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IN Depth
Racial inequality and migration
The issues
External Resources

How has Covid-19 affected racial inequalities in the UK

Black and minority ethnic (BME) residents of the UK have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in two distinct ways. First, they have suffered worse health outcomes. On the whole, people of colour have been more likely to contract the virus - and less likely to survive it - than white people. Public Health England has highlighted how a range of factors relating to racism can contribute to these unequal health outcomes. BME people are also more likely to work in frontline, “key worker” roles where they are more exposed to the virus. There could be evidence of discrimination here too. The British Medical Association, for instance, reports that ethnic minority doctors have been disproportionately affected by PPE shortages, speaking to the higher death rate of ethnic minority health and social care workers.

Second, long-standing economic inequalities between white and BME Britons - themselves a consequence of historical and present-day racism - have been exacerbated by the downturn. Αnalysis from IPPR has found that ethnic minority people were more likely to face problem debt and unemployment as a result of Covid-19. Worse still, ethnic minority households have far less wealth, on average, to weather economic hardship - Black and Bangladeshi households, for instance, have 10p for every £1 of White British wealth.

Prioritising racial justice

In its submission to Parliament’s Human Rights Joint Committee Black People, Racism and Human Rights inquiry the Runnymede Trust criticised the lack of equality impact assessment in the response to Covid-19. They point out the failure to publish plans to protect BME lives given their disproportionate vulnerability.

Overlooking the distinct experiences of different minority groups can undermine the effective communication of policy. There is evidence, for instance, that minority communities are less aware of the Government’s Covid-19 public health messaging. The task of communicating this to minority communities has been left to voluntary organisations, undermining the overall pandemic response.

The hostile environment

Tackling racial inequality is inextricably linked to advancing the welfare of migrants to the UK. Just over half of BME residents of the UK were born overseas. Public attitudes to race and immigration are intimately connected. 

Covid-19 has highlighted both the positive contribution migrants make to society and the challenges that they face. Migrants are disproportionately likely to work in key worker roles. Around 20% of care workers are foreign nationals, the majority from outside the EU. Many of these roles are less well paid.

Often migrants have restricted access to public services and financial support. They pay twice for the NHS through their taxes and the NHS surcharge. They face significant barriers to care despite their outsized contribution to the UK's health and care systems.

Navigate the debate

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