After a decade of increasing inequality, it’s time this government starts valuing ethnic minority and disabled people's lives
The fact that postcode, disability and ethnicity are now central pillars of the approach to shielding reveals the severity of health inequality across the UK, writes Marsha de Cordova MP. | PA Images
We cannot let the government off the hook for the way that Black, Asian and ethnic minority lives, disabled lives and poorer people’s lives have been undervalued before and during the pandemic.
A decade of cuts left people with homes and livelihoods that negatively impact their healthcare.
For nearly a year we have seen how health inequalities dictate people’s vulnerability to Covid-19. We have known since the start of the pandemic that Black, Asian and ethnic minority people are at higher risk and, by the end of last summer it was clear that living in a deprived area doubles your risk of dying from the virus.
Meanwhile, six in ten deaths from coronavirus have been disabled people.
The growing body of evidence from the ONS, Professor Marmott and The Runnymede Trust, amongst many others, has concluded that higher death rates among ethnic minorities, disabled people and people in deprived areas are linked to pre-existing socio-economic inequalities like insecure work, lack of accessible healthcare, low pay and overcrowded housing.
Last year, Labour commissioned the Lawrence Review which concluded that a decade of increasing inequality and precarity under Conservative governments had left ethnic minority people overexposed, under-protected and completely overlooked throughout the first wave of the pandemic. Despite many recommendations for robust change, the government’s inaction remains.
It is impossible to decouple the fatal consequences of the virus from the extreme inequality affecting people across society after a decade of Conservative rule.
It should not have taken nearly a year for the government to act on the life or death consequences of racial and geographical health inequality
It’s a relief that the government has finally started to take ethnicity and postcode into account when they are calculating who should shield from the virus.
However, it should not have taken nearly a year for them to act on the life or death consequences of racial and geographical health inequality and this is nothing like enough change compared to what is needed to address socio-economic and health inequalities in the UK.
Health inequalities predate the pandemic but they have rarely been so devastatingly obvious: Black people are more likely to die from coronavirus, more likely to lose their jobs and less likely to take the vaccine due to historical mistrust and medical racism. Meanwhile disabled people are dying at hugely disproportionate numbers and have had support withdrawn when they need it most.
This government has failed to protect Black, Asian and ethnic minority people and disabled people every step of the way. Why are they still failing to do equality impact assessments? Why isn’t more being done to encourage vaccine take up in our communities and to consistently guarantee vaccine priority for those most at risk?
The shielding algorithm announcement last week finally acknowledges a wider range of risk factors to the virus. The fact that postcode, disability and ethnicity are now central pillars of the approach to shielding reveals the severity of health inequality across the UK. A decade of cuts and profiteering has left people with homes and livelihoods that negatively impact their healthcare, outcomes and life expectancy in unequal ways. This cannot continue.
We cannot allow this government to continue with the narrative that poverty and inequality are separate things. We cannot let them off the hook for the way that Black, Asian and ethnic minority lives, disabled lives and poorer people’s lives have been valued less before and during the pandemic.
Labour has been calling for action on disproportionate deaths of marginalised groups since the very start of the pandemic. Back in May last year we called for a Covid-19 health inequalities strategy to protect deprived and Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities. As well as a plan to prioritise safety and support for disabled people.
The government must comply with its legal requirements under the Public Sector Equality Duty and publish equality impact assessments of all policy responses to the pandemic, an essential responsibility which it has failed to undertake throughout.
The pandemic has shone a light on huge health inequalities. These cannot widen any further, the government must take action now.
Marsha De Cordova is the Labour MP for Battersea and is the shadow secretary of state for women and equaliies.