Home / Feature / The disproportionate impact of this pandemic on our BAME residents can’t be swept under the carpet by the government.

The disproportionate impact of this pandemic on our BAME residents can’t be swept under the carpet by the government.

Mayor John Biggs:


As Mayor of one of the most diverse places in the country I’m particularly concerned about the disproportionate impact Coronavirus seems to be having on my BAME residents. What’s disappointing is the Government’s response, our BAME communities deserve far more than an inquiry that kicks the issue into the long grass. Millions of BAME people are living with the fear that they and their families are potentially more susceptible to the effects of Covid-19. If Government expect people to go back to work, they must also accept we need to protect those most at risk. The government were too slow to wake up to the threat facing care homes and it had tragic consequences. They cannot make the same mistake again waiting for the inquiry on BAME impact to report back months from now. This is literally, a matter of life and death.

Given the diversity of our local population Queen Mary University based in Tower Hamlets has done analysis on data from local GPs. This has shown that when adjusted for age the rate of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 is 1.9 times higher in our South Asian population and 1.6 higher for our black population compared to our white population. These aren’t just statistics they are family members, neighbours and colleagues. This is my community where I’ve represented for over 30 years and it’s personally devastating to see this impact.

This is of course a national issue as the figures show thirty-five percent of coronavirus patients in critical care beds are from ethnic minority backgrounds, despite the UK’s BAME population being just fourteen per cent. The situation among NHS staff is even more severe over sixty per cent of deaths are from BAME staff.

While on the one hand BAME residents are more likely to be in the kind of frontline jobs like the NHS where they are exposed to the virus – on the other existing health inequalities resulting in underlying health conditions can mean a disproportionate impact on these groups. While we are told that the virus does not discriminate looking into these figures highlights it’s about race and it’s about class and that’s something we can’t be shy about addressing. It means looking at what lies behind these statistics.

We will be working in partnership with Queen Mary as they get more findings so we can use this to continue to press government on its response to the pandemic. I’m pleased that the new Labour Keir Starmer has asked Baroness Doreen Lawrence to look into this matter in her role as Race Relations Advisor to better hold the government to account.

As local councils we understand the challenges our communities face and have stepped in. For instance we’ve done a lot of work locally to ensure that communications reach residents where English is not their first language – for example launching a Bengali language e-newsletter, advice videos in community languages and translating Public Heath England adverts and advice. I have urged government to do more around this – it can’t be right that people who have English as a second language are excluded at a time when information about the virus is key.

Here in Tower Hamlets we’ve worked with our community to help our most vulnerable residents and that means working with our diverse voluntary and community sector who can reach people government initiatives simply can’t. Whereas we were told government will do whatever is necessary to support local government – now it has rowed back and said it would be cover what they think is necessary. These kind of signals from government concern me and we need to ensure that government listens.

The disproportionate impact of this pandemic on our BAME residents can’t be swept under the carpet by the government. We need to make sure the next steps towards recovery are taken together and don’t leave anyone behind.