UK Digital Secretary, Oliver Dowden, held virtual meetings with tech firms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google. The BBC reports that the firms formed a commitment to:

– developing further technical solutions combating misinformation on their platforms
– report weekly on misinformation trends
– improve out-of-hours coverage and response rates to harmful misinformation
– provide messaging to their users about how to identify and respond to misinformation

Risks of racism online

New research by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) highlights an important issue of racism around misinformation. RISJ found the second most common type of misinformation is content blaming ethnic groups for spreading the virus.

The not-for-profit organisation Centre for Countering Digital Hate has made resources available on how to deal with coronavirus misinformation.  

The tip of the death toll iceberg

Charities, including The National Care Association, have raised concerns over the way the official UK COVID-19 death toll is calculated, warning that the number only reflects deaths recorded in hospitals and that deaths in care homes risk being “airbrushed out”.

Two of the largest UK care home providers, HC-One and MHA, which operate a combined 3% of England’s care homes, reported 521 deaths due to COVID-19. 

In an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, charities including Care England, Alzheimer’s Society, Marie Curie and Age UK have asked for a comprehensive plan to support social care during the COVID-19 crisis. The charities agree that a comprehensive care package must include:

– PPE equipment readily available to care homes
– Care home staff, and people being discharged from hospital into care homes, given priority testing, alongside critical NHS staff
– Support to ensure contact can be maintained between care home residents and their families
– Good palliative and end-of-life care for people dying in the care system
– A daily update on coronavirus deaths in the care system, just like deaths in the NHS

Further worrying data from The Office for National Statistics shows the virus mentioned on 3,475 death certificates in the week ending 3 April, which is well above the normal range for this time of year.

Food security

New research carried out by YouGov for The Food Foundation has found that 3 million people in the UK have been forced to skip a meal because of the lockdown and a fall in income due to the crisis.  

The alliance for better food and farming, Sustain, has reorganised its work around three key issues of the moment (Coronavirus Food Alert):

– Securing food for vulnerable people
– Supporting the local response
– Defending food supply

Visit the The Trussell Trust website to find your local food bank and discover more about some of the innovative ways in which the food sector has developed its response, including a partnership with British Gas engineers that will support their local areas by collecting and delivering 50,000 food parcels a month.

Domestic abuse

Over the weekend, Home Secretary Priti Patel chaired the government’s daily press briefing, announcing support for domestic abuse victims during lockdown. This came as the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day.

This government support measures include:

  • A national communications campaign by the Home Office  will signpost victims to how they can access help and reach out to those who are at risk from abuse
  • Up to £2 million for the enhancement of online support services and helplines for domestic abuse, with support from Fujitsu to provide IT expertise to smaller domestic abuse charities

The government response has received criticism from frontline organisations for failing to address the scale of the problem. Notably, Women’s Aid have expressed concerns that a social media campaign is not enough and that there is no long term strategy. 

Concerns have also been raised for a lack of focus on accommodation for women seeking refuge, despite a cross party group of more than 60 MPs urging Priti Patel to book hotels for domestic violence victims.

Campaign groups Southall Black Sisters have successfully lobbied hotels to agree to house those escaping domestic abuse and are now focusing on gaining firm commitment from the government. You can sign a petition in support of giving hotel rooms to domestic abuse survivors and their children during the coronavirus crisis here.

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40 questions to governments worldwide

A few weeks ago we focused on the human rights dimension of the COVID-19 pandemic. New research by Human Rights Watch has now identified 40 questions aimed at governments to guide a rights-respecting response to this crisis. The research also showcases some case specific positive examples as evidence of policy choices open to governments that seek to take their human rights obligations into account. 

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