The United Kingdom should address how structural racism affected the death toll in all inquiries into how the government handled the pandemic, a campaign group has argued.
During the global health crisis, people of ethnic minority backgrounds died at a far higher rate than white Britons. Civil rights groups have said that racism played a role.
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The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group on Tuesday, in an open letter to Baroness Heather Hallett, who is leading the inquiry, said new data released last week confirmed that Black and minority ethnic people are “over represented” in pandemic deaths.
About 220,000 people have died with COVID-19 on their death certificates in the UK, according to government figures – the seventh-highest toll worldwide.
“The most recent data shows that almost all minority ethnic groups died disproportionately from COVID-19. For Bangladeshi men, the death rate was 3.1 times greater than that of White British men, followed by Pakistani men (2.3 times) and Black Caribbean men (1.8 times),” the group’s letter said.
“COVID-19 is not just a health crisis; it’s also a social and economic crisis.”
The inquiry was set up after heavy criticism that the government was unprepared to deal with the spread of the virus.
The letter’s signatories include the Runnymede Trust, Action for Race Equality and Asylum Matters.
The group said they were “disheartened” by a listening exercise of the inquiry, after learning that it had been outsourced to PR companies with close ties with the government.
They have called for the inquiry to investigate structural racism in each part of the process, bring in an expert witness, rethink the listening exercise and ensure refugee and migrant rights groups are represented as participants.
“Until we dismantle the factors which enabled the pandemic to be racialised in its impact, we cannot mitigate a similar outcome from any future crisis responses,” the letter said.
“This must be a central interrogation point for the COVID inquiry, with affected communities placed firmly at the centre.”