Racism worsens COVID-19 toll on ethnic minorities: Report

Labour Party report by Doreen Lawrence says pre-existing conditions cannot explain entirely why non-white people have suffered disproportionately.

Freelance musicians from 'Let Music Live' pressure group perform in Parliament Square in London [Neil Hall/EPA]

Ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom are paying with their lives after years of government neglect left them uniquely vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report on Tuesday by a woman whose son was murdered in a racist attack.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are more likely to suffer from obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

But pre-existing conditions cannot explain entirely why they have suffered disproportionately, the six-month review by Doreen Lawrence said.

The report was commissioned by the main opposition Labour Party and is likely to feed into political criticism of the Conservative government’s handling of the pandemic, which has left the UK with the highest death toll in Europe.

“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,” she wrote, highlighting their often low-paid work and poor housing.

“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.”

Lawrence has become a respected figure in campaigns for racial justice in the years since her 18-year-old son Stephen was stabbed to death by a gang of white youths in 1993.

She was made a baroness in the upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords, in 2013.

The mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, Doreen Lawrence, attends a service to mark the 20th anniversary of Stephen’s death, at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London April 22, 2013 [File: Andrew Matthews/Pool]

Her report builds on research by government statisticians who found that white Britons are at lower risk of dying from COVID-19 than any other ethnic group, except for people of Chinese heritage.

Black Britons are four times more likely to die than white people.

If white people were dying at the same rate as Black, the UK would have suffered more than 58,000 additional deaths from the disease, the report said.

The current official death toll stands at just below 45,000.

But citing researchers, the report said: “Genetics cannot explain why every minority ethnic population, given huge genetic diversity within and between these groups, has a higher risk of death from Covid-19 than the white ethnic population.

“Instead, this inequality is likely to be driven by structural and institutional racism … and differential access to healthcare.”

The first 10 hospital doctors to die from the virus were all from BAME backgrounds.

Subsequent analysis showed that 68 percent of deaths among staff in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) were from ethnic minorities.

Citing one survey, the report said 70 percent of BAME medics in the NHS felt they had been pressured to care for a patient without adequate personal protective equipment, compared with 45 percent of white respondents.

But BAME people referenced in the report also complained of unsympathetic treatment by white NHS doctors who had little understanding of their specific medical or cultural needs.

The report also cited hostile public attitudes among the majority white population, including racist attacks on Chinese Britons who were blamed after the virus originated in China.

Another survey cited showed that nearly 20 percent of white Britons agreed that either Jews or Muslims were responsible for spreading the virus.

The government has commissioned the latest in a long series of reports on racial inequality in the UK, following the publication in 1999 of a landmark study that exposed “institutional racism” in London’s police force over its botched investigation of the Stephen Lawrence murder.

But Doreen Lawrence said the pandemic underlined the need for action now.

“We need bold, joined-up policies and an approach that encompasses tackling ethnic disparities, from housing to employment and health,” she said.

There was no immediate response from the government.

Source: AFP