How can we ensure everyone benefits in the Covid-19 recovery?

Tracey Bignall

By Tracey Bignall, Senior Policy and Practice Officer, Race Equality Foundation

Many of you will be aware of the detrimental impact that Covid-19 has had on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. During this last year, research has reported health, social and economic inequalities that demonstrate this.

The impact of the pandemic

For example, our joint analysis with the New Policy Institute showed that, whilst there was some variation, black, Asian and minority ethnic groups were at greater risk of catching covid and at greater risk of dying once infected. This analysis was confirmed by others, including by Michael Marmot’s Build Back Fairer Review. Some of this analysis goes on to suggest that the higher risk of infection is related to black, Asian and minority ethnic people being more exposed to the virus due to their work, particularly in people-facing employments.

Social and economic circumstances also affected the ability to adhere to public health guidance. For example, these communities are more likely to live in deprived areas; with some ethnic groups living in overcrowded accommodation, increasing the risk of virus transmission.

Alongside this, various lockdown measures have affected black, Asian and minority ethnic communities negatively. We know that families with children from these ethnic backgrounds were more likely to be living in poverty than the white population before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. The move to online learning has raised concerns about a ‘digital divide’, with poorer families ill equipped for internet access and computers, putting pressures on already struggling families.

Furthermore, these ethnic groups were more likely to be in insecure work, e.g. on zero-hour contracts, and as such were more affected by the closing down of certain types of employment such as retail and hospitality. An effect of the pandemic is that black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are now at greater risk of falling into further poverty due to loss of employment in the wilting ‘gig’ economy.

Systemic and structural challenges

We then have racism which compounds the health, social and economic inequalities these communities experience. Structural racism affects people’s life chances, physical and mental well-being, as well as being associated with poor socioeconomic circumstances which, in turn, lead to poorer health outcomes. The focus on race inequality in the wider context, partly in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, challenges us to bring about change by working to reduce such inequalities.

Addressing the inequalities in post-recovery plans

We are now well into the government’s spring recovery plan, which outlines measures for the vaccine rollout and the roadmap for easing back into some form of ‘normal’, pre-pandemic life. But, as we approach the ‘opening up’ of another lockdown and look towards recovery, how will the inequality that has been experienced by so many be addressed?

The ultimate aim should be to ensure the plans for recovery address the vulnerabilities experienced by these communities. A recommendation from the Public Health England stakeholder consultation is to ‘ensure that Covid-19 recovery strategies actively reduce inequalities caused by the wider determinants of health to create long term sustainable change.’ How can this happen?

We at the Race Equality Foundation are implementing the Race Equity Collaborative. A project to ensure race inequality is addressed in the recovery plans for Covid-19. The project is working with academics, voluntary and community sector organisations, and policymakers to influence the recovery plan across seven thematic areas: children and families; mental health and wellbeing; housing; employment; education; long term health conditions and  disability; and older people.

An evidence-led briefing paper for each of the collaborative areas will help develop a narrative on the key issues for black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people themselves are encouraged to give their perspective. The end result will be a focus on developing solutions for how the inequalities exacerbated throughout the pandemic can be addressed; and work towards influencing key stakeholders to ‘make change happen’ regarding race inequity across the seven thematic areas.

Issued raised to date through the project include taking local action, such as commissioners and providers of mental health services learning from inclusive approaches with people with lived experience, or working to address the mental distress of grief and bereavement in ways that are culturally consistent with the beliefs and practices amongst black and other minority ethnic communities.

Strategic issues have also been raised such as exploring ways to ensure change and better access to services for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, using the UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons as a way to influence government. Proactive influencing of developing initiatives, already tasked with tackling inequalities, are other possible ways the project can add influence, such as family hubs, to ensure race is also considered.

Ideas and recommendations from the project are constantly evolving, and more succinct recommendations or solutions will be forthcoming as the project progresses.

To date, our evidence-led briefing papers for the employment, older people, children and families, mental health and wellbeing, and housing collaboratives have already been published and are available on our website.

A series of webinars across the thematic areas are taking place into June. Details of the project can be found on the project webpage or you can contact Tracey Bignall for more information.

As we approach the ‘opening up’ of another lockdown, the plans for recovery must address the vulnerabilities experienced by black, Asian and minority ethnic groups Click To Tweet
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