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Covid-19 proves experts right on scale of UK’s racial inequalities

22nd May 2020
Covid-19 proves experts right on scale of UK’s racial inequalities

Elham Asaad Buaras

As the names and photos of frontline healthcare workers to die of Covid-19 in the UK were made public, the striking commonality was unmistakable, the overwhelming majority of them were of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Almost three out of four (72 per cent) Covid-19 healthcare workers deaths are of BAME backgrounds, despite minorities constituting less than half (44 per cent) of NHS staff.

Demands for a national inquiry intensified when it emerged BAME people in the wider population were also over-represented among the Covid-19 deaths, by as much as 27 per cent and that a third of patients in intensive-care units were non-white (triple the UK’s BAME population.)

And figures released on May 7 showed that Black people are four times more likely to die of the virus than white people.

Government statisticians analysed all Covid-19-related fatalities in England and Wales between March 2 and April 10, the results showed Black males are 4.2 times more likely to die, while Black women are 4.3 times more likely to die after contracting the virus.

Professor Gurch Randhawa of the Institute for Health Research at the University of Bedfordshire said the Government had failed to consider the UK’s diverse population when planning its Covid-19 response.

“Covid-19 has hit the BAME population hard, both in the community and among healthcare staff. This is well-publicised in other countries, for example the US but in the UK we are still playing catch-up.

Throughout the pandemic the Government has consistently failed to undertake a proper equality impact assessment of its response to Covid-19,” he said.

“We also know that some BAME nurses and healthcare assistants in the NHS often receive poorer treatment than their colleagues, a well-documented phenomenon backed by decades of research. In the context of the present crisis, this means they may have worse access to PPE, more trying shift patterns and greater exposure to Covid-19 patients,” he added.

In an unprecedented show of unity, more than half a dozen top medical institutions joined forces to demand urgent intervention. Labour launched its review into the disproportionate impact of the virus on BAME communities and new party leader Keir Starmer appointed Baroness Doreen Lawrence to the post of race relations adviser.

Public Health England promised an inquiry, albeit with the beleaguered former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips.

Away from England, Labour MSP Anas Sarwar has urged the Scottish Government to publish data fatalities among Scotland’s ethnic minority population.

However, for countless analysts – who have for decades to one government after another of the ‘life and death’ levels of inequalities plaguing Britain’s BAME communities ‘from the cradle to the grave’ – any inquiry into why ethnic minorities disproportionately bore the brunt of the virus will not produce groundbreaking findings.

In its March editorial, The Muslim News warned that Muslims (the majority of whom are Asian and Black) “will be among the hardest hit” by the pandemic, a fortnight after that prediction was penned when it transpired that the first 10 doctors, nurse, public transport drivers and even the first child to die of the virus were all Muslims.

The factors that make BAME communities more vulnerable to Covid-19 have always existed and have been widely reported, they include the following:

Employment

Like many of its European counterparts the UK deployed a social distancing policy entailing the closure of most businesses with the option of working from home.

However, the experts argue the policy exacerbated pre-existing employment inequalities. Government figures show that ethnic minorities are more likely to work in frontline – albeit low paying – jobs.

Be it in the NHS, as care workers, shelf-stackers or bus drivers, ethnic minorities are over-represented in posts that quite simply do not offer the luxury of being able to work safely from home during the lockdown and were therefore at greater risk of being exposed to the virus.

“Given what we know about the professions that have an over-representation of BAME workers, it seems likely that they are also over-represented in four out of the eight areas of work identified as essential to keeping society functioning – health and social care, (education and) childcare, food and other necessary goods, and transport,” writes Clint Witchalls, Health and Medicine Editor at The Conversation.

Health: BAME communities are prone to higher rates of hypertension and diabetes, which may make them more likely to develop complications if infected.

Explaining why South Asians may be worse hit, Kamlesh Khunti, Professor in Primary Care Diabetes & Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, who analysis health data in BAME populations said, “South Asians live in more deprived areas and have more cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”
Research by King’s College London also suggests that genetic make-up may influence a person’s chances of catching the virus in the first place.

The findings come from data submitted to a symptom tracking app that has been downloaded by 2.7 million people since it was launched on March 24 and an existing study comprising 2,600 twins. The results indicate that genes are around 50 per cent responsible for how badly infected people suffer from certain symptoms.

Housing

BAME people represent more than half of all overcrowded households, are less likely to own their home and have up to nine times less green space to access.

South Asian people often live in larger, multi-generational households and so “social isolation may not be as prevalent.” Government figures confirm that cramped housing is far more likely to be a problem for ethnic minorities.

A whopping 30 per cent of the UK Bangladeshi population is living in overcrowded housing compared with two per cent among the white British population. Fifteen per cent of Black African people also live in overcrowded conditions, as do 16 per cent of Pakistanis.

BAME communities are more likely to live in larger cities, such as London, Birmingham and Manchester and usually within tight and densely populated inner-urban wards, such as Newham, Sparkbrook and Moss Side – where contagion rates are highest.

“We need to ensure that every individual, including the BAME population, are following social distancing instructions,” Khunti said. “We have anecdotal information that it might not be happening in certain BAME groups.”

Education

The inequalities continue beyond the health crisis. The decision to cancel all school exams in response to the pandemic may harm future opportunities for social mobility for many young people from BAME communities.

Concerns that the teacher-assessed grades could lead to an unfavourable bias against particular ethnic groups have been raised ever since they were announced as a replacement for this summer’s cancelled exams.

The racial equality think-tank The Runnymede Trust wrote to Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, calling on authorities to ensure that pupils from disadvantaged or BAME backgrounds did not lose their primary means of avoiding the biases and receive predicted grades that did not reflect their true potential.

The Trust’s Deputy Director, Zubaida Haque, said, “A generation of young people could lose out on opportunities for their future because of Covid-19 if we don’t act now.”

Explaining why research shows that BAME students frequently outperform the grade scores predicted by their teachers.

Paul Ian Campbell, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Leicester, writes, ‘Educationalists can sometimes hold the same racial biases about people from BAME communities that exist in wider society. They, too, are capable of thinking that black students are less suited to cognitive pursuits than vocational routes.”

‘British Pakistani and Bangladeshi students face problems too. The idea that they are culturally incompatible with western values leads to the perception that they are low achievers. These ideas facilitate negative perceptions of academic talent,’ added Campbell.

These factors work in favour of schools in affluent areas and against schools that are usually based in inner-urban and socio-economically challenged areas, home to many of the UK’s BAME communities.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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