Sat, 20 July 2024

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By Ben Guerin
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Former Tory co-chair Baroness Warsi warns coronavirus BAME probe lacks ‘credibility’ while Trevor Phillips at the helm

The former equalities watchdog head has been asked to look into the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on BAME communities.

3 min read

A Government-ordered review into the toll coronavirus is having on black, asian and minority ethnic people faces questions over its “credibility”, former Tory chair Baroness Warsi has warned.

The ex-chair of the Conservatives said the choice of Trevor Phillips - who was last month expelled from Labour amid a row over Islamophobia - as head of the inquiry left Public Health England facing a “huge task in building the requisite trust” among those covered by its work.

The former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has been asked by ministers to investigate the disproportionate number of deaths from Covid-19 among BAME communities, alongside Professor Richard Webber from the data consultancy run by the pair.

While people from a BAME background make up just 14% cent of the UK population, they account for a third (34%) of virus patients admitted to hospital critical care units, according to research by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre.

PHE has said Mr Phillips and Professor Webber have “the right skills and experience” for the job.

PHE's regional director for London, Professor Kevin Fenton, said: "We need to move fast to understand why and what can be done about this."

But the appointment of Mr Phillips has already proven controversial, with the Muslim Council of Britain pointing to Mr Phillips' administrative suspension from Labour over a string of comments on Islam.

Harun Khan, secretary general of the MCB, said it was “wholly inappropriate” to give the role to someone who was “being investigated”.

"The decision is particularly insensitive given that British Muslims overwhelmingly come from BAME communities and so many Muslim doctors have died at the front line of this pandemic," he said.

Writing in The Guardian, Baroness Warsi - who has been deeply critical of her own party’s handling of complaints about anti-Muslim abuse - warned that Covid-19 was leaving black, asian and minority ethnic people “particularly vulnerable: in terms of their lives, and their livelihoods”.

And, directly addressing the appointment of Mr Phillips, the Conservative peer said “the biggest challenge for the review will be credibility”.

She said: “Public Health England has given Trevor Phillips and his company, Webber Phillips, a prominent role. Yet a growing number of BAME groups and individuals are struggling to find the trust and confidence in him that is needed for this review to be taken seriously.”

Mr Phillips and PHE would, she said, now face "a huge task in building the requisite trust for this review to be accepted by the people it is seeking to serve”.

Responding to criticsm of his appointment, Mr Phillips - whose explusion from Labour was in itself controversial with some in the party - told The Huffington Post: “Everyone should be contributing anything they can to tackling this crisis.

“Anyone can see the research Richard and I have already done on our website, which explains why we've been asked to help.”

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