Coronavirus: United or divided?

We are living through an unprecedented moment in history, as coronavirus (COVID-19) sweeps through the world, affecting millions of people and taking hundreds of thousands of lives.

The pandemic has seen the UK shutdown to protect the NHS, shield the vulnerable, and protect key workers essential to keeping the country running. Those that can stay at home to save lives and minimise the risk of exposure to vital workers – everyone playing their part to prevent the virus from spreading.

Media has immersed us in messages of togetherness, as we join forces for national good. And if there are some positives to emerge from this crisis, it will be the power of unity, the acts of selfless kindness by people ready to risk their lives to save others, and the efforts of ‘low skilled labourers’ now heralded as heroes by people who clap, but vote to repress them.

It’s only now, as we step slowly and tentatively out of lockdown, that we begin to delve deeper and reflect back on the figures surrounding the virus and who it is affecting. It is only now that we see we are not ‘all in it together’. And it is only now that we have the statistics to support the fact that COVID-19 does divide by ethnicity, and it does discriminate due to the unfair society we live in.

IFS report on ethnic groups and COVID-19

In a recent report released by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) it was found that ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19; they are overrepresented in hospitalisations and deaths.

In terms of mortality, the IFS uncovered a majority disparity, with deaths of British black Africans to be 3.5 times higher than the white British population, British Pakistani deaths to be 2.7 times higher, and British black Caribbeans to be 1.7 times higher.

According to the IFS, ethnic minorities are suffering more than their British white counterparts during this crisis because of two main inequalities:

  • exposure to infection and health risks
  • exposure to loss of income

There are many factors behind this which can be roughly grouped into; occupation, economic vulnerability and household structures.

Here are the facts uncovered by the IFS…

Many minority ethnic groups are part of the frontline workforce helping to keep Britain running day-to-day. Occupying the majority of social care and health roles leads to more risk of direct infection:

Pakistanis, black Africans and black Caribbeans are overrepresented among key workers overall. This is particularly striking for the black African ethnic group, where almost a third of the working-age population are employed in keyworker roles and one in five in health and social care jobs specifically. This translates to a working-age black African being 50% more likely to be a key worker than a white British working-age person, and nearly three times as likely to be a health and social care worker.

Family structures, households and communities are often larger increasing risk of contagion:

Taking London as an example, just under a third of households are a single person, but among households where the household head is Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani, the figures are 11%, 17% and 13%, respectively. 

Teamed with overcrowded housing, the risk of contagion goes up and also makes self-solation even more difficult:

Fewer than 2% of white British households in London have more residents than rooms; in contrast, this figure is just under 30% for Bangladeshi households, 18% for Pakistani households and 16% for black African households.

Underlying health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease increases the risk of death from COVID-19, and:

In older age brackets, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black Caribbean individuals are much more likely than white British people to report one or more of these health problems.

Certain minority groups may have fewer individuals in paid work, one partner may be working, or they may have dependant children, making them more vulnerable to financial hardship:

 As a result, 29% of Bangladeshi working-age men both work in a shut-down sector and have a partner who is not in paid work, compared with only 1% of white British men. 

Not only this, but ethnic minority groups are more likely to work in industries that have been shut down, such as restaurants:

Bangladeshi men are four times as likely as white British men to have jobs in shut-down industries, due in large part to their concentration in the restaurant sector, and Pakistani men are nearly three times as likely, partly due to their concentration in taxi driving. Black African and black Caribbean men are both 50% more likely than white British men to be in shut-down sectors. 

With industries in shutdown, some individuals have become unemployed, lost earnings or may be reliant on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS).

On top of that ethnic minorities are more likely to be self-employed and if their business is struggling, individuals are subject to a lengthy wait for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS):

Pakistani men are over 70% more likely to be self-employed than the white British majority.  

Limited savings and a lack of financial buffer puts an additional strain on this group:

Only around 30% live in households with enough to cover one month of income. In contrast, nearly 60% of the rest of the population have enough savings to cover one month’s income.

And these are only the main factors outlined by the IFS.

The above has a ripple effect on families, forcing them to sacrifice, rely on goodwill, seek other sources of income or live hand to mouth – all having a profoundly negative impact on mental health and wellbeing too.

  • So we need to be asking why do minority groups face these inequalities?
  • What is being done to further protect these minority groups and change their prospects for the short and long term?
  • When will we start challenging the narrative that ‘we are in it together?’

In summary…

Social disparity has set some up to be safer than others, and this is nothing new. The pandemic only accentuates an issue of deep routed ethnic inequality that has been bubbling away beneath the surface of society. But this is an opportunity to open people’s eyes and expose our ‘fair society’, and I believe people are ready and willing to listen because it is now glaringly obvious, and deadly.

As British writer Damian Barr succinctly put it: “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.”

4 thoughts on “Coronavirus: United or divided?”

  1. “We’re all in the same storm, but not in the same boat…” Very well said.

    Splendid read…

    In March and April two different newspapers published photos of NHS staff as heroes, and minorities weren’t represented in ANY of them. And I mean none. Zilch! Yet, in another collage of faces – depicting the NHS staff who met their deaths because of the corona pandemic, minorities were represented the most.

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