Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people have been disproportionately hit by the Covid-19 pandemic as a result of “decades of structural injustice, inequality and discrimination”, a damning review led by Baroness Doreen Lawrence has found.
The report – which was commissioned by Labour leader Keir Starmer – branded the situation an “avoidable crisis”, warning that the pandemic must be a “watershed moment for change”.
“Black, Asian and minority ethnic people have been overexposed, under protected, stigmatised and overlooked during this pandemic – and this has been generations in the making,” Lawrence wrote.
It comes a week after HuffPost UK revealed that intensive care beds across England are filling up with BAME people at the same disproportionate rate as during the first peak, suggesting no lessons were learnt – despite the government making plenty of noise about the commissioning months ago of a review into the problem by Public Health England.
Lawrence’s work has now concluded that BAME people are not only more likely to work in sectors that have been “overexposed” to Covid-19, but to have a higher chance of having other conditions that increase the risk of serious illness and face greater barriers to accessing healthcare.
Workers have been put at risk by the government’s failure to facilitate Covid-secure workplaces, and the “no recourse to public funds” rule has disproportionately affected BAME communities, the report said.
It also warned that BAME people have faced “disgraceful racism” as people have sought to “blame different communities for the spread of the virus” – fuelled in part by global leaders dubbing it the “Chinese virus”.
In September, youth worker Hesketh Benoit told HuffPost UK how he had lost 37 friends to Covid-19 – 36 of whom were Black.
“The penny started to drop very early on in the pandemic for me that all the people I knew who were dying of coronavirus were Black,” he said.
“I remember thinking: ‘I don’t know any Caucasian people who’ve died of it.’ And I have lots of friends and know so many people from very diverse backgrounds.”
Lawrence said her report was a “rallying cry” to break the “clear and tragic pattern” of discrimination and inequality that had led to BAME people being hit harder by the pandemic.
Among her recommendations to government was a warning that it must improve access to PPE in high-risk workplaces and make sure it is appropriate for all staff – including those who wear hijabs, turbans or have a beard for religious reasons.
Employers must also be reminded that they have a legal duty to record Covid-19 deaths caused by occupational exposure, the report said.
Meanwhile, Lawrence said the the government should suspend the “no recourse to public funds” rule for migrants – which prevents them from accessing services – during the pandemic.
And Labour peer also called for barriers to public health information – including linguistic, cultural and digital hurdles – to be removed by ministers by working with faith and community groups to get important messages about coronavirus across.
Labour leader Starmer welcomed the report, saying it must be a “turning point”.
“Government ministers should absorb this report and act immediately,” he said. “Failure to do so will leave many of our fellow citizens badly exposed over the winter.”