Today I am adding my voice, and the voice of my union, Community, to the call for the recommendations of the latest Public Health England Report into the impact of COVID-19 on BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) people to be implemented immediately.
Back in May, Sir Keir Starmer and I wrote to the Prime Minister asking for the publication of the Public Health England Report. It was extremely disappointing that the government chose not to publish the report’s recommendations at that point, wasting valuable time. Now that the report is published, we must wait no longer to implement the findings — because the lives of BAME people are at stake.
We have known since the start of this crisis that COVID-19 disproportionately affects BAME people. There are longstanding structural and racial inequalities that have only been exacerbated by the current situation. BAME people are affected adversely by economic factors. Black workers are in lower paid, insecure and frontline jobs, including key worker jobs. Those on the lowest incomes, who are more likely to be BAME, are also more likely to suffer from health conditions that make COVID-19 more severe, such as obesity, asthma or smoking related conditions. Discrimination and racism play a role too — whether that’s managers not taking seriously the concerns of BAME workers on PPE, or past experiences of racism in the healthcare system discouraging people from seeking medical help.
We can save lives now by enacting recommendations from the report such as conducting risk assessments with consideration of the impact on BAME workers. Where workers are supporting people with COVID-19 or interacting with large numbers of members of the public, serious consideration must be given as to measures to protect BAME workers. Adequate PPE is a must. There may be options to more safely move individuals who are most at risk into back office roles or allow them to work from home.
That can’t be done unless employers specifically consider whether risks will be different or increased for BAME workers. Many employers are looking only at their workplace, and not at their workforce, when making crucial decisions about what is safe as they start to return to work. Other workplaces have continued to operate throughout this crisis: we know what the tragic consequences are, as we have seen too many already for so many BAME workers.
There is more to do in the longer run to ensure that the needs of BAME communities are being met by our workplaces. We want to see a better, more equal and just world where the ugly problems that have been brought to the surface by the crisis are resolved. As the Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted in recent weeks, far more must be done.
In the short run, the crisis isn’t over, and the Government must act immediately to save lives. This week, Marsha de Cordova MP, Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities secretary, and I co-chaired a round table to hear from workers about the effects COVID-19 is having on the BAME community.
There is still time to share your experiences with us – Community members can do so by completing our survey here.
Community is organising a Zoom call between General Secretary, Roy Rickhuss, and BAME members to discuss their experiences during the pandemic. Click here for more information and to register your interest.
If you want to get more involved in Community’s equalities work, you can join our Facebook group, or register your interest in becoming an equalities rep.
If you aren’t already a member, you can join us here.