Figures released from Public Health England last week reveal that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, are at an increased risk of dying from Coronavirus – and this risk could be as much as twice as high. Helen Barnard, Acting Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, reminds us that these figures “are a stark reminder that although we are all weathering the same storm, we are not all in the same boat”. Research from The Runnymede Trust illustrates that these health inequalities are not based on ethnicity, but on socio-economic inequalities that have impacted the health outcomes, and lives of ethnic minority groups long before the existence of COVID-19.
Where BAME groups are dying from Coronavirus at a disproportionate rate to the rest of the UK population, research from The Runnymede Trust shows that these patterns of health outcomes are not random – instead, they are influenced by long standing inequalities in housing and employment experienced by BAME groups. In terms of employment, ethnic minorities are already more likely to work in insecure, low-paid work, and more likely to be unemployed. In housing, they represent more than half of all overcrowded households. In other words, their employment and housing circumstances mean they are more likely to be in contact with more people, and so are more at risk of getting Covid-19. Not only are the BAME community disproportionately impacted by health inequalities – the economic impact is likely to hit them harder too, with rates of poverty in BAME communities being double that of others.
Research by The Runnymede Trust, and the Wealth Assets Survey, indicate that BAME groups are almost twice as likely to be living in poverty, when compared with White British individuals, with typical Bangladeshi household incomes being £8,900 a year lower than the White British median; Pakistani households £8,700 less and typical Black African households £5,600 less. One of the main causes of poverty is noted to be lack of, insecure, or low-paid employment. Focusing specifically on Manchester, research conducted in 2017 showed that all BAME groups in Greater Manchester were less likely to be employed than White people, with 13 percentage points between the two groups; but were more likely to be employed in the lowest-paying jobs where the risk of falling into poverty is rife – for example, jobs in retail, hospitality, care work, custodial work, hairdressing and textiles. Extensive research points to the persistence of discrimination and racism in employment, leading to lack of secure employment, as a reason for disproportionate number of BAME groups experiencing poverty.
A study carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions found that BAME candidates with identical qualifications and experience had to send almost twice as many CVs to get a positive response compared to applicants with a white British sounding name. Other research has revealed the assumptions made about individual applicants based on racial stereotypes. Examples include assuming that BAME candidates lack confidence or that BAME women will prioritise family and homemaking over a career, making them an unattractive employee in the eyes of some employers. Although many employers have equal opportunities policies, this doesn’t necessarily mean that workplace discriminatory attitudes will be challenged, nor that they will impact institutional norms or increase access for BAME individuals, further perpetuating cycles of poverty amongst BAME communities.
Living in poverty brings its own stresses and pressures, battling a rising tide of high rents, growing bills, juggling health conditions and caring responsibilities. If this pressure builds up, from things like low wages, rising rents and childcare costs, we can be pushed to breaking point. A sudden increase in pressure caused by this pandemic, which has been shown to be impacting BAME communities on a greater scale than other groups, can quickly become a flood that pushes people into much deeper financial hardship. We are in danger of seeing an economic crisis do exactly that. We already entered this crisis with a great number of people experiencing financial hardship – disproportionately, those from ethnic minorities – and with the Bank of England now forecasting the deepest recession on record, we are at a critical junction in our past and present, and the time for change is now.
Do we want to carry on in the same fashion as we have always done, and risk a further entrenchment of poverty amongst already vulnerable groups that are continually struggling against an already high tide, or can we use these findings as a catalyst for change and work towards our vision of a UK without poverty? It can never be right that people are forced into poverty due to factors that are out of their control, and we know that simply providing food is not the answer to financial hardship – as a charity, we are advocating for structural change to systems of inequality.
In the short term, the Trussell Trust are calling on the Government to do more for all people experiencing poverty, and create a temporary Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme, which will ensure everyone has enough money for the essentials – getting money into people’s pockets is the first step to eradicating poverty. We have the power to ask our Government to strengthen our social security systems; both now and as we move through this moment which will be a lifeline for everyone who is struggling. This support would go a long way in covering the additional costs families are facing during the lockdown, and supporting them through the following recession.
In the longer term, The Runnymede Trust are campaigning for deeper investigation into the entrenchment of socio-economic disadvantage amongst BAME communities on life outcomes, and for action to be taken to eradicate ethnic inequalities in all facets of life for the people of Britain. It is of paramount importance that we call on our Government to tackle inequality and disadvantage – wherever it is present – as a contributing factor to poverty, and a root cause of financial hardship.
Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit: Addressing Ethnic Inequalities in the Greater Manchester Labour Market https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/publications/IGAU-Briefing-7-Ethnicity.pdf
The Runnymede Trust: State of the Nation https://www.runnymedetrust.org/blog/state-of-the-nation-new-comprehensive-analysis-on-race-in-britain
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Poverty and Ethnicity https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/files/poverty-ethnicity-evidence-summary.pdf