Envisioning a more just world first requires the courage to honestly confront the injustice of the current moment. Consciousness of the suffering that pervades the status quo must be held in order to move forward to build a more just future. The world is full to the brim with disaster and suffering, a disheartening fact that nonetheless has to push those in positions of privilege to fight to help those less fortunate. Armed with this call to action, conscious of my privilege as a white, straight, middle-class male, I read with horror the Public Health England report into the disproportionate number of BAME deaths as a result of the Covid-19 virus. The report laid bare the sheer levels of inequality in the UK that could allow for such a disproportionate impact to occur. Far from being an equaliser of suffering, lockdown has been the great exposé, laying bare the unequal outcomes that many including myself have been too complacent about for too long.
When lockdown first hit Covid-19 was spoken of as ‘the great leveller’, foreign secretary Dominic Raab praising Boris Johnson for his strength and fortitude at having survived the virus himself. Covid as the great leveller was torn down by Newsnight host Emily Maitlis, who pointed out that one could not hope to survive the deadly virus simply on strength of character, that in fact many are suffering from an already unequal society, Covid being the final straw.
The Public Health England (PHE) report commissioned to examine the disproportionate number of BAME deaths from Covid surveyed over 4000 ‘stakeholder’ members of BAME communities. The stakeholder survey notes that: ‘In their view, COVID-19 did not create health inequalities, but rather the pandemic exposed and exacerbated long standing inequalities affecting BAME communities in the UK’. These findings demand an urgency to act to start reimagining the remedies that have failed to solve this morally bankrupt status quo.
Such injustice is most clearly present when one looks at the disproportionate number of the BAME community who have died as a result of the virus. The report found that those in a black ethnic group were 4.75 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 compared to those of a white background. ‘Black ethnic groups’ had the highest rates of Covid-19 per 100,000 population compared to other ethnic groups. ‘People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnic groups had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British’.
The report cites the socio-economic disadvantage faced by black communities in particular in this country. Part of this socio-economic disparity is expressed by overcrowded housing, with 16% of ‘Black African’ British households living in overcrowded spaces compared to just 2% of White British households. Overcrowding was cited as a key driver of increased transmission rates and is just one expression of the inequality faced by so many living in black communities in the UK.
BAME communities are an overrepresented group in frontline working roles and as such have been under repeated exposure to the virus through the duration of lockdown. In London alone, 44.9% of NHS and CCG staff come from a BAME group. Due to historic and lived experience of structural racism, BAME groups are less likely to ask for help from public services when they need it.
BAME groups have suffered more from the covid pandemic than historically privileged ‘white’ ethnic groups. As we look forward to a ‘post-Covid 19’ society, an urgent priority in terms of building a more just society is addressing the root causes of this fact.
The stakeholder survey in the PHE report suggested a variety of policy solutions to build a more equal society. They suggested continued research moving beyond a biomedical analysis of Covid-19 to unpick the root causes of disproportionate BAME deaths. Devolution through expanding the power of ‘metro mayors’ to produce tailored localised anti-Covid policies was trumpeted. Again and again, faith leadership was mentioned as a viable means to reach BAME communities, generally a more trusted form of leadership than many state institutions, all too often subject to the systemic racism that birthed them. All government marketing should include ‘culturally specific imagery and content’, using BAME voices to ensure Covid-19 safety messages are heard.
Acting on the frontline of global development, Tearfund must act to recognise the racial injustice laid bare by the Covid-19 pandemic. This means a community that is praying hard, awareness-raising, petition-signing and priority-making for issues concerning racial injustice at home and abroad. Tearfund must use its wide-reach and global influence to act at the forefront of BLM campaigns to level off the racial inequality that has characterised British life for too long.