A collage showing BAME medics who died of Covid-19 (Courtesy: OBV)
Eastern Eye Staff
A group of social campaigners, academics and religious leaders have urged the government to formulate a “Race Equality Strategy” in the light of the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on BAME communities.
Studies have been indicating that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are more vulnerable to Covid-19 complications, and bringing to fore “longstanding inequalities in health, incomes, housing and employment”.
Thus, signatories to an open letter seeking government action — including Operation Black Vote (OBV) director Simon Woolley and Bristol mayor Marvin Rees – insisted that the pandemic be treated as a “watershed moment” to tackle racial disparities.
Some stats the letter highlighted were:
Black people are 4.2 times more likely to die from Covid-19
Six of every 10 Covid-19 care worker deaths have been BAME
More than 50 per cent of Covid-19 deaths among bus drivers have been from BAME communities
Ninety per cent of doctors who died of Covid-19 were BAME
Two racist murders by purposely infecting the virus along with hurling of racial abuse
Of 279 NHS chief executives, only seven are BAME, despite the people from the group making up 44 per cent of its medical staff
Black people are twice as likely as white people to be unemployed
BAME people are 48 per cent more likely to work in zero-hour contracts.
“For many of us there has been much heartache and at times anger in watching this crisis unfold and seeing many brave lives cut short,” said the letter.
“Furthermore, we are acutely aware of perhaps an even greater impact, socially, educationally and economically, BAME communities could face as we confront an unprecedented economic downturn.
“Our demand is for a Covid-19 race equality strategy that will not only deal with the immediacy of saving lives, but also fundamentally rebuild many of our institutions that this disease has exposed as having huge racial disparities.”
The demand was put forth at a time when Public Health England was set publish a review into the role played by factors such as ethnicity, gender and obesity in Covid-19 outcomes among people.
The group seeking a revolutionary “equality strategy” called for a “wider-ranging review” is to “build something positive and long-lasting from this deadly Covid-19 crisis”.
Lord Woolley, who is chair of UK’s Race Disparity Unit’s advisory group, said: “It gives us a unique opportunity to tackle those deep-seated inequalities, which existed even before Covid-19, that could get very much worse, without dramatic action, without radical action.
“Big examples of that would be the prospect of high levels of unemployment, which for young black kids could go to 50, 60, 70 per cent. The inequality in health that we’ve already seen could get very much worse if those poverty predictions kick in.
“Educationally, unless there’s dramatic action, those kids that are already behind could fall so far behind that a generation of young kids could be failed.”
The letter said there would be people who blame BAME individuals for the devastating impact of Covid-19 the community faced.
“If we dare speak out about being overly exposed to this deadly virus, caused in part by frontline occupations, health inequalities, social and economic disadvantage, they say we’re pursuing a ‘Victimhood’ agenda’ or we are the ‘Victimhood mob’,” the signatories noted.
“We profoundly reject both. We will not be blamed.”
It added that “profound inequalities” is areas such as health, employment, housing, criminal justice and education need to “drastically put right”.
“If anything good is to come from this awful disease, it is that we track what’s been exposed and amplified as discriminatory, and we fundamentally fix it,” said the letter.
“That starting point is a Covid-19 Race Equality Strategy, and it is something that we believe will form part of a new social and race equality contract.”
A government spokesperson said: “We have pledged to improve the quality of data and evidence about the types of barriers faced by people from different backgrounds to help drive effective and lasting change.
“The government’s Race Disparity Unit, which is a world first for publishing data by ethnicity, also publishes data by age, gender and geography wherever possible. It continues to work across departments and their agencies to identify and address adverse variances in outcomes where they are found.
“We’re also aware that the coronavirus sadly appears to have a disproportionate effect on people from BAME backgrounds.
“It is critical we find out which groups are most at risk so we can take the right steps to protect them and minimise their risk.
“That’s why we have commissioned PHE to better understand the different factors, such as ethnicity, that may influence the effects of the virus and explore the possible reasons for disparities.”
Signatories of the letter included the writer Afua Hirsch, David Weaver, the president of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Ganesh Sathyamoorthy, senior researcher,Imperial College, Dr Elizabeth Henry, the head of diversity for the Church of England, Sir Iqbal Sacranne OBE, senior advisor, Muslim Council of Britain, and Rabbi Danny Rich, the chief executive of Liberal Judaism.