In the early weeks of the Covid pandemic, as mounting evidence began to show that Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities were dying at a disproportionate rate, I was asked by the Leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, to lead a review to investigate the reasons.
It was immediately apparent that the impact on people’s health was inseparable from economic prospects and experiences of discrimination.
It is often said, but perhaps not fully appreciated, that behind each statistic is a human story. For me, amplifying the voices of those who are all too often invisible has been the driving force behind my many years of campaigning.
So this review is not mine. It belongs to the hundreds of people I have spoken to: doctors, nurses, parents, teachers, faith leaders, councillors, activists and, most importantly, those who have lost loved ones. It is based on hundreds of submissions, full of expert opinions, recommendations and heart-wrenching stories.
The overwhelming message was that this 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. The impact of Covid is not random, but foreseeable and inevitable – the consequence of decades of structural injustice, inequality and discrimination that blights our society. We are in the middle of an avoidable crisis. And this report is a rallying cry to break that clear and tragic pattern.
It will require systemic solutions to systemic problems. It is not enough for policymakers to know that ethnic inequalities exist. We need to honestly confront how inequalities at all levels of society have come to exist and the intersectional impact it has on each ethnic group. This means recognising the interaction of faith, class, gender, disability, sexuality, ethnicity and culture in order to truly understand that no community is ever one homogeneous group.
Only then will we be able to respond effectively. We need bold, joined-up policies and an approach that encompasses tackling ethnic disparities, from housing to employment and health.
This report gives just a snapshot of the impact of Covid-19 so far and the structural inequalities faced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic people. It makes immediate recommendations to protect those most at risk as the pandemic progresses and presents next steps for beginning to tackle the underlying causes.
I first met Keir campaigning on these very issues decades ago, and I would like to thank him for commissioning this important review. I would also like to thank Marsha de Cordova MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, for her tireless support over the last few months, hosting roundtable discussions, pressing the Government to go further and faster on protecting those most at risk from this virus, and for her friendship and wise counsel.
The coronavirus crisis has brought us all together in many ways. But it has also exposed our faults.
This must be a turning point. We have heard enough talk from the Government. It is now time to act. In the words of one submission we received: we created this system; we need to fix it.
Baroness Doreen Lawrence