Inequalities and discrimination likely to be playing a significant role in higher rate of black and minority ethnic COVID-19 deaths Health Foundation response to ONS data on COVID-19 related deaths by ethnic group for England and Wales

7 May 2020

Commenting on today’s release of Office National Statistics (ONS) data: Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by ethnic group, England and Wales (2 March 2020 to 10 April 2020), Tim Elwell-Sutton, Assistant Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Health Foundation, said:

‘Today’s figures show the extent of a worrying trend of a higher rate of COVID-19 related deaths among black and minority ethnic groups compared to the white population. Accounting for age, men and women in the black community are over four times (4.2 and 4.3 times respectively) as likely to die from COVID-19. Men of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin were 3.6 times more likely to have a COVID-19-related death, while the figure for women was 3.4 times more likely.

‘This is a complex issue and the exact reasons why black and minority ethnic groups are being disproportionately impacted by the virus are still unknown but existing social inequalities and structural discrimination in British society are likely to be playing a significant role. Today’s data shows some of the impact of socioeconomic disadvantage, as well as region and health status, but even after taking these things into account, black and minority ethnic groups are still at higher risk. Some black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to have existing health conditions compared to the white population and may therefore be more likely to experience worse symptoms if they become infected with the virus. Recent mortality data has shown that COVID-related deaths have been higher among those living in deprived areas where people from black and minority ethnic communities are more likely to live.

‘In addition, analysis by the Health Foundation [see chart below] has revealed the extent to which black and minority ethnic groups make up a disproportionately large share of high risk ‘key workers’, particularly in cities where black and minority ethnic people are more likely to live. For example, in London, while black and Asian workers make up 34% of the general working population, they represent 54% of food retail workers, 48% of health and social care workers, and 44% of transport workers. Many key workers will not have had the option of working from home and may have had to continue using public transport, exposing them to higher risk of infection. In the case of NHS and social care workers, they are likely to have been in close contact with others who may be infected. Many key workers are also likely to be low earners and may be returning to cramped housing conditions, putting their wider households at greater risk.

‘The government has rightly launched an inquiry to understand the effects of COVID on black and minority ethnic communities, but in identifying the underlying causes, it must consider how deep-rooted discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantage are placing some people at increased risk. In doing so, the government needs to work in partnership with black and minority ethnic communities to fully take into account their experiences and priorities. As well as meeting the urgent needs of those most affected in the weeks ahead, the government must ensure that existing inequalities are not exacerbated in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.’

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