The unequal impact of the pandemic is no more apparent than in its disproportionate effect on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. But these effects are often the result of long-term, entrenched inequalities, which have also been the focus of the Black Lives Matter movement around the world in recent years.
The Senedd will debate these issues on Tuesday 6 October, in the first week of Black History Month.
Impact of the pandemic
According to Welsh Government research:
- death rates involving COVID-19 are disproportionately high among people of Black, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian backgrounds;
- half of Bangladeshi, Black African, Black Caribbean and Black British employees work in critical roles;
- people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are much more likely to work in high risk jobs, comprising 40% of taxi drivers and 11% of healthcare workers;
- people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are more likely to work in sectors forced to close during the national lockdown;
- Gypsy/Irish Travellers, people of Bangladeshi, Black and Arab backgrounds are much more likely to live in overcrowded housing, and
- people living in the most deprived areas are almost twice as likely to die of the virus than those in the least deprived areas. Almost 11% of people living in the most deprived areas were of a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background – double the proportion of these groups in the total population.
First Minister’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Advisory Group
The First Minister established a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Advisory Group to advise on the unequal impact of the pandemic. The group has undertaken various work, including:
- producing a workplace risk assessment tool in May to help people working in the NHS and social care understand their risk factors, which has now been rolled out to other sectors;
- collating evidence on the potential impact of COVID-19 on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, and
- publishing a detailed report and recommendations by Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna on the socio-economic factors that contribute to the disproportionate impact of the virus on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. The report covers a range of issues including: data, risk assessments, racism, public health communications, cultural suitability of health and social care services, employment, housing, migration, violence, systemic inequality, and more.
Welsh Government action
The First Minister recently said that:
“Professor Ogbonna’s report is a sobering and a powerful one – it speaks of people’s lived experiences of racism, an existing culture of racial discrimination and structural inequalities in Wales today.
We will use the experience and evidence it provides [..] to inform our work as we strive to embed wide scale, systemic changes necessary to create the equal Wales we all want to be part of.”
The Welsh Government began work on a race equality plan before the pandemic, which it says will be published “by the end of this Senedd term”.
In 2019 the Deputy Minister Jane Hutt committed to tackling all forms of racial inequality, and to “reinvigorate Welsh Government’s commitment to the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)”.
Previous Welsh governments also published race equality strategies including: the first Race Equality Scheme [not online] 2002, and the second Race Equality Scheme 2005-08 [archived]. After 2009 the separate race, gender and disability schemes were merged into a single equality scheme. Two specific strategies on housing were also published - the Black, Minority Ethnic Housing Action Plan for Wales in 2002, and the Race Equality Housing Action Plan 2008-11 [not online].
In September 2020, in response to Professor Ogbonna’s report, the Welsh Government made clear that “this is the time for action”, and it would not wait for the new race equality plan to be finalised to get to work. The Government cited a number of measures it has taken so far (some of which were recommended by Professor Ogbonna’s report) including:
- establishing the ‘Communities, contributions and cynefin’ working group to advise on and improve the teaching of themes relating to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and experiences across all parts of the school curriculum;
- funding a six month pilot of a new ‘BAME helpline’;
- scoping a Race Disparity Unit in Government;
- reviewing the mandatory equality training package in health services;
- translating the ‘Keep Wales Safe’ public health communications into 36 languages;
- taking forward the public appointments strategy, which includes the development of a “high level leadership training programme for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and disabled people”.
Senedd committee scrutiny
The Committee echoed Professor Ogbonna’s concerns about problems with the collection of ethnicity data, particularly in health and social care.
It recommended the Welsh Government “improve data gathering and publication on coronavirus cases and health outcomes disaggregated by sex, ethnicity, disability and key worker status [including] identifying alternative methods of collection and new data sources.”
Professor Ogbonna’s report stated that “in light of Covid-19, the lack of or poor quality of ethnicity data has resulted in poor health decisions, and BAME communities face a higher risk of catching and dying from the disease”. The Welsh Government’s response acknowledges this problem, and committed to exploring ways of addressing it.
Professor Ogbonna also found that initial reporting of Covid-19 deaths in confirmed hospitalised cases through the Welsh Clinical Portal (WCP) surveillance e-Form did not record ethnicity. While ethnicity was added to the form in May, only two thirds of forms have this section completed.
Back in 2005, the Second Race Equality Scheme committed to taking forward “recommendations from the Health ASERT Research Programme Wales to improve health promotion policies and programmes” (page 44). The Research Programme highlighted the issues with data collection related to ethnicity in health services, and made a range of recommendations (page 29) including:
- the production of a “health intelligence strategy [..] to decide the scope of ethnicity data collection and population profiling”, and
- “[g]iven the substantial incompleteness of ethnic coding on the [Patient Episode Database for Wales (PEDW)] database (of hospital episode statistics), targets should be set for completeness”.
Employment and poverty
Evidence provided to the Committee highlighted examples of racism and bias in employment decisions, including in the NHS. The Committee also found that people already on the lowest incomes were more at risk of losing income as a result of the pandemic.
The Committee recommended the Welsh Government undertake a comprehensive benefits take-up campaign and improve the availability of information about employment rights.
In response the Government highlighted its funding for the BAME helpline pilot scheme, and committed £800,000 of funding for income maximisation activities, targeted at three priority groups including Black, Asian and minority ethnic households, households with disabled children or adults, and households in low waged employment.
The Committee repeated its calls for a cross-government poverty reduction strategy, which it has been calling for since 2017. It also made recommendations about equality impact assessments, educational attainment, health inequalities, hate crime, migration and carers.
Race Alliance Wales manifesto
On 30 September Race Alliance Wales (a new group of 41 organisations and 99 individuals) published a manifesto for an anti-racist Wales containing 10 steps to make Wales an anti-racist nation, nearly 70 individual recommendations, and three overarching recommendations:
Recognise Systemic Racism - There should be greater recognition from Welsh Government that racial, ethnic and religious intolerance is systemic and institutional, has increased post-Brexit, and that it threatens the possibility of future generations living in a diverse, safe and cohesive Wales. This has been starkly exposed by both the Covid19 Pandemic and the outpouring through the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matters movement.
Measure Racial Inequality - Improve the gathering, monitoring and use of ethnic data in policy and practice; improve the range and scope of the disaggregated ethnicity data available – including intersectional data; Create a Race Disparity Unit in Welsh Government.
Plan for Race Equality - Welsh Government should ensure rapid progression of its commitment to develop a strategic race equality plan, addressing key areas outlined in this document in a systematic, joined up and long-term way, and including clear targets and measurable outcomes addressing Racism, Education, Employment, Representation, Health & Housing.
The Children’s Commissioner published a report on COVID-19 and the experiences of children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in Wales.
The research found statistically significant results indicating disproportionately negative experiences for Black, Asian and minority ethnic children and young people when compared to White Welsh or British children and young people.
Some of the issues raised by the research included: food security; keeping healthy and active; safety at home; mental health and emotional wellbeing; education and access to technology, and access to information.
The Senedd debate can be watched on Senedd.tv on Tuesday 6 October.
Article by Hannah Johnson, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament