Covid-19 has ‘thrived’ among black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) communities because of structural race discrimination, a new Labour Party report from Baroness Doreen Lawrence said on Tuesday.
Lawrence, the mother of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence who was murdered in 1993 in a racially motivated attack, said these groups are ‘over-exposed’ and face ‘barriers’ to healthcare.
BAME people have also been scapegoated for Covid’s spread, she added.
Government analysis published in August found people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had about twice as high a risk of death from Covid-19 as white Britons.
People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, black Caribbean and other black ethnicity had between a 10% and 50% higher risk of death when compared with white British people.
In her report, Lawrence wrote: ‘Black, Asian and minority ethnic people have been over-exposed, under-protected, stigmatised and overlooked during this pandemic – and this has been generations in the making.
‘The impact of Covid is not random, but foreseeable and inevitable, the consequence of decades of structural injustice, inequality and discrimination that blights our society.’
The report said BAME workers are more likely than white people to work in ‘frontline’ jobs and come into contact with coronavirus.
When accessing healthcare, there is a ‘lack of cultural and language-appropriate communication’, with patients ‘not being taken seriously when presenting with symptoms’, it added.
BAME people are also ‘under-represented across the senior leadership of the NHS’.
Lawrence, whose report was commissioned by Labour leader Keir Starmer in April, said BAME groups had ‘also been subject to disgraceful racism as some have sought to blame different communities for the spread of the virus.’
She asked ministers to outline a plan to tackle a rise in hate crime, with party leaders ‘issuing a joint statement condemning attempts to pit communities against one another’.
‘Covid-19 has thrived on inequalities that have long scarred British society,’ Lawrence said.
‘We are in the middle of an avoidable crisis and the government cannot ignore the facts.
‘If no immediate action is taken to protect those most at risk as we enter the second wave more people will unnecessarily die.
‘If no long-term action is taken to tackle structural inequalities we will keep seeing this pattern of injustice occur beyond the pandemic.
‘We have heard enough talk from the government. It is now time to act.’
Starmer said: ‘I welcome this report and thank Doreen for her tireless work, as well as those who have responded to the review.
‘Government ministers should absorb this report and act immediately. Failure to do so will leave many of our fellow citizens badly exposed over the winter.
‘This must be a turning point. That’s why the next Labour government will introduce a new Race Equality Act to tackle the structural inequalities that led to the disproportionate impact of this crisis.’
Marsha de Cordova MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, said: ‘This crisis has laid bare the racial inequalities which have long existed in our society.
‘But the government is unwilling to accept that these issues are structural and are again failing to understand that race is a social determinant of health.
‘This is a complete abdication of responsibility. What we need are systemic solutions to systemic problems.
‘By committing to a Race Equality Act Labour is showing that we are ready to take the leadership that is needed.’
Responding to the Lawrence review, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association (BMA) council chair, said: ‘As Baroness Lawrence has shown, racism breeds health inequalities which in turn affects our patients and colleagues, and at worst, kills.
‘One third of intensive care beds continue to be occupied by seriously ill BAME patients – no improvement from six months ago.
‘Today’s report emphasises even more what the BMA has been saying since the pandemic began – that so much more must be done to protect at-risk groups.
‘We’re pleased that the report – which the BMA contributed to – shares our view about what the government needs to do to reverse the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on members of these communities.
‘We also need to see Covid-19 risk assessments for all health and social care workers strengthened to help give staff the necessary protections they need at work.
‘We need to have data collected which shows the infection information broken down by ethnicity and more data linking occupation and ethnicity, both of which the report also calls for.
‘The government responded to our concerns about how the virus is impacting BAME people, earlier this year, by commissioning a review from Public Health England (PHE).
‘While the government published its long overdue progress report last week, it is clear that the response continues to fall short of what is needed.
‘We need to see a tangible plan that will protect lives now by implementing the BMA and others’ recommendations in full.’
Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: ‘As Baroness Lawrence has stated in her report, the disproportionate impact which this pandemic is having on the health, welfare, safety and economic security of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in this country is not random.
‘It was foreseeable and is the result of decades of structural racism and inequality that continues to pervade every area of our society and economy.
‘The Prime Minister has promised to ensure that employers across this country look after their workers and are Covid-secure and Covid-compliant. However, the evidence of racial disparities points to the contrary.
‘The NASUWT has been calling on the government for months to publish its assessment of the racial equality impact of its decisions on the reopening of schools, but the government has refused to do so.
‘Given the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 infections and deaths among BAME communities, many will question what the government is hiding.
‘Without clear, coherent and concrete action by government to address the racialised impact of this pandemic, the cycle of discrimination and racial injustice will continue.
‘The government has an opportunity to make a difference by publishing the race equality impact assessments it has undertaken and by providing clear guidance to employers on the steps they can take to make workplaces safer places for BAME workers.’
- The National Education Union (NEU) has sent an open letter to Tory Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, calling upon him to eradicate holiday hunger by providing Free School Meals (FSM) to all children who need them over the school holidays.
‘The government must reverse the decision taken in the House of Commons last week not to provide free school meals over the holidays,’ the NEU stated.
‘Government cannot ignore the public outcry generated by this callous decision. They must ensure no child goes without food.’
The letter, from Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, NEU Joint General Secretaries, states: ‘Many more families are facing food insecurity because of Coronavirus – and many families receiving Universal Credit are living in poverty.
‘There has been an extraordinary community response this half term week, and widespread support for Marcus Rashford’s proposals, showing that the public supports investment in children to banish hunger.
‘However, there still remains in place a postcode lottery for the more than one million children facing food insecurity; many will come back to school hungry, malnourished and anxious.
‘The government has pledged to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds aren’t left behind – but a lack of regular, dependable nutritious meals has a huge impact on learning, self-confidence and students’ engagement with school. It locks poor children out of opportunities.
‘At the moment, staff in schools and colleges are working as hard as they can – but they’re really worried about what they see unfolding in front of them.
‘NEU members are witnessing the negative impacts of hunger and malnutrition: if a child hasn’t eaten, they cannot concentrate, learn or fulfil their potential. This connects very directly to whether children and teenagers learn well.
‘During the pandemic, schools are working closely with their local communities to reach out to all families who need extra support. But the right national policies must be put in place.
‘We urge you to commit to tackling holiday hunger by providing Free School Meals during school holidays to all children whose families are eligible for Universal Credit.’