The Covid inquiry: what have we learnt?

The Covid inquiry has shed yet more light on the culture at the heart of Government and how it served to sideline issues relating to both the oldest and youngest in our society.

Woman in bed with ventilator and nurse in PPE


The evidence coming out of the Covid inquiry about the alleged macho culture that existed at the heart of Government is not really surprising. We know from living through the pandemic that issues that affected women more, from childcare to domestic abuse to guidance on pregnancy, were sidelined and only responded to after relentless campaigning.

At, we were inundated daily with questions about childcare as parents pulled their hair out trying to ensure they could keep working, particularly those in frontline jobs. We had desperate messages from partners and parents of women on the point of breakdown who were trying to manage at home with young children. We scoured the changing government guidance in order to help them because it was often not very clear, not just about what people could do, but how on Earth they could get to work without childcare. We had nurses who were single parents begging to be told they could ask younger grandparents to cover for their night shifts in the absence of any other childcare – even though working meant putting themselves at risk.

It’s not as if the Government didn’t have the figures on how many parents rely on grandparents for childcare. Their reports have been stating that for years. Why was there no proper plan in place for so long? The same goes for the policy towards schools about which England’s former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has recently expressed great concerns, saying the Government was ‘indifferent’ to children during the lockdown. The guidance for pregnant women took months and months. Children – and their parents – just didn’t seem to be a priority generally [and let’s not even mention the reported attitudes from the top towards older people].

A long tail

The aftermath of Covid has left a long tail of mental distress and left-behind children. The Government announces what seem like big sums every now and again, but they don’t seem to be nearly enough for the scale of the problem. There is no more money, we are told, but there did appear to be money for so-called bungs to friendly press, for useless PPE contracts with business friends and so forth. Government is about priorities. The Covid inquiry is laying bare what those priorities were and the culture in which they were formulated.

We saw week in and week out the lack of women spokespeople being put forward for the regular Covid updates. Now we are hearing that women in Whitehall were sidelined routinely, if we listen to former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara’s evidence.

The need for change

It can seem fairly small beer when the press choose to focus on language or culture instead of on what the Government actually did and on the sheer loss of life that the UK suffered. Yet that language and culture are indicative of how Government functioned or, rather, didn’t function at a time when it so needed to. It was not just that it was the wrong people for the wrong crisis. It very much seems as if these were the wrong people and the wrong set-up for any crisis.

Serious changes are needed, but instead the Government is cracking down on diversity and inclusion and it looks as if this is going to be more grist for what is likely to be a culture-war approach to the next general election.  Apparently we don’t need people to manage diversity and inclusion. It will manage itself. From what we’ve been hearing about how the Government functioned during Covid that seems highly unlikely. So much for change, Rishi.

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