A major union has written to the prime minster calling on the government to act “immediately” to protect black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers in the UK from Covid-19.
Unison said the government must take action by “closing gaps” that created health inequalities and poverty, while also ensuring that workplaces were safe.
“Poverty is a political choice. Ending deprivation and rising inequality must be a government priority”
The move comes in response to the publication last week of a review by Public Health England that put forward seven action points (see below) to reduce health inequalities faced by BAME groups.
Among its findings was that institutional racism and bullying had meant that nurses from BAME backgrounds were “afraid to speak up” about issues that put them at a higher risk of Covid-19.
Last week’s PHE report was a follow up to an inquiry the national body held into the disparities in the risks and outcomes of Covid-19, the findings of which were published earlier in June.
It confirmed previous concerns that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are over-represented in the Covid-19 death toll, including among NHS staff.
PHE recommended that development of “culturally competent” occupational risk assessment tools should be accelerated to reduce the risk of employee exposure to and acquisition of Covid-19.
It also called for the funding, development and implementation of culturally competent Covid-19 education and prevention campaigns, working in partnership with local BAME and faith groups.
Efforts to target culturally competent health promotion and disease prevention programmes for non-communicable diseases should also be speeded up, said PHE in its report.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis has now written to Boris Johnson urging him to implement all of PHE’s recommendations, though he highlighted in particular developing comprehensive risk assessments for BAME staff.
In the letter (see attached document), Mr Prentis also called for the closing of ethnicity and disability pay gaps, bringing into force laws to ask public authorities to consider how their policies increase or decrease inequality, and to set up a race advisory board to inform government policy making.
In his letter, Mr Prentis said: “Coronavirus is inextricably linked to inequality. Urgent action is needed to close the gaps in health inequalities and poverty that accelerate susceptibility to coronavirus and life expectancy.
“Poverty is a political choice,” he said. “Ending deprivation and rising inequality must be a government priority as the UK deals with the economic, health and social challenges of the pandemic.
“Black workers and communities deserve to have the PHE report acted upon and their lives valued and protected as all others,” he added.
- Mandate ethnicity data collection and recording across the NHS and social care, including mandatory collection of ethnicity data at death certification
- More research to better understand the social, cultural, structural, economic, religious, and commercial determinants of Covid-19 in BAME communities, and to develop programmes to reduce risk and improve health outcomes
- Improve access, experiences and outcomes of NHS, local government and integrated care system commissioned services for BAME communities
- Accelerate the development of culturally competent occupational risk assessment tools that can be employed in a variety of occupational settings and used to reduce the risk of employee exposure to and acquisition of Covid-19, especially for key workers working with a large cross section of the general public or in contact with those infected with Covid-19
- Fund, develop and implement culturally competent Covid-19 education and prevention campaigns, working in partnership with local BAME and faith communities
- Accelerate efforts to target culturally competent health promotion and disease prevention programmes for non-communicable diseases promoting healthy weight, physical activity, smoking cessation, mental wellbeing and effective management of chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension and asthma
- Ensure Covid-19 recovery strategies actively reduce inequalities caused by the wider determinants of health to create long term sustainable change