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Bishops call for inquiry into BAME Covid-19 death rate

13 May 2020


BISHOPS are among those calling for an independent public inquiry into the disproportionately higher death-rate among some ethnic groups from the Covid-19 virus.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, published on Sunday, a coalition of more than 70 public figures write that a full inquiry is “essential” to investigate adequately the treatment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff by their employers; the exposure to Covid-19 of BAME key workers in the NHS and other sectors; and the preparedness of the Government in responding to the impact on BAME communities.

Among the signatories are the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes; the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun; the Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd Peter Hill; and the Dean of Manchester, the Very Revd Rogers Govender.

The inquiry, they write, should also “examine the level of funding and investment on public health, physical, and social infrastructure in local authority areas where there is a significant BAME population and where there is a disproportionate death rate linked to Covid-19”.

The Office for National Statistics reported, on Thursday of last week, that provisional analysis had shown that the risk of death involving the coronavirus among some ethnic groups was “significantly higher” than that of people of white ethnicity.

When taking age and other socio-demographic characteristics from the 2011 Census into account, including self-reported health and disability, people of black ethnicity were almost twice as like to die after contracting Covid-19 than people of white ethnicity.

Males in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic group were 1.8 times more likely to have a Covid-19-related death than white males, and females 1.6 times more likely. Simply comparing death rates among people of the same age, people of black ethnicity were more than four times more likely to die from a Covid-19-related death than white people.

The report summarises: “These results show that the difference between ethnic groups in Covid-19 mortality is partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances, but a remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained.”

Last month, the Government announced that a review would be conducted by Public Health England and the NHS to analyse how factors, including ethnicity, gender, and obesity, affect how severely people are impacted by the virus. The findings are expected to be published at the end of the month.

The signatories to the letter say that they are “doubtful” that the review will provide the answers, and that an independent inquiry would provide a broader scope. “Such an inquiry is essential for all, especially for those who have lost loved ones. Covid-19 is clearly now one of the biggest issues in post-war history, directing a spotlight on race and health inequalities. . .

“By instigating such an inquiry, the government will provide an opportunity for a range of stakeholders to submit evidence through a transparent process. This would help restore public confidence amongst the UK’s BAME community.”

Other signatories include the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Harun Khan; the Labour peer Baroness Lawrence; the broadcaster and former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq; and the author Malorie Blackman.

The National Adviser to the Committee for Minority Ethnic An­­glican Concerns, Dr Elizabeth Henry, supported the calls. She said on Tuesday: “Everyone is concerned at this time, but these are additionally fearful times for the UK’s BAME communities, who, as the Office for National Statistics reported last week, are dying at significantly higher rates from Covid -19 than the UK’s majority white population.

“We need to understand why, and we need answers.

“The scientific data-led review that is being carried out by Public Health England and the NHS, while a step in the right direction, is not enough, because it does not consider the wider cultural and socio-economic factors. Also, the review will not hear from BAME communities affected, and those communities — in fact, all communities — need to be fully confident that every effort is made to seek the answers, understand the reasons why, and respond in the most effective way.”

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