BRITAIN’S Nigerian-born minister for equalities Kemi Badenoch has courted controversy by rejecting claims that systemic injustice is the reason why ethnic minorities are more likely to die from coronavirus in England.
With 39,904 deaths, the UK has the second highest number of coronavirus casualties in the world behind the US and the fifth highest number of affected people with 281,661 patients. However, the country’s black and minority ethnic (Bame) ethnic community have been hit hardest, being three times as likely to die from Covid-19.
Research has shown that this is partly to do with the fact that Bame citizens are placed in the front line of public services in health, transport and social care. Because the ethnic minorities do not have the same type of job security as their white colleagues, they tend to be given the most dangerous and risky jobs.
Not accepting this argument, Ms Badenoch said work was under way to find out why risks were higher for some ethnic groups. She hit back at claims from the opposition Labour Party which pointed to underlying discrimination in jobs and incomes as the main cause in the disparity.
Ms Badenoch said: “This is one of the best countries in the world to be a black person.” During heated Commons exchanges, Labour’s Zarah Sultana called for a strategy covering all government departments to tackle underlying inequalities and systemic injustice, adding that Covid-19 does not discriminate but the system in which it is spreading does.
Ms Sultana said: “Higher rates of poverty, overcrowded housing, precarious work and jobs on the front line mean that if you’re black or Asian you’re more likely to catch the virus and to be hit worse if you do. Black Lives Matter is not just a slogan and we are owed more than confirmation that our communities are suffering – we’re owed justice.”
However, Ms Badenoch said other groups, including those based on age and gender, have also been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and must be looked at. She added: “I’m not going to take any lessons from the honourable lady on race and what I should be doing on that. I think this government has a record to be proud of.”
A report by Public Health England this week confirmed people from ethnic minorities are at higher risk of dying from coronavirus. Also, the report showed that age remains the biggest risk factor, while being male is another and the government has faced criticism for not publishing any recommendations to address these disparities.
According to the Health Service Journal, one of the responses, from the Muslim Council of Britain, called on Public Health England to look into specific measures to tackle the culture of discrimination and racism in the National Health Service. However, Ms Badenoch said it was never the government’s plan to publish these responses and she would be working with the government’s Race Disparity Unit to come up with recommendations.
She said the Public Health England report did not cover factors such as housing density, underlying health conditions or the occupations of those who have died, which she said may well go some way to explain the gaps. According to Ms Badenoch, work is also under way to find out why an initial report by Public Health Scotland, found no racial disparity in coronavirus deaths in Scotland.