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Archbishop links death rate to racism

04 June 2020

Report says BAME people and deprived communities suffer most from Covid-19

Historic England

A girl bangs a pan during a recent Clap for Carers, in Deal, Kent. St Andrew’s, Deal, is in the background. The photo is in Historic England’s new Picturing Lockdown Collection, which can be viewed at historicengland.org.uk

A girl bangs a pan during a recent Clap for Carers, in Deal, Kent. St Andrew’s, Deal, is in the background. The photo is in Historic England’s new Picturing Lockdown Collection, which can be viewed at historicengland.org.uk

“THE endemic and long-standing racism” in society is one of the reasons for the disproportionately higher death-rate among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) from the Covid-19 virus, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

He was speaking on Tuesday, when the Government-commissioned report Disparities in the Risk and Outcomes of Covid-19 was published by Public Health England (PHE). The report says that members of BAME communities, as well as the elderly and those who live in the most deprived areas, have suffered most from the coronavirus.

In a video posted on social media, Archbishop Welby said: “The black and ethnic- minority communities here in this country, in the United States, and in many other places have been hit terribly by Covid, disproportionately.

“There are many reasons for that; we don’t understand them all. They may be linked to things around housing, around who knows what, at the moment. But underlying what is happening is certainly, as a cause, as a root of what is happening, the endemic and longstanding racism, white supremacy that has affected so tragically the societies in this country and in the United States.”

He continued: “Covid is a tragedy of unbearable depth for unbearable numbers of people; but, amidst it all, there is new life, there is care. . . Perhaps, out of this tragedy, out of this appalling situation, we can each find ways of reaching out to different communities, of saying that we care where they are disproportionately affected, we care about injustice, and we are going to take action, crying out to God, and acting daily to transform our society.”

The Public Health England report says that “the largest disparity was found by age”: among people already diagnosed with Covid-19, those aged 80 or older are 70 times more likely to die than those under 40, it says.

The risk of dying from Covid-19 is also higher among males than females, higher among Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities than white ethnic communities, and higher among those living in the most deprived areas than those living in the least deprived areas.

Those living in deprived areas have suffered more than double the mortality rate of those in the least deprived communities, the report states. This is likely to be because people in deprived communities live in closer proximity to people who have been infected, as well as those areas containing high numbers of people whose jobs expose them to Covid–19, the report says.

The report also says that people from black ethnic groups have been the most likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19, and that death rates have been the highest among people from black and Asian ethnic groups combined. Furthermore, people of Bangladeshi ethnicity have been twice as likely to die than people who are white British. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean, and other black ethnicity have had between a ten and 50 per cent higher risk of death than white British people.

In an interview on YouTube on Tuesday, the C of E’s national adviser on race and ethnicity, Dr Elizabeth Henry, said: “We shouldn’t forget that all this comes against the backdrop of George Floyd and Amy Cooper [a white woman who called the police to complain about a black man who, she said, was threatening her dog, in Central Park, New York, last week].

“The white-majority Church is not fit for purpose in relation to tackling, addressing, speaking to, and being a serious part of the elimination of racism in society, sadly, because the Established Church is part of the problem. Clergy are educated in a Western-centric theology, not a world-centric theology.”

The Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, said that the PHE report “shines a light on a complex tapestry of issues that make for salutary reading. It names realities that we cannot ignore around the causes of inequality across diverse contexts and communities. Particularly noticeable is the disparity shift indicating that mortality rates from Covid-19 are higher in BAME communities.​

“The scandal of the virus spread in the care-home sector, too, cannot be ignored. The vision of the Kingdom of God is that each person should flourish, and each person should be able to express their human dignity. Justice is a big word, but this report raises searching questions for our time.”

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said on Friday: “The present pandemic amplifies strengths, weaknesses, and inequalities that have long been present in British society. Nobody should be surprised that being poor, old, or from a BAME community, puts you at greater risk of dying from Covid19, but nobody should be complacent either.

“Let this report serve as a wake up call, for us to tackle the deep health inequalities in our society, to tackle them before they claim yet more lives from among our most vulnerable sisters and brothers, and not to restrict our efforts simply to those falling sick with the coronavirus.”

The chief executive of Christians Against Poverty, Paula Stringer, said: “Frequently those in low-paying jobs work in service industries where customer-facing is crucial, and this will have made them more vulnerable to the virus and less able to refuse work. We’re not surprised to read that people in deprived parts of the UK are more at risk.

“The pandemic will affect us all, but it’s not really a shared experience, which is why I’m calling on people to resolve now to be generous in their thinking and actions, even when things become difficult in the months ahead. When we’re under pressure, we easily resort to thinking about me and mine. I want our society to be better than that.”

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, said on Wednesday: “People from a minority ethnic background are significantly represented in many of our frontline roles (health, transport, care workers. . .). As well as not having the proper protective wear (PPE), another major concern is around underlying health issues: how much do we spend on the kind of diseases that impact our BAME community (sickle cell anaemia, diabetes, high blood pressure. . .)? Where do many of our Minority ethnic population live? What kind of housing do they have? What salaries do they get — and, crucially, is it enough to keep them healthy?

“Much has been said about clapping to show our appreciation — now we need to move from clapping to seriously engaging in the kind of action that is going to make it possible for people to do the work they love without risking death. Governments and those in authority at local and national levels must not just offer platitudes, but take real action which emphasises that the lives of black people really matter.”

The Mission and Public Affairs director for the Archbishops’ Council, the Revd Dr Malcom Brown, however, criticised aspects of the report. “The disparities of deaths among BAME people remain extremely disturbing,” he said. “We know the causes are complex and not fully understood, which is why it was disappointing that the government review was limited to looking at ‘the science’. We don’t believe you can isolate ‘science’ in that way — the social factors around the proportion of BAME in certain types of jobs which may carry greater risks, the over-representation of BAME people in areas of housing here [mean that] social distancing may be difficult — all these factors are intuitively part of the picture, too.”

The Bishop of Loughborough, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, issued a statement on Friday which welcomed the PHE report. She said, however: “Whilst it is right that work should continue to develop greater understanding of the underlying scientific causes of why Covid-19 impacts some more than others, the Government must outline clearly what steps are to be taken to tackle racial prejudice more widely and to challenge the culture of discrimination. I support the call from the coalition led by the Ubele Initiative for a full and comprehensive public enquiry into these disparities.”

Other bishops have also said that a Government-commissioned review of BAME deaths from Covid-19 would not be independent enough. They have called for an independent inquiry instead (News, 15 May).

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