Improve communication and engagement

The Government has been rightly criticised for its poor communication during this pandemic. While this affects everyone, it has been particularly acute for some of the UK’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

During the review, local government leaders, who have consistently been overlooked and excluded from decision making, spoke about the impact this has had in communities, saying:

“Mixed messages from central Government led to lack of trust from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.”
“The guidance at the beginning was not clear and many residents got in touch to ask what they should be doing to protect themselves.” [1]

We heard from various community organisations that there were few community-specific awareness raising campaigns or materials distributed by local and central government. Many local authorities also highlighted a lack of guidance and support from the Government on how to best use their expertise and local knowledge to communicate national information and priorities. As Hackney Council noted: “We have the experience, expertise and knowledge of our local communities, and know the best channels to communicate with them.”

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Africa, among others, said that improvements in communicating risks to Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are essential, for example making key communications available in community-specific languages via a variety of media sources, including popular Black, Asian and minority ethnic radio and TV stations. We also heard how some groups have exploited this lack of communication from the Government to spread misinformation.

SAGE has highlighted the important role the faith sector had in sharing Covid-19 guidance. For example, it points out that for some Muslim communities public health information shared by a faith-based credible source such as the Muslim Council of Britain was more trusted than information received from the Government. [2]

The Government should do more to engage with and utilise grassroots organisations such as charities and faith groups. To quote the JAN Trust: “We know the importance of engaging with communities to determine what issues concern them, and developing culturally sensitive and appropriate solutions.”

We also heard concern about the exclusion of certain faiths and denominations from Government consultation, leading to stress and anxiety and the spread of misinformation within communities, primarily the Jewish and Muslim communities in relation to funeral guidance. The Hindu Council also told us there were concerns in the community that Hindu funeral rituals could not be performed, causing further anxiety and guilt on not honouring the last wishes.

A respondent from Wightman Road Mosque told us:

"There is…a sense that Government guidance has been lacking in clarity and this is needed urgently for religious groups."

The Evangelical Alliance stated:

"An enduring lack of religious literacy in Government has also resulted in the smaller forum which consults directly with the Prime Minister not having an evangelical voice in it...who are the fastest growing and most (socially and ethnically) diverse element of the church."

As the pandemic progresses, improving communication and engagement must be a priority for the Government. As part of this, the Government should utilise existing organisations such as Healthwatch England to reach out to communities and involve them in redesigning health and social care structures post-Covid.

Throughout the pandemic, small voluntary organisations have stepped in to support communities and plug the gaps, often ones left by Government cuts to local council budgets. The expertise, knowledge and value of Black, Asian and minority ethnic third sector organisations will be critical for on the ground recovery but many of these specialist charities and grassroots organisations are themselves suffering a lack of funding. Karl Murray, from the Ubele Initiative, a community-based organisation, warned that specialist organisations are lacking reserves and this could lead to their closure.

Research conducted by the Ubele Initiative at the beginning of lockdown also found that nine out of 10 Black, Asian and minority ethnic micro and small organisations were set to close if the crisis continued beyond three months. [3]

While we know this is a problem affecting the whole of the third sector, the APPG for Africa highlighted that:

‘’Historically Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are promised better funding but there is a lack of transparency and data gathering which makes it difficult to monitor how resources are allocated and how decisions are made.”

Likewise, we heard from the Board of Deputies of British Jews that:

‘’Many charities are concerned about their future viability and are having to seriously consider closing or else seriously reducing their activities and staffing levels.”

It is clear that supporting smaller charities who work at a grassroots level in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities is vital. As we saw in the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, small community-led organisations are crucial to community recovery.

Finally, a message we repeatedly heard was about the unhelpful use of the acronym BAME. This wide-ranging term ignores the significantly different impact the virus has had on ethnic minority groups. For example, we heard that there isn’t a specific ethnicity classification for Somalis and they can tick up to three boxes when asked for their ethnicity. Labour Latin American Councillors also highlighted concerns that an inquiry into the impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people would exclude the Latin American community and stressed the importance of the inclusion of Latin America in future ethnic monitoring. The use of the term BAME can mask ethnic identities and realities of the very people it seeks to represent.


Recommendation 13: Ensure everyone can access Covid-19 communication

The Government should remove linguistic, cultural and digital barriers to accessing public health information including accessing testing, use of the track and trace app and other health and care services. The Government should work with all relevant bodies including faith and community groups to identify effective channels to disseminate information and provide support to local authorities to deliver it on the ground. Communication must have the trust of all communities and be tailored to different communities.

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