Friday 10 July 2020

Mayors warn of ‘lost generation’ as coronavirus hits poor communities

Social housing in s-Gravenzandelaan in Schilderswijk, The Hague.

The Schilderswijk in The Hague. Photo: Vincent van Zeijst via Wikipedia

Mayors of the main Dutch cities have warned that the coronavirus crisis is leaving some of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods worse off.

Fifteen civic leaders have signed a manifesto calling on the government to invest in tackling problems associated with poverty such as education, debt, domestic violence and mental health. They say inequality and deprivation have increased significantly since the outbreak and lockdown measures began.

‘Consider for example the increased tensions within families where many problems coalesce in small houses with little safe (outdoor) space,’ the mayors say.

‘Mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression are increasing due to uncertainty about personal health, but also the uncertainty around the future prospects of children, young people and adults.’

The signatories include Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema, Rotterdam mayor Ahmad Aboutaleb, Johan Remkes, interim mayor of The Hague and Utrecht’s mayor Jan van Zanen, who is due to take over from Remkes next month.

Their solutions include increasing pay for teachers in deprived neighbourhoods, organising more sports and outdoor activities for children and young people and making it easier for people in debt to get financial support. Those who have lost their jobs during lockdown should be given priority in the jobs market.

‘We should not shun unorthodox measures,’ the mayors write. ‘This is the only way we can prevent a lost generation growing up, leading to increased crime and greater inequality in our society.’

The manifesto has been handed over to junior health minister Paul Blokhuis, who described it as a call for closer co-operation between municipal and national governments.

Interior minister Kajsa Ollongren acknowledged that the coronavirus had had a severe impact on the poorest communities. ‘The speed of our response is particularly important,’ she said. ‘I have agreed to meet and discuss this before the summer.’

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