ITV News has been informed that a BAME-led community organisation has launched legal action against the government for what they believe is ‘their failings to take action over the disproportionate toll of Covid-19 on BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities in this country.
The Ubele Initiative, a social enterprise which supports BAME communities which coined the #WeNeedAnswers campaign, has sent an urgent pre-action protocol 23-page letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson after they say he did not acknowledge or respond to two previous pleas for action voicing concerns over BAME deaths.
Their first letter sent on 9th May, which was signed by more than 650 people, including leading British Black and Asian figures such as Doreen Lawrence, Malorie Blackman and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, had called for an independent inquiry. It welcomed the Government commissioned a review led by Public Health England in April but said ‘that it was doubtful that the review’s current scope can provide the critical answers needed’.
In this latest move this week, the group are demanding an explanation of what steps the government has taken to assess the impact on ethnic minority communities of lockdown-easing measures and an immediate independent inquiry to find out why ethnic groups face an increased Covid-19 risk. They are unhappy at the apparent inaction to safeguard the many who “have laid down their lives for this country” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Hamilton, Director, The Ubele Initiative, said: "The Boris Johnson government has befuddled its way through a range of difficulties and issues. They have not treated the coronavirus with the respect necessary to defeat the threat to our communities.
“As a result, many thousands of people have died unnecessarily. BAME communities have particularly suffered loss and pain as a result of the government's inaction.”
The legal bid comes after previous calls to better protect Filipinos health care workers amid claims more workers of Filipino heritage had died during the coronavirus crisis than in the Philippines.
“The NHS and care homes have relied heavily on migrants and BAME workers during the pandemic,” Susan Cueva, of the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium, said.
“The death toll among Filipinos has been shocking, accounting for 25 per cent of total deaths in the NHS and 30 per cent among nurses.
“This is wholly disproportionate as Filipinos only account for 1.4 per cent of the total workforce in the NHS. The government failed us. We need a public inquiry and a government action plan to protect us before any second wave.”
In its pre action letter to Mr Johnson, The Ubele Initiative details data of deaths related to COVID-19 among the BAME community compared to those among the white population in the UK, as referenced in a Health Service Journal article, April 22, 2020.
It complains that the government has made no commitment to a prompt investigation into the underlying causes of health disparities, instead the National Institute for Health Research has called for research proposals with the potential to deliver public health impacts within 12 months.
The Ubele Initiative points to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights under which the State has a duty to devise and apply appropriate systems for the identification of people in need of protection, a duty to take specific steps to protect life where there is a “real and immediate” risk of death to an identifiable group of individuals, a duty to provide information to people exposed to particular risks, and a duty of effective investigation.
Yvonne Field, CEO and Founder, The Ubele Initiative, said: "Covid-19 has devastated BAME communities and tens of thousands of people feel that the government needs to be called to account.
“We have tried, on two separate occasions, to enter into dialogue with Boris Johnson, however our letters have not even warranted a cursory acknowledgement.
“Given this deafening silence, we are left with no other option, but to support BAME communities to raise deeply held concerns.
“We believe BAME communities deserve a level of respect – many have laid down their lives for this country and yet their plea for answers continue to fall on deaf ears."
An Ubele Initiative petition calling for an independent inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities has been signed by more than 32,800 people.
Patrick Vernon OBE, social commentator and campaigner has slammed the government’s “lack of commitment and blatant disregard” for BAME lives.
He said: “This campaign, like previous ones over decades in fighting for race equality and justice, eventually resorts to a legal challenge to force scrutiny and public accountability for change.
“We hope the Prime Minister in the context of Black Lives Matter will take now seriously consider the issues raised in this pre-action letter and undertake an independent public inquiry to restore confidence and goodwill."
The Ubele Initiative is represented by solicitors Lucy Cadd and Tessa Gregory from Leigh Day and Ayesha Christie and Dan Squires QC from Matrix Chambers.
Leigh Day, partner at Tessa Gregory, said: “Our client is deeply concerned that the Government’s failure to have due regard to the needs of BAME communities during the pandemic has cost the lives of many loved ones and that going forward more lives will be unnecessarily lost unless the Government takes urgent action as it is required to do under the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act 2010.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government commissioned PHE to conduct a review to analyse how different factors can impact on people's health outcomes from Covid-19, and this was published in full on the 2nd June.
“We are taking very seriously the findings from the PHE report, and will be working to understand the key drivers of the disparities identified and the relationships between the different risk factors.
“In parallel, Professor Fenton engaged with a significant number of individuals and organisations within the BAME community, to hear their views, concerns and ideas about the impact of Covid-19 on their communities.
“This is an important contribution from stakeholders and will inform the Government’s next steps which are now being taken forward by the Equalities Minister.
“Furthermore, as a critical element to address the impact of Covid-19 on BAME staff in the NHS, on 30 April NHS Employers published guidance to local NHS leaders on risk assessments, advising them to consider factors such as ethnicity, age and disability.”
Marsha de Cordova, Labour's Shadow Equalities minister, said: “We are not in the least surprised that legal action is being taken.
“The government has failed to protect BAME communities throughout this pandemic.
“The latest statistics show that black men are three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than their white counterparts and yet still we have not seen either meaningful action from Boris Johnson's government or clarity about what it says it has already done.
“The time to act has long since passed.”