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Black coronavirus rates result of social and economic factors, not biology

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Issue 2717
More likely to be keyworkers but less likely to receive protective kit (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Early in Britain’s Covid-19 crisis, when figures revealed that black people were dying at a disproportional rate, right wingers rushed to explain this as a biological trait. It was proof, they said, of inherent racial differences.

The latest report from the Runnymede Trust puts paid to such myth making.

It shows that black and minority ethnic groups (BME) are more likely to catch the coronavirus than they should be.

It also details how social and economic factors mean that BME people face greater barriers to protect themselves.

Through detailed statistics and surveys, the report shows that black people are over-represented in key worker roles and have had fewer opportunities to work from home.

They’ve also had to use public transport more and are less likely to have been given adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

It also shows that black people are more likely to be living in overcrowded and multi-generational households.

The trust concludes saying that black and minority ethnic groups are “more likely to be over-exposed and under-protected compared with their white British counterparts.”

Some of the examples in the report are stark. 

One in twenty black and minority ethnic people have been hospitalised with the virus, compared with one in a hundred white people. 

Some 15 percent of black people say they personally knew someone who died with the virus, with this figure rising to 19 percent for people of African-Caribbean backgrounds. The number of white British people is less than 10 percent.


While some 23 percent of white British people classify themselves as keyworkers, around 38 percent of those from black African background do. 

And, when gender is taken into account the disparity rises further still.

Some 43 percent of Bangladeshi women workers are in key worker roles.

But occupation alone does not entirely explain why black and Asian groups have been disproportionately at risk in comparison with their white counterparts.

The report shows that some 21 percent of white British workers said they were not given adequate PPE, and that 13 percent were given tasks which may have exposed them to the virus.

But 42 percent of those from a Pakistani background say they had inadequate PPE, and 20 percent were given dangerous tasks.

The Trust makes a number of key recommendations.

One of these is that employers should be made to carry out risk assessments for workers with vulnerable characteristics—including those from black and Asian backgrounds.

This ought to form a bedrock of the trade union response to the reopening of workplaces.

It also says the government’s Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support programme needs to be specifically tailored to ensure that black and Asian communities are identified and supported.

This crucial demand is already being taken up by some local authorities as evidence of the complete failure of the government programme becomes clear.

Ensuring that vital health messages reach those most at risk ought to have been built into the system from the start.

And that message ought to sound an alarm at the Labour Party HQ—they should protect working class people of all backgrounds by insisting upon a properly-funded health system.

The report rightly concludes that although lockdown has been hard for everyone, “we may all have been facing the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.

The full report is available to download here

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