The urgent need for action

The impact of Covid on Black, Asian and minority ethnic [people] has been literally unimaginable… We need to find out why the BAME community has been so affected. We also need to put proper planning [and policies] in place for the future

Individual submission

The coronavirus crisis has had a significant and often heart-breaking impact for everyone in this country. All aspects of life and work in the UK have had to adjust to new and unprecedented circumstances. But it was clear from the early stages of the pandemic that the crisis was taking a disproportionately high toll on ethnic minority groups in the UK.

On 10 April 2020, less than three weeks after the national lockdown was declared, the British Medical Association warned that the first 10 NHS doctors to die from the virus were from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds. [1] A subsequent analysis revealed that 68 per cent of the NHS staff that had died were from ethnic minority backgrounds. [2] Evidence of significant disparities in health outcomes continued to emerge over the following weeks, including the shocking revelation that over one third of patients in intensive care were from ethnic minority backgrounds. [3] 

The hugely significant role of key workers in tackling the crisis and keeping the country going became increasingly obvious, with public transport and healthcare among those on the frontline. Both sectors include a significantly high number of workers from ethnic minority backgrounds – official data from 2019 indicated 20 per cent of over 1.2 million NHS staff were Black, Asian and minority ethnic, compared with 14 per cent of the general population of England and Wales. This increases to 44 per cent of medical staff. [4]

Research from organisations such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, healthcare professionals and the Office for National Statistics further revealed the extent of both the health and economic implications on ethnic minority groups. This included the revelation that Black men are 4.2 times more likely to die from Covid-19 and Black women are 4.3 times more likely than white men and women. [5] In a recent report the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Runnymede Trust estimated that:

“Over 58,000 and 35,000 additional deaths from Covid-19 would have occurred if the white population had experienced the same risk of death from Covid-19 as the Black and Asian and populations respectively.” [6]

The Government published a review of the impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and ethnic minority groups in June. [7] It was hoped that Public Health England’s review would provide a major insight into ethnic disparities of Covid-19 and put forward recommendations for action, but it did not. The report set out the disproportionate impact of Covid – the facts of which were already acknowledged and provided the basis for the review being commissioned in the first place – and made few recommendations for action. In doing so, the report failed to fulfil its terms of reference, to “suggest recommendations for further action that should be taken to reduce disparities in risk and outcomes from Covid-19 on the population”. [8]

In addition, there was a highly unusual process of publication, with confused briefings about decisions to delay or publish the report. It was then rushed out with no public comments from Public Health England or the health experts. After publication it became clear that significant sections from the report, including key stakeholder and community voices and a list of recommendations, had been removed. The Government was then forced to publish the missing information in a subsequent PHE report. [9] 

Zubaida Haque, then Interim Director of Race Equality at the Runnymede Trust, told the British Medical Journal that:

“People are upset, angry, astonished, and appalled. It’s completely lacking in any plan of action on how to save lives.”

Many stakeholder organisations, including representative bodies, have emphasised the need for a clear action plan, which has not been delivered. The British Medical Association stated that: [10] 

“The Government who commissioned this review must now produce a clear action plan with timescales of how these recommendations will be implemented. The time for reviews, reports and commissions is over.”

Throughout this pandemic, the Government has shied away from taking action to mitigate against the impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and the recent statement from the Minister for Equalities risks being too little too late. It also fails to address the systemic and structural drivers of the inequalities we have seen.


Recommendation 1: The Government must go further and set out an urgent plan for tackling the disproportionate impact of Covid on ethnic minorities this winter

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 or account for the significant disparities we’ve seen. As the country now faces rising Covid cases, hospital admissions, and deaths, the need for this action could not be more urgent.

The Government should set out a wider package of immediate measures to tackle the disproportionate impact of Covid on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people. This should include further steps to protect frontline staff and improve public health communication.

Disproportionately high number of Asian, Black and Other ethnic groups admitted to ICU since 1 Sept 2020 compared to local population

Source: ICNARC Covid-19 Report, 16 October 2020

Data: View here

Total registered hospital deaths from COVID-19 per 100,000 in England by ethnic group

Source: Institute For Fiscal Studies, Are some ethnic groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others?, 1 May 2020

Data: IFS calculations using population data from 2011 ONS Census of England and Wales and NHS England COVID-19 hospital death figures by ethnicity as of 21 April 2020.

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