An avoidable Crisis : COVID-19's impact on Black & Asian communities by Baroness Doreen Lawrence
Today, we talk about Baroness Doreen Lawrence's review into the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and non-white communities which was released a couple of weeks ago.
As the Covid Pandemic started to unfold and it became clear that people of Black, Asian and non-white backgrounds were dying at a disproportionate rate because of it, Leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer asked Baroness Doreen Lawrence (mother of the late Stephen Lawrence) to investigate the causes in an official review. She interviewed hundreds of people to make the report happen including doctors, nurses, parents, activists and people who lost loved ones.
Covid-19 has had devastating effects on non-white minorities and the review showed that there was a strong link between people’s economic prospects, the level of discrimination they experienced and how much they were impacted by the virus.
On top of dying at disproportionate rates, Black, Asian and non-white groups have also been overexposed to the virus and more prone to be financially affected by it. The Government has had plenty warnings about this yet, failed to take any effective action to prevent this situation from happening.
The devastating effects of Covid-19 have been facilitated by long standing inequalities within British society. People from Black, Asian and non-white backgrounds are usually the ones doing frontline work and will also be the ones most likely to have difficulties accessing healthcare. In addition, some Black, Asian and non-white communities have experienced blatant racism in the shape of being blamed for the spread of the virus.
Despite all the evidence that Black, Asian and non-white communities have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, the Government has done nothing to protect people from the risks of a second a wave. With this review, Baroness Lawrence urges the Government to put in place an urgent plan to prevent Black, Asian and non-white people being affected even further this winter.
THE URGENT NEED FOR ACTION
Although the Covid-19 crisis has impacted everyone in this country and all aspects of everyday life, it cannot be denied that from the very beginning of the crisis, non-white people were the ones being affected the most.
On 10 April 2020, less than a month into lockdown, the British Medical Association revealed that the first 10 NHS doctors to die from the virus were from Black, Asian or non-white backgrounds. Further analysis showed that 68% of NHS staff who died as a result of catching the virus also were from a non-white background. The vital role key workers have played to tackle the Covid-19 crisis has greatly contributed to these numbers with the healthcare sector employing a high number of people from non-white background. According to official data from a 2019 survey, 20% of the 1.2million strong NHS workforce were Black or Asian. Medical staff represent more than double that number, accounting for 44% of the NHS workforce.
TIME TO TACKLE HEALTH INEQUALITIES
In addition to socio-economic factors, another main driver of health inequality is the Government’s failure to invest in public health. £800 million has been taken away from public health grants and the Government has also decided to put an end to the Public Health England initiative, which aimed to reduce health inequalities. Those kind of cuts will impact deprived areas the most, resulting in further negative implications for the health of the communities affected.
The NHS itself is failing to look after the lives of Black Britons , with 64% of them feeling their health is less protected than their white counterparts. Another alarming statistic is the maternal mortality rate of Black women who are five times more likely to die giving birth than White women. Black pregnant women are also eight times more likely to end up in hospital because of Covid-19 compared to White pregnant women.
The lack of diversity at senior levels of the NHS also needs to be addressed. Despite Black, Asian and non-white staff representing 20 percent of NHS workers, they only make up for 6.5% of senior managers. In London where almost 50% of NHS employees are Black, Asian and non-white, the NHS Trust Board members are overwhelmingly white accounting for 92% of the Board.
OVER-EXPOSURE TO COVID-19
Over-exposure to the impact of Covid-19 came in various ways. However occupational exposure was the one that had the higher risk of catching the virus and in worst cases, dying from it.
“I didn’t come to work to die.” A Nurse who contributed to the review
Black, Asian and non-white people are more likely to work in insecure low paid jobs where working from home is not an option. As a result, they are at a higher risk to catch the virus and will have more difficulty self-isolating if they fall ill. A survey that the British Medical Association did in May revealed that 64% of Black, Asian and non-white doctors felt under pressure to work in settings that were not Covid safe and without adequate PPE, as opposed to 33% white doctors. Another survey by the Royal College of Nursing revealed that 70% of Black, Asian and non-white healthcare professionals they interviewed felt under pressure to look after a patient without adequate PPE compared to only 45% of their white British respondents.
END THE STIGMATISATION OF COMMUNITIES
The pandemic has contributed to fuel racism towards Black, Asian and non-white communities, who have been unfairly blamed for spreading the virus. Acts of hate crime against Chinese and East Asian communities went up at the beginning of the pandemic due to the racist branding of Covid-19 as the “Chinese Virus” by senior political leaders. In a survey by psychologists at the University of Oxford, 20% of respondents agreed to the statement “Muslims are spreading the virus as an attack on Western values". The Government has done nothing to stop these negative narratives from being spread either and in some cases, politicians have even encouraged them as displayed by the following tweet by Conservative MP Craig Whittaker:
“If you look at the areas where we've seen rises and cases, the vast majority, but not by any stretch of the imagination all areas, it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough."
This level of misinformation coming from political figures is very dangerous and has undoubtedly contributed to the unfair treatment of Black Asian and non-white people by the police during lockdown. For instance, Black people in London where stopped and searched over 20,000 times during lockdown, with 80% of cases leading to no further action.
END STRUCTURAL RACISM
The last chapter of the review makes it very clear that the disparity in deaths and infections within Black , Asian and non-white communities has nothing to do with biological factors. The disproportionate negative impact that Covid-19 has caused to those communities is the result of long standing structural inequalities. For instance, Black, Asian and non-white people don’t have access to the same employment and education opportunities as white people and tend to be lower paid as well.
‘’We do not need another review, or report, or commission to tell us what to do…It is time for action on the countless reviews, reports and commissions on race that have already been completed.” Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy
SOME RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT
1. The Government needs to set an urgent plan to prevent non-white people from being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic again this Winter.
2. There needs to be a strategy put in place urgently at a national level to fight health inequalities. This should include clear targets towards tackling major health issues, better training to educate all healthcare workers about racism and unconscious bias, as well a more proactive race equality strategy at senior level.
3. Adequate PPE should be easily accessible in all workplaces considered as high risk alongside stronger Covid-19 risk assessments to make workers feel safe at work.
4. People who are not in a position to self isolate at home should receive specific financial and food support whenever needed.
5. The Government needs to actively prevent the stigmatisation of Black, Asian and non-white communities during the pandemic with a clear plan. Any type of stigmatisation or discrimination should not only be challenged but also condemned.
6. A race equality strategy to end structural racism needs to be put in place and actioned as soon as possible. There is no need for any more Governmental reviews.
Through this review, Baroness Lawrence goal was to amplify the voices of people who are often unheard. In the report, she highlighted that “Black, Asian and non-white people have been overexposed, under protected, stigmatised and overlooked during this pandemic” which is the result of generations of structural injustice, inequality and discrimination within the British society. Things need to change and they need to change now. Inequalities at all levels of society need to be confronted and it is no longer enough for policy makers to simply acknowledge them. Bold systemic solutions need to be put in place to tackle these systemic problems and the review should act as a catalyst to make those changes happen. As Baroness Doreen Lawrence said “We have heard enough talk from the Government. It is now time to act.”
You can read Baroness Doreen Lawrence full report here.