BAME communities and the impact of COVID-19 by Tina Murphy

The report from Public Health England into the impact of the novel coronavirus on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities affirms what was already widely understood to be true from data – that COVID-19 has had a vastly disproportionate effect on BAME communities but what it did not do was to explain why, or make recommendations to improve the situation.

As the names and photographs of the first UK doctors to die of COVID-19 gradually unfolded on the television , I began to make an uncomfortable observation that the first 10 doctors in the UK to die from the virus were BAME.
This led me to the question: why do so many people from BAME backgrounds appear to be being uniquely affected by the virus? The reasons to me are complex and many. I will mention a few which are :

Inadequate housing
Many health professionals believe that poverty plays a significant role it’s an awkward truth that people from BAME backgrounds are more likely to be of low socioeconomic status. 15% of Black African and 30% of Bangladeshi families live in overcrowded housing, compared to only 2% of the White British population according to government figures as a result effective isolation is therefore extremely difficult

Working in high-risk jobs
People from BAME backgrounds are more likely to be working in the jobs that are was keeping society going during the pandemic and also more likely to have low paid jobs which may affect their pay, and in order to make the equivalent pay, they choose to work longer hours and undertake less desirable shifts such as those during unsociable hours. They were working day-to-day with critically ill patients, and in many cases with reportedly inadequate protective equipment, which make them more likely to be exposed to the virus
They were also largely responsible for keeping things moving on our roads and rails. In London specifically. ‘They have done an invaluable job in keeping the capital moving during the pandemic, but in so doing, have been potentially exposed daily to COVID-19 carried by infected but asymptomatic commuters. They are also over-represented in working in shops and care. These are roles that cannot be done from home, requiring people to be out and about in society and dealing with potential exposure to the virus.

The Hostile Environment Immigration Policy
In the UK, the Home Office’s ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policy makes public services incredibly difficult to access for many migrants. Within the NHS, the policy requires staff to assess whether patients are UK residents, and migrants can also be asked to pay up-front charges stretching into the tens of thousands of pounds.
Because migrants are disproportionately BAME, members of our communities may be afraid of accessing health services when they experience coronavirus symptoms. Moreover, many migrants lack clear avenues of support through work or benefits, which might lead them to continue to go to work when it is currently unsafe .To keep our communities safe, we must endeavour to tackle these problems at every turn.

The Ubele Initiative revealed that nine out of 10 BAME-led voluntary and community sector organisations (VSC) are at risk of closure. These are the very charities and grassroots groups working to support a community identified by the government and Public Health England as most “at risk” and “vulnerable” of contracting and dying from coronavirus.
The most powerful of these funders are The National Lottery Community Fund (TNLCF) and National Emergency Trust (NET), whose history of excluding BAME-led organisations showcases why diversity at the decision-making table is so vital.
For instance, of TNLCF’s largest 50 grants distributed in London in 2019, only 7.74 per cent went to BAME VCS organisations – the BAME population in London is 44 per cent. The picture is just as bleak from analysis of NET. Their only distribution partner, UK Community Foundations (UKCF), whose Oxford Community Foundation – a city with a 22 per cent ethnic minority population – have only distributed 2.66 per cent of their funds to BAME VCS organisations so far in 2020.
In a crisis where BAME groups are dying and being left destitute at a disproportionate rate, funds should be channelled through organisations that care to prioritise them
BAME VCS groups have battled through years of underfunding to continue to support our communities. The work we do is so impactful and vital because the organisations are led by individuals who have the culturally specific knowledge, lived experience, connections and trust of the communities they work with. These are the people on the frontline leading the charity sectors response, but they seriously lack the investment and support from the funding sector to do it. Without those frontline organisations, who will be there to support them? There is a lot of work that needs to be done in the charity and funding sector to solve these long-standing issues.
As we currently face an unprecedented crisis , we must act urgently if we want to support those most disproportionately impacted by COVID 19.. We are fighting tirelessly with limited funds so as not to close our doors, as we wait to hear whether funders have decided to value our work.