On 5 May I wrote to the Health Secretary concerning the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on BAME communities.
Please find the full text below:
Dear Secretary of State,
I write to you about the clearly disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has been having on many BAME communities. This disproportionality may have played a significant part in making Newham the worst affected area in the country once age demographics are accounted for.
You will know that evidence about the impact of COVID-19 so far shows very large inequalities along socioeconomic and ethnic lines. ONS analysis has shown that the most deprived areas have a death rate from COVID-19 more than double that of the least deprived areas. This disproportionality in mortality is even larger for COVID-19 than it is for other causes of death, where health inequalities were already disgracefully high.
Newham is a very deprived area and is wonderfully diverse. Socio-economic disproportionalities may largely explain why my constituents have died from this disease at a higher rate. These are issues that clearly require much more research and attention to learn lessons and implement changes needed, and I hope that you will commit to enable that research, learning, and change, to occur.
A very large number of factors which affect members of many BAME groups more than White British people have been proposed as contributors to the ethnic disproportionality. These include:
- Higher rates of home overcrowding and unsafe housing.
Higher rates of insecure work.
Higher proportions within essential occupations that have had to continue working outside their homes, in many cases with no or unreliable access to effective PPE, throughout the crisis.
- Higher rates of poverty, exacerbated by disproportionate impacts from the two child limit and other damaging social security policies.
- Higher likelihood of being a frontline healthcare professional and therefore exposed to the virus at work.
- Higher rates of multi-generational living.
- Higher likelihood of living in a dangerously polluted area.
- Lower access to green space, and in particular private gardens.
- Increased rates of vitamin D deficiency, with impacts on immune system function.
- A higher likelihood of being denied Recourse to Public Funds.
I think we will agree that there is unlikely to be a single cause of the disproportionality, and I believe it is plausible that many of these factors will be playing some role, either directly or by increasing the prevalence of pre-existing conditions that make people more vulnerable to the worst consequences of SARS-COV-2 infection. Most are related to longer-term impacts from poverty and economic inequalities, and I will argue all the more strongly for strong and strategic action to tackle these as a result of the consequences we have seen of this terrible pandemic. There is no inequality greater than knowing that you’ll die sooner because you are poor.
However, currently I believe we need rapid preliminary answers to these questions, not only to allay fears and suspicions in our communities, but to identify any changes that can and must be made very quickly in order to prevent any second wave of COVID-19 infections from having the same disproportionate impacts.
I welcome the inquiry by Public Health England and the NHS that has been announced into the ethnic disproportionalities in the impact of COVID-19. I would be very grateful for further information about this inquiry at your earliest convenience, including its terms of reference, leadership, membership, and timescale.
Given that the inquiry has been commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and will be undertaken primarily by Public Health England, I believe it essential to ensure that outside experts are fully involved, most significantly in relation to the social determinants of health and on wider ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities.
I would be grateful for an early commitment to publish the report and all of the recommendations in full, and to implement them in full, even if they, quite appropriately, relate to cross-Government policies as well as those of the Department of Health and Social Care itself.
Member of Parliament for West Ham