The Covid-19 public inquiry is facing calls to consider structural racism in every part of its investigation, as it emerged that almost all minority ethnic groups are at higher rates of dying from the virus than white British people. There was a possibility.
Earlier this month, the lead counsel for the government-constituted inquiry said it did not plan to consider structural racism in the first module of the probe examining pandemic preparedness. But bereaved families and race equality organizations have told the inquiry chair, Heather Hallett, that all 11 modules of the wider inquiry should consider the incident as a significant issue.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign also claimed there was a “fear of being investigated” reluctance to claim “why death rates among black and minority ethnic communities were significantly higher”. .
According to the Office for National Statistics, the death rate in the early stages of the pandemic was almost three times higher for Bangladeshi men than for white British men and twice as high for Pakistani women than for white British women.
But Hugo Keith Casey, the inquiry’s lawyer, told a hearing on February 14 that the initial module on pandemic preparedness was already looking at “the way protected features were or were not properly protected”. He said the need to examine the entire government would make searching for signs of structural racism “an impossible task”. He urged Lady Hallett to reject calls to commission expert evidence on structural racism.
“If the Covid inquiry is serious about what went wrong during the pandemic and learning lessons to protect lives in the future, then understanding why death rates were significantly higher among black and minority ethnic communities and listening to the bereaved should be a priority,” said Jean Adamson, spokesperson for the families of Covid-19 bereaved for the Justice Campaign. It has signed a letter to Hallet along with the Runnymede Trust, the Windrush National Organization and two dozen other organisations.
He told Hallett: “Unless we eliminate the factors that enabled the pandemic to be racial in its impact, we cannot reduce the same outcome from any future crisis response.”
He said, for example, that government policies towards undocumented migrants, such as denying them access to public funding, the right to rent and charging for the NHS, “have a disproportionate impact on people of colour, financial insecurity, Uncertain employment, insecure housing”. and barriers to healthcare”.
A spokeswoman for the inquiry said, “The disparate effects of the pandemic will be at the forefront of all inquiries.”
“For the first of its kind investigations, the inquiry has commissioned two world-leading inequality experts, Professor Michael Marmot and Professor Claire Bambra, into the UK’s pandemic preparedness and resilience,” he said. “The inquiry, which is already underway, will look into the extent to which the government took into account the needs of minority groups and others when drawing up civil emergency planning.
“The terms of reference of the inquiry required it to” consider any apparent disparities in the impact of the pandemic on different categories of people, including those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and equality categories under Northern Ireland, but these are not limited to. Act 1998.
It is the latest in a series of disputes between organizations representing thousands of people killed by the virus and a government-commissioned inquiry ahead of evidence starting to take in earnest later this spring.
A row is also boiling over about the way a “listening exercise” has been launched to collect public stories about the pandemic, rather than listening more into formal evidence. There are also complaints that certain groups of people have been denied Core Participant status. Hallett has warned against allowing an already extensive investigation to “drag on for decades”, citing the need to learn lessons before any potential new pandemic.