In recent weeks, we have seen a rise in coronavirus casualties within Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. The Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre reported that 35% of almost 2,000 patients were non-white. This is a troubling statistic, especially when considering that minority ethnicities make up 13% of the UK population, but one-third of casualties. Head of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, has also reiterated that “at face value, it seems hard to see how this can be random”.
An inquiry has been launched by Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee to look into why people with protected characteristics, including ethnicity, have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
At JAN Trust, we took this opportunity to raise the issues we think are underlying this disturbing pattern. Several factors, including discrimination and socio-economic issues, have meant that BAME communities have been at high risk of being affected by coronavirus.
BAME communities make up many of the key workers, whether they are delivering food, nurses, doctors, cleaners or bus drivers. This also means that they cannot work from home, and isolating is not a luxury they can afford. These communities are also amongst the most likely to live in multigenerational housing where they can cater for the elderly, but also to avoid high housing costs. 30% of Bangladeshi families and 15% of black families currently live in overcrowded (“where there are fewer bedrooms than needed to avoid undesirable sharing”) housing, compared to 2% of white families.
Along with living in precarious economic conditions, these communities are active in frontline roles. With the elderly being at the highest risk of contracting Covid-19, multigenerational households encounter added stress and anxiety with regards to the safety of their families.
For Muslim communities, stress has also come from not being able to celebrate Ramadan and Eid as they usually would, with the elderly having to be isolated away from family time – time that could put their lives at risk.
Anxiety is also heightened considering that BAME workers are likely to be part of the gig economy, and are likely to have lost their jobs due to the virus. Increasing job insecurity has meant that buying essentials, food or medicine has become a problem, especially when others have been panic buying. An increase in domestic abuse has also been recorded as safe and refuge spaces have had to close down. Moreover, the East Asian community has also recorded an increase in racial abuse due to Covid-19 emerging from China.
Mental health and depression have increased as a result of precarious living conditions and, in an environment that feels like a fight for survival for many, the coronavirus pandemic has further exposed the deeply unequal society in which BAME communities live. Of the 106 NHS staff who had died, 63% were from a BAME background.
Black, Asian and other communities from immigrant background have reported that emergency services have been slow to respond to their calls. Whilst we know that there is currently a strain on the NHS, these communities have also said that ambulances had been faster to reach their white neighbours’ homes. There are many examples like that of Kayla Williams, a black woman from Peckham, who was told she was ‘not a priority’, and died in her flat before paramedics arrived. Such examples expose questions that need to be asked about the structural racism within our medical system.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected Black, Asian and minority ethnicity communities in ways that could have lasting effects. A lack of response from emergency services, precarious economic situations, difficult living conditions and unequal working opportunities have all put BAME communities at higher risk of being affected by the virus.
As Labour’s race relations advisor, Baroness Lawrence, a Patron of JAN Trust, said “Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have long been disadvantaged by the social and economic injustice which still exists in our country…there is a clear and tragic pattern emerging of the pandemic’s impact on those communities”. Whether collecting more data on affected cases or looking at how years of austerity have marginalised the most vulnerable communities, the underlying socio-economic issues and structural racism need to be addressed. This analysis is long overdue and needs to be carried out to protect vulnerable communities from future negative consequences.
In this challenging time, JAN Trust continues to work hard to support our beneficiaries and are worried that our users are facing greater issues, whether during self-isolation or as key workers.