BAME report on Covid-19 whitewashed by Government

19th Jun 2020
BAME report on Covid-19 whitewashed by Government

Health Secretary Matt Hancock answering a question by the Editor of The Muslim News Ahmed J Versi during a No 10 Downing St Covid-19 press conference on June 5 (Credit: Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing St)

Hamed Chapman

The Government published a review carried out by Public Health England (PHE) on the gross disparities in Covid-19 health risks and outcomes without making any recommendations nor did it say why a disproportionate number of BAME communities are dying due to the coronavirus and nor about the structural issues that lead to such outcomes.

The study confirmed earlier findings from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and elsewhere that those afflicted by the deadly virus were proportionately much more likely to be from BAME communities than among white people.

Bangladeshis are around twice as likely to die of the coronavirus, while Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other Blacks ethnicity were between 10 per cent and 50 per cent more likely.

There were also higher instances among most deprived workers and front-line staff in healthcare as well as drivers, shop workers and security guards. But no attempt was made to explain why there were such huge discrepancies.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, who presented the review, added insult to injury when pressed what BAME communities should do, simply offered the general guidance about abiding by social distancing and frequently washing hands.

Challenged by the Editor of The Muslim News Ahmed J Versi on June 5 at the daily Downing Street press conference on Covid-19, that the content of the report offered nothing new and had not made any recommendations, Hancock pledged that the Government will be rigorous in trying to understand the reasons and answer why were there were no explanations for the disproportionate impact or mitigations for protecting BAME lives in the next step to be addressed by the Equalities Minister.

The Health Secretary was reminded by Versi that Cabinet Secretary, Michael Gove, had promised him when pressed on the terms of reference of the inquiry that the health risks posed by structural issues of racism and discrimination which increase health risks in ethnic communities would be included in the review and not be limited to just potential biological aspects.

The review had not looked into these issues. Hancock responded by saying they would be addressing “the questions you rightly asked.”

During urgent questions in Parliament, Labour MP Zarah Sultana was among others confronted the Government to have a race equality strategy covering all Government departments to tackle underlying inequalities and ‘systemic injustice.’ Covid-19 does not discriminate, but the “system in which it is spreading does.”

Referring to the parallel race protests in the US, she said ‘Black lives matter’ is not a slogan, “are owed more than confirmation that our communities are suffering; we are owed justice.”

However, Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, denied that “systemic injustice” was the reason BAME groups are more likely to die from the pandemic in England.

“The Government is doing every single thing they can to make sure we eliminate the disparities that we are seeing because of this disease,” Badenoch insisted before trying to equate the disparities with “other groups that have been impacted based on age and even based on gender.”

Taking exception to what the Muslim MP said, she stressed she was “not going to take any lessons from the Honourable Lady on race and what I should be doing.” The Government has a “record to be proud of, we will wait and see the outcomes of the following steps in the recommendations.”

One of the first to respond to the failure of the Government review, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the findings were “not nearly enough” and called not for the first time a full independent inquiry into the issue.

“We need to know now why the virus disproportionately impacts these communities and crucially, what is being done to stop it,” Khan said. The Government needs to wake up to the structural problems in our society that are being laid bare by this virus and take proper and decisive action to rectify them. A continued failure “means there is no accurate way to measure inequalities in our society,”

Chair of the British Medical Association, Chaand Nagpaul also criticised the PHE report for its lack of practical guidance, voicing disquiet that two months after an inquiry into the high death rate among BAME healthcare workers nothing had moved forward.

“It is a statistical analysis, which, while important, gets us no closer towards taking action that avoids harm to BAME communities. The BMA and the wider community were hoping for a clear action plan to tackle the issues, not a reiteration of what we already know,” Nagpaul said.

A report in the Health Service Journal claimed that the Government had removed a key part of the review, saying that a section appeared to have been omitted that appeared in a draft version which had included responses from more than 1,000 organisations and individuals, many of them suggesting that discrimination and poorer life chances played a part in greater Covid-19 risk for BAME Britons.

The censored section included a submission by the Muslim Council of Britain. Proposing that with high levels of deaths of BAME healthcare workers, and extensive research showing evidence and feelings of structural racism and discrimination in the NHS, “PHE should consider exploring this in more detail, and looking into specific measures to tackle the culture of discrimination and racism.”

Former Shadow Minister for Diverse Communities, Dawn Butler, accused the Government of having a “reputation for whitewashing reports and hiding from the consequences of structural racism” but had her call for the submissions to be placed in the Parliament Library by Badenoch, who claimed that they were not part of the review that was commissioned.

It was reported by the BBC that the review was not led by Black doctor, Prof Kevin Fenton which PHE had announced but by the head of the

Government’s testing programme. Fenton was said to have “contributed” on community engagement, although his work was not included in the final report. It has led to the accusation that Hancock has misled both Parliament and the public.

Rehana Azam, the National Secretary of GMB Union, warned that if the reports are true, it represented a “serious fundamental breach of trust by the Government that will send shock waves across our Black, Asian Minority Ethnic communities.” She questioned what the Government was hiding and asked whether Fenton’s name was “used simply to give the report credibility.”

The public, Azam said, were “entitled to know what are the facts, and we demand answers now.”

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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.

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