As the true impact of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic continues to be realised, so does the severe impact on BAME communities – further evidence that Black Lives Matter.
Every year, the UK comes together on June 22 to honour the British Caribbean community and the contribution it makes to the fabric of our society, particularly the NHS.
But this year, Windrush Day will be overshadowed by a far-reaching report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) which has revealed the full extent to which BAME communities are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a report dated 7 May 2020, the ONS revealed the extent to which BAME communities in the UK are affected by Coronavirus.
The headline statistics of the report were that black men are 4.2 times more likely to die than their white counterparts and black women are 4.3 times more likely to die of Coronavirus than white women.
Once adjustments are made for socio-demographic factors, the general figure falls to black people being 1.9 times more likely to die of coronavirus than white people.
The immediate question is which of these figures is the more relevant. There is an argument that adjusting statistics to account for socio-demographic and economic factors is little more than tinkering in order to mitigate the headline figures.
The predominant reason that these adjustments are being made is that BAME communities are disproportionately poorer and disproportionately consist of people who work in what have been designated, front-line, key sector worker positions.
This isn’t limited to hospital work, it is all of those comparatively low paid occupations such as bus drivers, cleaners and security guards. People who are public facing and, for the purposes of coronavirus, at higher risk of exposure. These are groups of people who have been compelled to continue working and yet have been afforded little or nothing by way of protection.
It is the total lack of regard for the safety of these groups and the abject failure to recognise that they are disproportionately comprised of BAME people which has contributed to the disparity between the coronavirus death rate of white people and everyone else.
The statistical adjustment made by ONS is arguably useful only in suggesting that there may be a genetic vulnerability on the part of BAME communities which accounts for the persistent difference in death rates after socio-demographic factors have been taken account of.
This genetic vulnerability of itself, now revealed, imposes a duty to give consideration to what mitigating steps can be taken. This means that consideration must be given to moving BAME employees to less risky areas of work; at the very least, it means providing them with proper personal protective equipment which will reduce their enhanced chances of exposure to coronavirus.
The entire issue has taken a dramatic turn recently in light of Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd. Whilst the two issues may seem entirely disconnected, they have at their heart, the same common problem: The State’s ambivalence toward the value of BAME lives.
On 3 June, when prompted by the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister described the killing of George Floyd as appalling. If this is truly the Government’s opinion, then one of the most immediate ways of putting words into action might be to develop guidelines and regulations aimed at minimising BAME exposure to coronavirus.
In any event, and with reference to my previous coronavirus articles, the state is compelled to investigate the causes of deaths by (amongst others) the Human Rights Act 1998 – it would be unthinkable if the death and exposure rates amongst BAME communities to coronavirus was not at the forefront of the inevitable public inquiry.
Ben Harrison is a solicitor and Head of Public Law at Milners Solicitors; Milners wholeheartedly support the Black Lives Matter movement and stand ready to provide assistance to anybody experiencing legal problems as a result of issues arising from campaigning work.