‘Decades of discrimination’ led to Covid-19 inequalities – Baroness Lawrence

By Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent
·4 min read

Decades of structural discrimination led to the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, a review has found.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence identified structural inequalities within government, health, employment and the education system that Covid-19 “thrived on” as the outbreak took hold.

BAME people have been overexposed to the virus by being overrepresented in public-facing industries where they cannot work from home and living in overcrowded housing.

Workers have been put at risk by the Government’s failure to facilitate Covid-secure workplaces, and the “no recourse to public funds” rule has disproportionately affected BAME communities, she said.

They have also experienced “disgraceful racism”, fuelled in part by global leaders calling Covid-19 the “Chinese virus”.

Baroness Lawrence was commissioned to lead the review into how Covid-19 is affecting BAME communities by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

She said it was hoped that a previous Public Health England report would recommend action to reduce disparities, but that it failed to do so.

And a statement last week from the Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch, to mark the launch of a Government report, risks being “too little too late” and failed to address systemic, structural drivers.

Dr Raghib Ali, who helped with the report on progress to address Covid-19 health inequalities, said he is not convinced structural racism played a role.

In the report’s foreword, Baroness Lawrence writes: “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.

“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.”

If no immediate action is taken more people will “unnecessarily die”, she warns, adding that this pattern of injustice may continue beyond the pandemic.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who has completed a review into the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, (Ian West/PA)
Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who has completed a review into the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (Ian West/PA)

Baroness Lawrence has made immediate and long-term recommendations to protect those most at risk from the virus and reduce societal inequalities.

As part of an urgent plan for the winter, the Government should remind employers they have a legal duty to record Covid-19 deaths caused by occupational exposure.

And it should be a legal requirement for employers to publish their Covid-19 risk assessments on a central government portal, while they must provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Government must suspend the “no recourse to public funds” rule, which prevents some migrants accessing state assistance, and give support to any person struggling to self-isolate at home.

And it must outline a plan to tackle a rise in hate crime and scapegoating, with leaders issuing a joint statement condemning attempts to pit communities against one other.

In the longer term, the Government must remove barriers to accessing health services and information, collect comprehensive data on ethnicity and reform the immigration system.

Sir Keir welcomed the report and said it must be a “turning point”, promising that the next Labour government will implement a race equality Act to tackle structural racial inequality.

He said: “Government ministers should absorb this report and act immediately.

“Failure to do so will leave many of our fellow citizens badly exposed over the winter.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, said the Government is “unwilling to accept that these issues are structural and are again failing to understand that race is a social determinant of health”.

“This is a complete abdication of responsibility,” she added.

A Government spokesman said: “The current evidence shows that a range of factors result in different groups being at an increased risk of infection and death from Covid-19 – from exposure in the workplace, to pre-existing health conditions.

“For this reason we must be careful to identify the root causes of the disparities we’re seeing and not assume they are evidence of discrimination or unfair treatment in public services like the NHS. Indeed, many of the factors identified in the report affect non-ethnic groups as well.

“We will continue taking this work forward, to ensure that we do everything we can to protect those most at risk”