By Grahame Anderson

Thursday saw the release of the government’s Covid-19 health inequalities report taking a close look at the effectiveness and impact of steps already being undertaken to lessen disparities in infection and death rates of the virus.

The Cabinet Office’s race disparity unit (RDU) has gathered vital evidence and data before summarising the work undertaken by government since the PHE review.

It shows a range of socio-economic and geographical factors contributed to the higher infection and mortality rates for ethnic minority groups.

It clearly demonstrated an increased risk for South Asian and black ethnic groups but the relative risk of Covid-19 mortality is reduced when taking into account socio-economic and geographical factors associated with varying ethnic groups.

New Measures

Women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch announced a number of new government measures taken to safeguard those at risk.

They included a new £25 million community champions scheme funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

It will become mandatory for ethnicity to be recorded as part of the death certification process, in order to establish “a complete picture” of the impact of the virus on ethnic minorities.

Other measures involve the creation of round tables involving community leaders and faith representatives along with an updating of the shielded patient list.

The minister said: “We have invested in a strong package of measures to target messaging, develop the data we have available and make sure everyone is as safe as possible at home or in the workplace.

Today’s report marks an important first step in our journey to understand and tackle the disproportionate impact of Covid.”

It’s emerged The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said the Government spent £4 million between March and July on messaging targeted at ethnic minority people, with key information translated into local community languages across all watch-list areas.

Expert Opinion

But Dr Raghib Ali from Cambridge University, who was involved in the government’s first quarterly report on progress to address Covid-19 health inequalities , says the spotlight should refocus on risk factors such as obesity, age, population density, occupational exposure and overcrowded housing.

He added: “We have to adjust the risk factors rather than just saying it’s ethnicity, so the purpose of adjusting is to try to understand what’s causing that increased risk in blacks and south Asians.”

Think Tank Research

This comes just days after joint research conducted by a think tank combining the expertise of both the The Institute for Public Policy Research or IPPR and Runnymede Trust highlighted the full extent of the disparity.

They’ve been urging faster and further action now to save lives from a second wave of pandemic this winter.

Their study revealed:

  • If the white population faced the same risk as the black population, at least 58,000 more people in England and Wales would have died from the virus during the first wave; while 35,000 more would have died if the risk was the same as for the south Asian population.
  • After stripping out the effects of age and sex, at least 2,500 black and south Asian deaths could have been avoided during the first wave of the pandemic if those populations did not experience a higher risk of death from Covid-19.
  • Only a small proportion of the higher risk these communities face can be explained by variations in underlying health conditions.

  • Main factors are likely to be unequal social conditions (such as occupation and housing), unequal access to healthcare, and the structural and institutional racism that underpins them.

Dr Parth Patel, IPPR research fellow and an A&E doctor during the first wave of the pandemic, who was lead author of their report, said:

This report is welcome, but the measures announced are not even close to tackling the scale of the inequality.

“The government should be acting to address the underlying structures behind ethnic disparities. This means protecting minority ethnic communities so they’re less likely to catch Covid-19, and increasing access to treatment once they have it.

“Practical measures that could be taken right now include a triaged testing system, a winter funding package for local authorities, helping people self-isolate when the conditions they live and work in make it impossible, and ensuring everyone can use the NHS freely this winter.

“Failure to act quickly will lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths during this second wave – this is about public health as much as it’s about racial justice. Inequalities fuel pandemics.

“The government needs to stop prevaricating when it comes to people’s lives.”

The think tank believes the government should offer temporary accommodation to all people who need to isolate but cannot do so due to their living conditions. They should also ensure Ensure isolation pay support, worth £500 to low-paid workers, is available to all, including people without immigration status and the 1.4 million whose visas currently allow them no recourse to public funds.

They also recommend charging patients to use the NHS during this crisis should stop, under the ‘hostile environment’ aimed at deterring undocumented migrants, as this regime embeds racism and exclusion into public services and discourages a wider range of minority ethnic people from seeking timely medical help.

Sending a clearer and better targeted messaging to encourage all vulnerable populations to seek healthcare in a timely manner, is vital they say.