Covid-19 and minorities
Categories: Latest News
Tuesday April 21 2020
Despite people from ethnic minority backgrounds comprising just 14% of Britain’s population, research by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre has shown that they make up approximately 35% of over 3,000 critically-ill Coronavirus patients.
Whilst the disease undoubtedly does not discriminate, the reality is that ethnic minority communities are overrepresented within the NHS and essential services at the frontline of fighting the pandemic, whilst also being disproportionately represented amongst those confined to poor living and employment conditions. This renders minority communities more susceptible to exposure to the virus and facing greater barriers to recovery.
Public health should unquestionably be the immediate priority during this crisis. However, long term plans should be made for investigating and addressing structural inequalities that place BAME communities at greater risk during pandemics and global crises.
BAME and Muslim communities have had a long and significant history of valuable contributions within the NHS and other roles requiring them at the frontline of this crisis, and they continue to be an indispensable asset. As explained by Dr Zubaida Haque from the Runnymede Trust, ethnic minority communities are “more likely to be in low-paid jobs or key workers – crucial transport and delivery staff, health care assistants, hospital cleaners, adult social care workers as well as in the NHS.” Indeed, in London, over 25% of transport workers who operate buses and tubes are from ethnic minority communities.
Meanwhile, as of September 2019, it was established that 42,202 Muslims were employed and utilised in NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups in England, with Muslims constituting 6% of the 712,073 of the staff who hold a religious belief. Around 31% (12,966) of the 42,202 Muslim staff were employed in specialist positions, such as doctors, contrasted with a general NHS rate of 10%. Meanwhile, Muslim doctors formed over 21% of the 60,238 doctors who hold a religious belief. For a community that makes up under 5% of the national populace, Muslims are unquestionably over-represented within specialist occupations in the NHS.
The roles which are disproportionately occupied by members of minority communities mean they are more likely to be exposed to, and in regular contact with, the virus; putting them at increased risk of serious health complications and, as the tragic figures show, even death.
The fact that people from ethnic minority communities tend to live in more densely packed households in the big cities also highlights the impact of socio-economic factors. The fact that places like London and the West Midlands are most severely hit by Covid-19 should come as no surprise; the virus can spread much quicker in such densely populated areas. However, data from the Trust for London shows that there are over 4 times as many BAME people in the capital than in the rest of England. For ethnic minority communities living in these areas, cramped housing is a more significant problem than for their white counterparts. Government figures show 30% of the UK Bangladeshi population, 16% of Pakistanis, 15% of black Africans, and 8% of black Caribbeans are considered to live in overcrowded housing. Meanwhile, just 2% of the white population live in such conditions.
Thus, poverty rates which disproportionately plague the UK’s ethnic minority communities are likely to contribute to their disproportionate exposure during this pandemic.
Institutional and structural inequalities could also have a part to play in the suffering of ethnic minority communities during this pandemic. This is particularly relevant considering the additional barriers in accessing adequate and effective healthcare. A study from the Race Equality Foundation found that generally, “inequalities in prehospital care for ethnic minority groups are underpinned by problems of cultural awareness in professionals’ language and communication difficulties; and a limited understanding of how the healthcare system operates for some minority groups.” Indeed, Dr Chidera Ota, a junior doctor working in intensive care, reported to the BBC that; “language barriers for people who can’t speak English, especially when you can’t say if you’re in pain or short of breath, can have a huge impact.” She further added that “Particularly when you can’t bring a family member with you to hospital now to help translate because of the virus.”
These inequalities are not unexpected and were not undocumented before the current crisis. In reviewing the UK’s response to the pandemic, it is important to assess the impacts of structural inequalities that increase the vulnerabilities of minority communities and work to eradicate these inequalities.