Who is falling through the cracks? What COVID-19 is teaching us about BAME communities in the UK

Who is falling through the cracks? What COVID-19 is teaching us about BAME communities in the UK

We know that in times of crisis be it environmental, health or otherwise, the most marginalised and poorest people in our society suffer the most. People fall through the cracks. This is the case not only during the crisis, but also during the period of recovery. So not only are these people most vulnerable to being affected, they are also the last to be helped.

And even when help is allocated, it often comes about in a way that leaves room for people to fall through the cracks yet again.

An example of this is the economic rescue package offered up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak in the March 2020 budget. Many people, disproportionately ethnic minorities, will not be covered by this package. They will not be covered by the wage-support scheme because they will have been fired or they will earn too little to be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay. ‘Means-tested Universal Credit’ benefits criteria has a two-child limit, eliminating large families, and many will not benefit from mortgage-holiday packages as landlords are failing to pass these holidays on to tenants.

This is indicative of the way ethnic minorities are pushed aside in our society:  invalidated, and once given the illusion of being listened to, are given a once-size-fits-all treatment that inevitably leads to more cleavages later. They are silenced, only to be thrown a humorously small bone every so often, for the sake of a good press release.

When it comes to COVID-19, the Runnymede Trust, a leading national race equality think tank has highlighted that the effects on the BAME community in the UK could last a generation.

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected BAME communities, with 109 front-line staff who have now died of coronavirus. The Jewish community is just one of the communities that has been affected by coronavirus, with 458 out of 264,000 Jews dying due to the virus. COVID-19 has also affected BAMER communities in other ways too.

Final grades and predictions for students taking GCSEs, AS and A levels this year will be based on teacher assessments and prior attainment work. In an open letter, Runnymede laid down concrete evidence from Dr Gill Wyness that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to have their final grades under-predicted. Professor David Gillborn et al. shows that ‘teachers’ expectations of black students and their working-class peers tend to be systematically lower than warranted by their performance in class’.

The implications of this are two-fold. First, the fact that we necessitate external examiners shines a light on subconscious racist tendencies that have been proven to exist in our society’s psychological thought patterns. More practically speaking, this means an entire graduating class will lose out on grades, university places, and quite possibly jobs they deserve. Social mobility, the ability for a person to move up social strata, being already too stagnant for ethnic minorities, will stall even more.

Frustratingly, BAME charities that exist to catch the very people falling through the cracks are questioning whether they will survive COVID-19 financially. With the focus falling on much larger charities and donors pulling out, the number of these charities may decrease despite demand for them increasing.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the inequalities that exist in our society. Now more than ever, we are seeing just how expendable people consider BAME lives. This becomes even more salient when we consider how BAME healthcare professionals are literally dying at a faster rate than white professionals.

Labour’s review into the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities is an attempt to magnify these issues, albeit an unsatisfactory one to many.

For starters, Trevor Phillips is playing a prominent role. As former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Phillips is a suitable candidate on paper, but his lack of trust within the BAME community says otherwise. This is most notable among black British women and BAME healthcare professionals, two communities that have written open letters speaking out against Mr. Phillips’ credibility and record of discarding issues of structural racism in the UK.

The Ubele Project highlights that the government review is only seeking out answers to the current pandemic and its short-term consequences on the BAME community rather than the much broader, significant realities of BAME lives in the UK. They are urging for an independent public inquiry so as to not return to the largely unequal status quo.

This is a time to recognise that our current society values certain lives over others, question why and in what ways, and make changes for the future.

JAN Trust works to empower BAMER women, and we are supporting women through this pandemic but we need funding to do this. JAN Trust’s Patron Baroness Lawrence is leading on the enquiry into the effect of COVID-19 on BAME communities. We are proud to have Baroness  Lawrence supporting our work, and hope that the inquiry shows the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on the BAMER community. To find out more about our work, visit www.jantrust.org.