Executive Summary

Covid-19 is having a disproportionate and devastating impact on ethnic minority communities. Not only are Black, Asian and minority ethnic people dying at a disproportionate rate, they are also overexposed to the virus and more likely to suffer the economic consequences. Despite repeated warnings, the Government has failed to take sufficient action.

Covid-19 has thrived on inequalities that have long scarred British society. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more likely to work in frontline or shutdown sectors which have been overexposed to Covid-19, more likely to have co-morbidities which increase the risk of serious illness and more likely to face barriers to accessing healthcare. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people have also been subject to disgraceful racism as some have sought to blame different communities for the spread of the virus.  

This virus has exposed the devastating impact of structural racism. We need immediate action to protect people this winter, but we must also fix the broken system that has left ethnic minority people so exposed.

The urgent need for action

Despite being aware of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the UK’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, the Government has not done enough to protect people ahead of the second wave. As transmission surges once again across the country, the need for this action could not be more urgent.

  • The Government must set out an urgent plan for tackling the disproportionate impact of Covid on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people this winter.
Time to tackle health inequalities

Black, Asian and minority ethnic people face significant barriers to accessing healthcare. These barriers include a lack of cultural and language-appropriate communication; not being taken seriously when presenting with symptoms; a lack of clinical training on the presentation of different illnesses across communities; and the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule which prevents many migrants accessing state assistance. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are also under-represented across the senior leadership of the NHS.

  • Suspend the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule during the pandemic and initiate a review on its impact on public health and health inequalities.
Over-exposure to Covid-19

Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers have suffered disproportionately from the Government’s failure to facilitate Covid-secure workplaces. Many respondents told us about inadequate PPE, failures to implement and access risk assessments and insufficient government guidance on their protection.

  • Ensure Covid-19 cases from the workplace are properly recorded by confirming that employers must report occupational infections of Covid-19 in line with health and safety law.
  • The Government should introduce a legal requirement for employers to publish their Covid-19 risk assessments on a central Government portal.
  • The Government should improve access to PPE in all high-risk workplaces where a risk assessment requires it and advise employers that they should provide PPE that is appropriate for all staff, such as those who wear hijabs, turbans or have beards for religious reasons.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more likely to live in poor quality and overcrowded housing. Both are significant risk factors for Covid and also affect the ability to self-isolate. Poor-quality housing has not been sufficiently considered when providing guidance for minimising transmission, nor has adequate support and resources been given to local authorities to tackle this problem.

  • Give targeted support to people who are struggling to self-isolate at home, including a package of resources to enable local authorities to identify and support people who may not be able to self-isolate. The Government should also review the current financial support package for those who need to isolate to ensure it supports all those who need help.

The Government’s decade-long failure to build social rented housing has pushed many families into the less regulated and less secure private rented market. Black, Asian and minority ethnic households are also disproportionately affected by the affordability crisis in housing.

Research by Shelter has found that four in 10 landlords admitted that “prejudices and stereotypes” come into letting decisions. [1] This is exacerbated by the Government’s right to rent policy, which has been found to lead to discrimination in the housing market. [2]

  • The Government should urgently bring forward emergency legislation to protect renters in this crisis, and ensure that its Renters Reform Bill includes measures to tackle racial discrimination in the private rental market.
  • The Government should raise the local housing allowance to the level of local average rents, to ensure low-income households are not forced into debt eviction and homelessness during the crisis.

The economic impact of the pandemic is disproportionately affecting ethnic minority communities. Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers are over-represented in shutdown sectors, and Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers are also overwhelmingly more likely to be self-employed.

  • Conduct and publish equality impact assessments on the Government’s support schemes to make sure Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are able to access the support they need.
End the stigmatisation of communities

The Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled racism as some have sought to blame Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities for spreading the virus. Despite SAGE having warned the Government in July of a risk that local restrictions could lead to racial stigmatisation and discrimination, little has been done to counter these narratives.

This also appears to be feeding into the enforcement of restrictions by public authorities. Liberty has found that police forces in England and Wales are up to seven times more likely to fine Black, Asian and minority ethnic people for violating lockdown rules. [3]

  • The Government must develop a clear plan to combat stigmatisation of communities during the Covid-19 crisis.
  • Urgently legislate to tackle online harms by bringing forward the much-delayed Online Harms Bill.
Improve communication and engagement

The Government has been criticised for its poor communication during this pandemic. To date there have been few community-specific awareness raising campaigns or materials distributed by local and central government.

We also heard that the use of the term BAME can mask the ethnic identities and realities of the very people it seeks to represent, and it is important that Government communication and engagement recognises this.

  • The Government should remove linguistic, cultural and digital barriers to accessing public health information. The Government should work with all relevant bodies, including faith and community groups, to identify effective channels to disseminate information and provide support.
Plug the gaps in data

A recurring and frustrating theme of this review has been the lack of reporting of ethnicity data, not just in relation to Covid-19 but more widely.

  • The Government should take immediate action to ensure comprehensive ethnicity data collection across the NHS and social care. The Government should also ensure all appropriate data collected and released by Government and public bodies is disaggregated to include a demographic breakdown.
End structural racism

There have been positive steps towards racial equality in recent decades. But racism and structural inequality still persist and some indicators have worsened. For example, the Lammy Review found that the proportion of Black, Asian and minority ethnic young offenders in custody rose from 25 per cent to 41 per cent between 2006 and 2016, despite the overall number of young offenders falling to record lows. [4]

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Prime Minister announced yet another Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, and chose as its chair a man who has cast doubt on the existence of institutional racism. [5] This only adds to the feeling among some communities that this Government is simply not serious about tackling racism and persistent racial inequalities.

  • Implement a Race Equality Strategy, developed with Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and with the confidence of all those it affects.
  • The Government should implement a national strategy to tackle health inequalities, with ministerial accountability and targets.
  • Equality impact assessments should be used much more effectively to shape and inform policy, and policymakers should seek to tackle structural racism with their decisions. The Government should also enact section 1 of the Equality Act which covers socio-economic disadvantage.
  • The publication of ethnicity pay gaps should become mandatory for firms with more than 250 staff, to mirror gender pay gap reporting. The Government has been consulting on this change for years but has failed to make any progress.

Since 2010 the Conservatives have implemented a range of policies to intentionally and openly create a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented migrants in the UK, from blocking access to public funding to making employers, landlords and NHS staff, among others, check people’s immigration status. This aggressive policymaking infamously culminated in the Windrush scandal, which saw people who had the right to be in the UK left in terrible circumstances. This has also contributed to the systemic discrimination experienced by migrants and the UK’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic population.

  • The Government must commit to stopping the ‘hostile environment’, and reforming our immigration system so that it is fair and effective.

Societal prejudices are learned from a young age and fester when left unchallenged. The Macpherson Report called for improved diversity in the school curriculum, and the Windrush ‘Lessons Learned’ Review called for better understanding of Black British history, yet little progress has been made on diversifying the national curriculum. Action is also required to tackle the attainment gap.

  • The Government, working with the Devolved Administrations, should launch a review into the diversity of the school curriculum to ensure it includes Black British history, colonialism and Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.
  • The Government should implement a national strategy with clear targets to close the attainment gap at every stage in a child’s development, enforced through an independent body, such as the Children’s Commissioner.

Promoted by David Evans on behalf of the Labour Party, both at Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QT.