UK BAME communities suffering (once again) institutional racism during Covid-19

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

The overwhelming impact Covid-19 is having on BAME people (black and minority ethnic communities) has magnified institutional racism in the UK. A report recently published on “Good Morning Britain” confirmed that 72% of all NHS and social care workers who have died from Covid-19 are from BAME backgrounds. This is despite BAME workers making up 44% of NHS medical staff, according to another analysis carried out by Sky News.

Barriers to BAME communities to access quality care in the NHS are still very prominent. Experiences of discriminatory acts within the healthcare system across all areas of expertise, and in particular in maternity, mental health, and cancer care are commonplace. Charging for overseas visitors to the NHS also plays a significant role in creating an adverse environment for BAME people trying to access care.

Lawyer and activist Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu declared that there is a direct link between health inequality and what is going on in the UK.

She stated: “Undoubtedly, the disproportionate rise in deaths among black and minority groups has magnified enduring structural inequalities that BAME people always face. This is an institutional form of racism in the country.”

Ashamedly, UK BAME communities still rank poorly in socio-economic indicators of poverty and deprivation, an outcome of long-standing institutional racism in government policies relating to immigration, housing, criminal justice, and social welfare support.

“This imposes social and economic handicaps that worsen BAME exposure to the virus. We are talking about a discriminatory outcome. When we talk about socio-economic drawbacks that includes -but is not limited to- the fact that BAME people are placed in uncertain or low-paid jobs or have an increased prospect of experiencing poverty. And there is a direct relationship between health inequalities and what is going on currently.”

Dr Mos-Shogbamimu further added that BAME workers have “no choice but to go out and work to make sure they have food, transportation, healthcare, and social care, putting themselves at greater risk”.

Image credit United Way of King County

Studies report that BAME workers are more reliant than white people on the gig-economy or zero-hours contracts, being often in high-exposure roles that lack social and economic safety nets. Additionally, BAME communities are less able to access the proper material needed to stay safe, an exposure that has been worsened by the constant cuts over the past decade for English language classes

Dr Kamlesh Khunti, a lecturer of the University of Leicester, claimed that the reasons for this uneven effect are not clear yet, but he explained that BAME communities tend to come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, have different cultural lifestyles, and live in more multi-generational families, with more people living in the same house.

Undoubtedly, during a global health crisis like this pandemic outbreak, this is likely to have severe impacts on those already at risk.

From recent analysis, deaths from Coronavirus across Europe and China have shown people who are admitted to hospital are twice more likely to have high blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

To this regard, Dr Kamlesh Khunti said: “All of these conditions are more prevalent within the BAME community. For instance, diabetes is two to four times more prevalent in people coming from South Asian regions. Hypertension is about two to four times more common within the black population. Cardiovascular disease is 60 to 70% higher in south Asian peoples.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the British Medical Association, defined the high number of coronavirus deaths as “shocking”. He affirmed: “This is the reason why we called for a review. These figures go beyond any random or normal disparity. And because these figures are so staggering, I felt it was fundamental that the Government and Public Health England investigate it to better understand why this is happening and put in place mitigations to safeguard our health and care workers who are exposed to the virus.”

To this matter, Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth a few days ago called for the Government to provide an update on the inquest into why BAME people seem to be disproportionately affected by the deadly virus.

In response, Health Secretary Matt Hancock affirmed: “We are currently investigating this issue, and I will make sure that he has a copy of the results of that investigation as soon as it has come to an end. It is a very significant piece of work.”

Nonetheless, the government will need to effectively examine their lockdown strategies and financial bailouts, beginning with understanding racial disparities.

Policies designed to protect the most vulnerable and keep our communities safe are covered with inequalities. An example? The recent domestic violence bill discounts the reality of the BAME survivors who may be migrants and who are denied recourse to public funds, consequently leaving them incapable to access safe refuges.

A starting point to reach a solution? Certainly, delegating Public Health England to monitor and release data based on ethnicity, BAME population density, and related risk factors of patients could be a place to start. Also, it is important to approach and demolish the false myth that many armchair pundits promote: a naive explanation based on genetic differences between BAME and white people.

I will never get tired to say that once this crisis blows over our attention should be on easing the worst effects of any future recession on existing racial inequalities.

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