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The UK’s human rights watchdog is to carry out an inquiry into the impact of coronavirus on ethnic minorities, in the wake of growing evidence that Covid-19 has unmasked deep-seated inequalities.
Announcing its inquiry, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said the pandemic had “shone a light on long-standing, structural race inequality in Britain”.
Emerging evidence from studies has highlighted being from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background is among the risk factors for developing severe Covid-19 or dying from it.
“Now is a once in a generation opportunity to tackle long-standing entrenched racial inequalities”
Media tracking of Covid-19 deaths, including by Nursing Times, has also indicated more BAME people have died during the pandemic than those from other backgrounds.
These concerns led ministers in May to instruct Public Health England to investigate the health inequalities faced by BAME people during the pandemic.
PHE’s report, published earlier this week, confirmed that people from BAME groups had a higher mortality risk from Covid-19 than in those white ethnic groups.
It also confirmed concerns that people from BAME backgrounds were overrepresented in the Covid-19 death toll among NHS staff, including nurses and healthcare assistants.
As previously reported by Nursing Times, BAME staff have felt they have been placed in more risky situations than white colleagues and had worse access to adequate personal protective equipment.
Today, the commission said its “in-depth analysis” would help develop clear, evidence-based recommendations for urgent action to tackle entrenched racial inequalities.
It noted that its new inquiry built on its previous Roadmap to Race Equality, which called for a government-wide strategy to address long-standing racial inequalities in all areas of life.
The commission said there were disproportionate numbers of ethnic minority groups living in substandard accommodation, and a need to improve healthcare, employment and education.
Such underlying inequalities were “deep-rooted issues”, which had been thrown into “sharp focus and exacerbated” by the coronavirus pandemic, said the commission.
“It is time for us to all talk seriously about racism, disadvantage and privilege, and take action”
The first step of the process of setting up the new review would be to meet race equality leaders to discuss the proposals for an inquiry, said the commission.
David Isaac, chair of Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Now is a once in a generation opportunity to tackle long-standing entrenched racial inequalities.
“Only by taking focused action to tackle race inequality across Britain will we become a fair country in which every individual can reach their full potential.
“This inquiry is part of our long-term strategic approach to tackle the structural inequalities that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare,” he said.
He added: “This is an important step towards ensuring that the deep-rooted inequality faced by ethnic minorities is meaningfully addressed as we rebuild.”
The Royal College of Nursing, which has recently highlighted how nurses from BME backgrounds felt less able to access adequate PPE during the Covid-19 crisis, welcomed the proposals for the inquiry.
Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “It is long overdue, as inequalities in health and life outcomes are already known.
“Those in power have avoided tackling the issues of systemic racism and structural inequalities for far too long and this avoidance has worsened outcomes for communities,” she said. “Nurses see this in their work every day.
“Equality and inclusion are the bedrock for good health. It is time for us to all talk seriously about racism, disadvantage and privilege, and take action. Long-term sustainable change is what is needed.”