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Government inaction continues Covid's disproportionate impact on BAME workers

23 Oct 2020

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GMB National Race Lead, Fevzi Hussein writes on how BAME workers are being put at the high end of risk from Government failings on Covid-19.

 

As part of Black History Month I thought it would be appropriate to put some words together on an issue close to many in our diverse communities.

Before I do this, I just wanted to say that black history should not be confined to a token month in October - particularly given the hostile environment that sees many black/bame colleagues face societal disadvantage on a daily basis so much more systematic black history awareness opportunities must be embedded in learning.

So let's talk Covid-19.

Our brothers and sisters have been the back-bone of frontline services for many decades. When Covid-19 started to rip through society and we saw the number of healthcare workers dying steadily rise we wondered what the underlying reasons were for the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities.

A recent Guardian article confirmed that of every 10 healthcare workers who died due to Covid-19 a staggering 6 out of 10 were black (using black in a political sense).

Obviously, we would not want anyone to be infected by Covid-19 though I don't recall any specialists from Harley Street being struck down by Covid-19 - really underlining the key point around frontline workers and how class and race is a key feature here.

Our brothers and sisters have been the backbone of frontline services for many decades. When Covid-19 started to rip through society and we saw the number of healthcare workers dying steadily rise we wondered what the underlying reasons were for the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities.

As far as I can recall the Government were supposed to be releasing recommendations around Covid-19 and the disproportionate impact on BAME workers but to my knowledge this has not materialised.

Employers have been left to manage the minefield of risk assessments and GMB reps up and the UK have been playing a vital role in assisting all workers on issues linked to shielding, self-isolation or playing a massive part in joint risk assessments that have allowed workers to return to their workplaces where possible.

A recent report (BBC) also found that on estimation the deaths of black Africans are 3.7 times higher than might be expected by geography and age, 2.9 times higher for Pakistanis and 1.8 for black Caribbean people (who are older on average than other minority groups). Public Health England, which approached the issue in a similar way by adjusting for age, found similar disparities in both the infection rate and deaths for BAME people.

The ONS research goes one step further than these reviews and looks at other factors, such as health and deprivation.

It concludes that:

  • Black people are 1.9 times as likely to die as white people
  • Bangladeshis and Pakistanis are 1.8 times as likely to die
  • Indians are around 1.5 times as likely

Analysis from Public Health England (PHE) showed that once in hospital, people from BAME backgrounds were also more likely to require admission to an intensive care unit.

GMB reps up and the UK have been playing a vital role in assisting all workers on issues linked to shielding, self-isolation or playing a massive part in joint risk assessments

It is vital that we stay safe in these difficult times. The Government is failing the public.

By failing the public on so many Covid-19 related issues such as PPE, Track and Trace, allowing unchecked flights into airports for months after the pandemic had taken a hold, consistently sending confusing and conflicting policy/law statements, the impact of all of this has been that BAME workers continue to be at the high end of risk, travelling on public transport as many cannot alternative options to get to their place of work.

GMB Race is a self-organised group of BAME trade union members and we are always encouraging people to come on board and join us in making sure black voices are heard. To find out how you can get involved please contact the GMB Equalities team.

 

Fevzi Hussein is the GMB National Race Network Lead, Chair of GMB London Race and the President of GMB CWU Staff Branch.

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