Inquiry ‘should specifically consider how racism increased pandemic risks’

·3-min read

The coronavirus inquiry should involve a specific strand considering how racism increased risks faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic communities during the pandemic, groups have said.

The Government’s response to “growing evidence of racial inequality in the experience of infection and mortality” was slow, inquiry chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett has been told.

Ministers’ attempts to “explain away evidence of disproportionality” have persisted, despite evidence from “eminent public health experts”, a letter from the Race Equality Foundation said.

Baroness Heather Hallett will chair the inquiry
Baroness Heather Hallett will chair the inquiry (UK Parliament/PA)

The letter to Lady Hallett, first reported by the Guardian, has been signed by Race Equality Foundation chief executive Jabeer Butt and representatives of eight organisations representing black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.

They urged her “to consider not only the differing experiences of communities, but the experience of racism that increased the risks faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic communities during the pandemic as a specific programme of work within this inquiry”.

It said there is “robust academic evidence” showing that black, Asian and minority ethnic people “have experienced significant inequalities as a result of systemic racism throughout the pandemic”.

They have urged Baroness Hallett to set out a “clear plan” to secure evidence on the impact of Covid-19 and what can be done to protect such groups from future pandemics.

In March, the Cabinet Office announced the two main topics of the Covid inquiry will be examining the response to the pandemic and the impact in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it will produce a factual narrative account of what happened.

The Cabinet Office added that the inquiry plans to identify the lessons to be learned so it can inform the UK’s preparations for future pandemics.

The inquiry will also aim to understand the experiences of those most affected by the pandemic – including bereaved families – as well as looking at any disparities in the impact of the pandemic and the Government’s response.

One of the key issues it must examine is the disproportionate impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and the role of socio-economic inequalities and structural racism, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group has said.

Charles Kwaku-Odoi, chief officer at the Caribbean and African Health Network, said: “The disproportionate rates of mortality for black and minority ethnic people during the pandemic has undoubtedly been influenced by several factors including discriminatory decision making that exposed Black people including healthcare professionals to Covid-19.

“The pandemic has brought into focus the unwillingness of Black people to engage with services due to historic lack of trust.

“In order to bring about healing for our communities, and for trust to be built in local and national government; we must acknowledge historic failings and commit to genuine respectful relationships.

“It is critical that we have a targeted programme of work aimed at addressing the inequalities resulting from racism discrimination.”