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BAME communities demand answers on Covid-19

19th Jun 2020
BAME communities demand answers on Covid-19

(Photo credit:Pixabay/CC)

The Black Lives Matter campaign that started in the United States has proved timely, spreading around the world while being exuberantly and widely supported in the UK.

The anti-racism and civil rights movement surge coincides with the worse pandemic in over a century, which has disproportionately afflicted Black and Minority Ethnic communities on both sides of the Atlantic, the scale of which has led to calls for a fully independent inquiry into the phenomenon in the UK.

Whether failing to provide Personal Protection Equipment for frontline workers, botching the launch of the test-and-trace system or delaying the lockdown to catastrophic effects, the Government’s response to the deadly coronavirus pandemic has at best been patchy and dithering.

Yet, to its credit, the Johnson Government launched an urgent Public Health England review and almost true to its word, its commitment to complete the Black and Minority Ethnic report was published a few days after its original end of May deadline.

Unfortunately, like virtually everything this Cabinet appears to undertake, the pledge was not quite what it seemed. The review turned out to be void of any recommendations. Its 89 pages produced little in the way of new revelations about the disproportionate mortality rate of Black and Minority Ethnic people in the pandemic. As reported last month, the Public Health England report had already been diluted on virtually all factors impacting health outcomes from the deadly virus. As the deadline passed and the body count mounted the demands for urgent answers, including from the GMB Union, grew louder, the delay only heightened the ever-growing mistrust in the Government.

All was far from being how it was presented. Belatedly the report arrived with its own health warning. The descriptive nature of the analysis “limits the conclusions that can be drawn about the reasons for the disparities shown.” It was not only lacking in substance but missing were also responses from more than 1,000 organisations and experts, many of them suggesting that discrimination and poorer life chances played a part in greater Covid-19 risk for Black and Minority Ethnic Britons. The review was found not to have been led by Black doctor Professor Kevin Fenton which Public Health England had originally announced but by the head of the Government’s testing programme, Professor John Newton.

So what is to be made of the Government’s curious behaviour? Under the terms of reference, it had been declared that the objectives would include “recommendations for further action that should be taken to reduce disparities in risk and outcomes from Covid-19 on the population.” Yet even before their omission was discovered, there were rumours that the review was delayed due to fears that the findings could be explosive in the background of widespread Black Lives Matter protests across the United States.

Initially, it had been steeped in controversy when initially it was let known that the suspicious intention was to involve former Equality and Human Rights Commission Chair, Trevor Phillips, despite objections from medical professionals as well as minorities themselves.

In so many ways, the Johnson Government has shown itself to be incompetent to the pandemic as the death toll in the UK has soared to over 40,000 but perhaps to, well over 60,000 according to the number of excess deaths recorded so far by the Office for National Statistics. Black and Minority Ethnic staff alone account for at least 60 per cent of the tragic death of 166 frontline healthcare workers, PA news agency found out.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimated that the death rate of people from Black African backgrounds is 3.7 times higher than might be expected by geography and age. The rate was 2.9 times higher for Pakistanis and 1.8 times higher for those of Black Caribbean background. Underlying health issues, living conditions and occupation could all play a role but still do not account for the huge disproportion in deaths. But while various factors can play into the health inequalities, according to Public Health England, it is racism and discrimination that the Government seems so reluctant to consider.

Instead of providing answers, the review has been passed to the controversial Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, to kick the issue further down the road by launching a further review into “disparities” in the risks and outcomes of Covid-19, using the so-called Race Disparity Unit in the Cabinet Unit. As if being deliberately disdainful to the hue and cry for urgent action, no less than eight more terms of reference have been included but no mention is made to consider structural issues. Neither is there any time scale mentioned, though reference is made only to providing ‘quarterly updates’ to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on progress being made to address health inequalities by departments and their agencies.

During the unprecedented pandemic, members of Black and Minority Ethnic communities have been at the forefront with so many suffering as a consequence, often without much-needed Personal Protection Equipment which the Government failed to provide. In some cases, it is as if many have been sacrificed due to the negligence of ministers.


As National Health Service Chief Executive, Simon Stevens has said in a personal message, the National Health Service, as an embedded part of society, is both, part of the problem and part of the solution. “More systematic action is needed to tackle the underlying causes of health inequality. More intentional action is needed to deliver on the moral basis of the NHS — the pursuit of high-quality care for all. And faster action is needed on the reality of the racism and discrimination experienced by many colleagues across the NHS.”

The issue cannot be ignored and brushed under the carpet. Urgent action is needed more than just the Health Secretary flippantly recommending that Black and Minority Ethnic people wash their hands and stay socially distant like the rest of the population. Much is deserved from the Government than a lack of responsibility.

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