Human rights watchdog to probe racial inequalities exposed by coronavirus

Credit: PA / AP

The official human rights watchdog is to mount a statutory inquiry into the racial inequalities exposed by the coronavirus crisis in the UK.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it was a "once in a generation" opportunity to tackle deep-seated inequalities and create a fairer country.

An exclusive ITV News survey found "discrimination" on the frontline of the Covid-19 outbreak may be factor in the disproportionate number of BAME virus-related deaths among NHS staff.

The move comes amid a wave of protests across the UK highlighting the anger felt over the treatment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people - sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Earlier this week, a report by Public Health England (PHE) found BAME people are up to twice as likely to die of coronavirus in the UK than white British people are.

  • David Isaac, Chair of the EHRC, says why the report is needed:

It found that - after accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region - people of Bangladeshi ethnicity have around twice the risk of death from Covid-19 than people who are white British.

Those of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity have between a 10 per cent and 50 per cent higher risk of death when compared to white British people.

In light of the report, Health Secretary for England Matt Hancock said being BAME is a "major risk factor".

Announcing the inquiry, EHRC chairman David Isaac said: "Now is a once in a generation opportunity to tackle long-standing entrenched racial inequalities.

"We intend to use our statutory powers to address the loss of lives and livelihoods of people from different ethnic minorities.

He told ITV News coronavirus has "shone a light" on inequalities within society.

He added: "Only by taking focused action to tackle race inequality across Britain will we become a fair country in which every individual can reach their full potential.

"This inquiry is part of our long-term strategic approach to tackle the structural inequalities that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare.

"This is an important step towards ensuring that the deep-rooted inequality faced by ethnic minorities is meaningfully addressed as we rebuild."

The EHRC said the proposals for its inquiry will be discussed with race equality leaders before setting out the terms of reference in the coming weeks.

The inquiry will have the power to compel evidence from governmental departments and other organisations as it seeks to produce evidence-based recommendations to deliver progress.

It comes after PHE faced criticism that its report did not go far enough in explaining the reasons why BAME people are worse affected by the virus.

There has been concern at figures suggesting BAME people were nearly 50 per cent more likely than white people to be arrested in London under the coronavirus laws.

Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch is now to lead a further review, working with the government's race disparity unit, to take forward PHE's findings.

"This Government is rightly taking seriously the initial findings from the PHE report," she said.

Nurse Ameera Sheikh protests outside Downing Street, London, demanding a pay rise, real protection against COVID-19 and and the release of Public Health England's review into BAME NHS staff's deaths. Credit: PA

"However, it is also clear that much more needs to be done to understand the key drivers of the disparities identified and the relationships between the different risk factors.

"That is why I am now taking this work forward, which will enable us to make a real difference to people’s lives and protect our communities from the impact of the coronavirus."

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