Coronavirus: Watchdog to investigate racial inequalities in British COVID-19 deaths

An inquiry is being launched by the human rights watchdog to address racial inequalities highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has announced it will carry out the inquiry after Public Health England (PHE) published a review into the disparities within ethnic minorities from COVID-19.

The initial review, commissioned by the government, left many with "widespread concerns" and "doesn't go wider to address inequalities that exist", the chairman of the EHRC said.

After accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region, the PHE review found people of Bangladeshi ethnicity are about twice as likely to die from coronavirus than white British people.

Those of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other black ethnicity have between a 10% and 50% higher risk of dying from COVID-19 compared with white British people.

In-depth analysis from the commission will deliver evidence-based recommendations for urgent action to tackle racial and social inequalities, which they believe has led to the disproportionately high number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) deaths during the pandemic.

Differences in opportunities across England, Scotland and Wales will also be looked into.

EHRC chairman, David Isaac, told Sky News: "I'm keen that a number of things happen and the voices of BAME communities are heard.

"We need to learn the lessons quickly in relation to the data that exists and the vulnerabilities. Whether it's in relation to education, the health sector or the work place.

"We need to take equalities into account as a top table issue as we address these matters long term. We cannot afford to take risks with people's lives and equality is essential to building better lives."

He criticised the government's review for saying "what we were expecting it would tell us" but not expanding on that.

"We're concerned that the equality issues are taken into account and respond to the issues and understand them better and come up with long term, coherent responses to address the inequalities that exist," he added.

"There have been calls for many people now to tackle this issue and I believe now is the best moment in a generation to proceed with these responses.

"We need to take this call for action very seriously."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps highlighted how equalities minister Kemi Badenoch would now be taking forward the PHE report in order to make recommendations.

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Highlighting the novelty of the coronavirus pandemic, he told Sky News: "Three months ago we wouldn't have been having these conversations about COVID-19.

"Tha facts had to be established and the PHE report laid those facts out.

"Indeed it is the case that this is something that has disproportionately affected those communities, those minority communities.

"So it's absolutely right Kemi is going to take this forward and make actual recommendations.

"But let's not pretend there's some sort of magic solution to these things, we've got to find out why it's happening first, which the report started to do."

Ms Badenoch admitted the government report "hasn't gone far enough" but said "this is one of the best countries in the world to be a black person".

She said: "There was more I was hoping to see from this review, but Public Health England couldn't collect the data for morbidities, occupation and underlying health conditions.

"We were not able to make recommendations because this data wasn't possible to collect."

Shadow equalities secretary Marsha De Cordova welcomed the EHRC inquiry, but was still concerned no recommendations and policy had been made following the PHE review.

She told Sky News: "What I'm hoping this inquiry will do, is actually begin to start to talk about, and come up with, some strong recommendations about what action the government must take, with clear measures and clear timelines put in place.

"I believe they are letting down the BAME community. They had an opportunity to actually come forward with proper proposals and to address the inequalities and they failed to do that."

But, many organisations who submitted their own analysis to the PHE review are angry after their findings did not feature in the final publication.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) sent a 15-page document with their own recommendations on what should be done to tackle the issue and help protect lives in the future.

Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of MCB, said: "It's very disappointing when many organisations, including the Muslim Council of Britain, put significant effort into trying to support the government in finding the best solutions and recommendations that can help our country tackle these problems of structural inequality that are there in our society, and that's entirely disregarded."

He cautiously welcomed the inquiry, claiming the organisation has not yet investigated the Conservative Party for Islamophobia, something the MCB has been calling for.

A government spokesman said: "The Equalities Hub will be continuing the work started by Public Health England on disparities in the risks and outcomes of COVID-19.

"This will develop our understanding and shape our ongoing response to coronavirus.

"The government is committed to levelling up and spreading opportunity around this country. This will be a hugely important part of the economic and social recovery from the pandemic."