How the pandemic exposed the stark inequalities of our society

High deaths within BME communities – CLICK TO SEE THE VIDEO

COVID-19 has devastated the lives of people of all faiths and nationalities. Yet, there are increasing indications that the Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community in the UK has been disproportionately affected. This bias towards those of BAME origin suffering most, and more acutely, is also reflected in the US Afro-American population.

Since the government’s delay in imposing lockdown, I have seen the tragic loss of people from BAME communities in London and across the UK, and how COVID-19 restrictions have exacerbated the respective families’ grief.  

Mohammed Rakib, who lost his aunt to COVID-19, said: “My aunt, a lifelong asthma sufferer, was admitted to hospital a few weeks ago where she was kept in for observation. Within hours of being sent home, she started displaying symptoms of COVID-19. On readmittance to hospital, she was diagnosed with COVID-19. We were not permitted to see her, so she died alone just four days later. Friends and neighbours have also lost relatives, and I now have another aunt in a hospital with COVID-19.”

 He has since lost two members of his family, with another seriously unwell.

 NHS England and Public Health England will be undertaking an inquiry into the reasons why people of BAME origin suffer more from COVID-19. Still, the review must strike a balance between investigating clinical and socio-economic causes. Concerns about a possible link between the ethnicity of a patient and the outcome of any treatment in the UK were first raised when Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), publicly questioned the reason why the first ten doctors in the UK who died from Covid-19 were all from ethnic minorities. 

It has long been known that Black and Asian communities in the UK have a higher rate of – and a predisposition to – diabetes, heart disease and hypertension; diseases that can weaken the immune system. Also, inner-city areas have poorer air quality, with a higher level of Nitrous Oxides.

The appointment of Sir Trevor Philips, former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)to lead the enquiry into BAME deaths from Covid-19 risks undermining confidence in the enquiry findings for certain Black and Ethnic Minority communities, as he is currently suspended from the Labour party over allegations of Islamophobia.

Therefore, in leading this enquiry, will the voices of Black and Ethnic communities truly be heard, or will the results be skewed to fit in with the government’s existing presumptions?

We all welcome the return of our Prime Minister from his brush with death. Still, we should not ignore the fact that Boris Johnson missed five consecutive Cobra meetings ignored advice on not shaking hands, and is head of a government that has consistently failed to provide frontline NHS workers with the PPE they need to do their jobs.

The pandemic has exposed the stark inequalities of our society and structural weaknesses that already existed. Once the formal review has revealed why BAME communities are disproportionately affected, once this is over, our government must devise a social contract that benefits everyone and segregates no one.

* Rabina Khan is a councillor in Tower Hamlets and Special Advisor to Lib Dem peers. Her book, book My Hair is Pink Under This Veil (BiteBack Publishers) is due out in March 2021.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I understand this article, and would hesitate to try to write this because I entirely agree with the thrust of it.
    From my own limited experience I suggest that the nature of inequality and the life stories of those who are poor and disadvantaged has always been clear.
    If we look in the schools we start with the children who are looked after by the local authority. We know a great deal about their life stories. We know that their results, on average, are disastrous. I say “on average” because there will always be those who do well. We must look at individuals. When we did that the picture was clear, but without adequate resources it is never clear how to give everyone a fair chance. We do in fact need to start at the beginning of the life of each child, and see what their story has been. In the end we need to look at what we need to do to ensure that people do not live in poverty. We need to change the way we look at our fellow human beings. They are people not statistics.
    When I was a councillor I worked with a few of my colleagues to talk to children in care, those who had left care, foster parents, professionals involved. We always started with the children to find their perspective on their lives.
    I strongly believe that we must always start with the real lives of real people. I know it is overwhelming, but there is nothing else. Statistical analysis has its, limited, use. It helps us to know what questions to ask.
    Statistical analysis can also be used to ignore the realities staring us in the face. We see poverty and ignore the fact that this in the end means a lack of income, a lack of housing. It is not very complicated. We need to playing with numbers and talk about the real lived experience of real people.
    I know this can overwhelm us. We need to ask ourselves to what extent this feeling of being overwhelmed is a mechanism we all have to avoid looking at the realities facing us.

  • Toby Keynes 7th May '20 - 10:05am

    Trevor Philips’s suspension from the Labour party on a charge of Islamophobia occurred on March 3rd, in the dying days of Labour’s previous regime.
    Philips was, of course, a fierce critic from within the Labour Party of the Corbyn regime.

    His suspension should be treated with the same scepticism as the party’s leaked report into antisemitism, which predictably found that Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents within the party were to blame and is itself now the subject of an independent investigation.

  • @Joe Otten

    Thank you !! Quite the clearest visual representation of a piece of statistics I have ever seen on LDV — or anywhere, indeed. But in the past I have found no way to do anything but words words words, almost. Is there an address where I could find instructions for such a valuable tool and aid, please?

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