“Equality is for everyone” (apart from BAME people in a pandemic, natch)

Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities

If it is true that, as Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities firmly believes, that ‘equality is for everyone’, how is it that a year after the Covid-19 pandemic began there is still no data to show how many people of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) origin have been infected by Covid-19 in the UK?

How is it that as the UK Covid-19 death toll rapidly approaches 100,000 people that those searching for detailed data on how Covid-19 has affected all sections of society will find nothing relating to BAME people?

In what sort of society is it OK to not publish data on a group who have suffered more than most from the ravages of Covid-19?

As this author is neither left-wing or of BAME origin it might be that I can ask these questions simply because I want to know and others want to know without being accused of being ‘an enemy of the Conservative party’.

The increased risk of Covid-19 among ethnic minorities is largely due to poverty and social disparities according to this article in the British Medical Journal.

The risk of coronavirus death is far higher for BAME people and manual workers, this research commissioned by the GLA from Professor James Nazroo at the Manchester University finds.

Report by BBC Newsnight (June 2020) into the impact of Covid-19 on the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets.

The highest diagnosis rates of COVID-19 per 100,000 population were in people of Black ethnic groups (486 in females and 649 in males) and the lowest were in people of White ethnic groups (220 in females and 224 in males) according to this study by Public Health England.

This all seems a little, well, unequal.

When we talk about ‘BAME’ or ethnic groups what do we mean?
The UK government has a standard list of the 18 ethnic groups as below.

White

  • English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British
  • Irish
  • Gypsy or Irish Traveller
  • Any other White background

Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups

  • White and Black Caribbean
  • White and Black African
  • White and Asian
  • Any other Mixed or Multiple ethnic background

Asian or Asian British

  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Bangladeshi
  • Chinese
  • Any other Asian background

Black, African, Caribbean or Black British

  • African
  • Caribbean
  • Any other Black, African or Caribbean background

Other ethnic group

  • Arab
  • Any other ethnic group
  • In Wales, ‘Welsh’ is the first option in the White category.

Hunting for data

In April 2020 the Enquirer wrote its first story on the disproportionate amount of BAME falling victim to Covid-19 in our borough.

This was during the first wave of the pandemic and as the population was being bombarded with statistics every evening by the government and its most senior health advisors, Moley assumed that Real Soon Now there would be data published to throw some light on why this was so.

Real Soon Now never came.

Moley has nibbled at this issue on and off but it was only in the last few weeks that he has started investigating this issue full time.

One reason (apart from being a nosey Moley) is because anecdotal evidence, the events that people tell you, indicate that there is a significant difference between the number of people who have succumbed to coronavirus in our borough and the number of people the government tell us.

That is different as in very bad different.

The data we seek (on your behalf) has to be disaggregated, in other words split into its component parts.

Geek Alert!
You can pop over to the government Race Disparity Unit if you are starting to get excited by statistics. We won’t tell anyone.

To be fair the NHS does provide some disaggregated ethnicity data here COVID-19 Daily Deaths. Scroll down the page to the Data section, what you after are the weekly announced files that do contain breakdowns by ethnicity in addition to other parameters, this is the current one COVID 19 total announced deaths 21 January 2021 – weekly file.

Don’t get too excited though as the ethnicity breakdown is at an England level as below. No use for what we need.

Ethnicity breakdown from NHS weekly announced files. No use to us. Or you.

What we need are the legendary Middle layer Super Output Areas (MSOA) or, even better, their super sexy cousin the Lower layer Super Output Areas (LSOA)! Oh yes!

34,753 LSOAs and 7,201 MSOAs provide an exceptionally powerful way to examine our country. If you have the Covid-19 data at those levels of course.

We do not so we are, to use the technical statistical word, stuffed. The chart below which we have used before shows Tower Hamlets broken down by MSOA.

Seen Big Foot this week?

Anecdotal evidence is notoriously subjective although the people telling you they have seen Big Foot in Victoria Park do genuinely believe that to be true.

What is needed is the objective evidence that hard data compiled from official sources by professionals can tell you. No independent reports of Big Foot sightings? Then that is almost certainly the truth.

For some odd reason it is not possible to do this in relation to how many people of BAME origin have suffered from Covid-19.

Cos there ain’t no data.

A big part of this problem is the fact that ethnicity is not recorded on death certificates as a matter of routine. Seriously.

In Scotland it is sometimes, in England and Wales not at all. It was only when the pandemic started to rage that someone in government realised this was a problem.

Standard death certificate.

And it still is. It was not until June 2020 that the recording of ethnicity on death certificates in England and Wales was mandated but to date this information has stayed exactly where it was before, out of the public’s gaze.

Below you can see a simple timeline of the main events relating to the issue of there being a publicly available dataset showing the ethnicity of everyone. It does not inspire confidence.

In May 2020 the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published a report which states in part that “The impacts of the COVID-19 crisis are not uniform across ethnic groups, and aggregating all minorities together misses important differences.”

Still we wait.

In December the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee third report ‘Unequal impact? Coronavirus and BAME people’ was published with comments by the MPs who authored the report that were not exactly complimentary. This from the report.

‘We welcome the Government’s steps to make recording ethnicity on death certificates mandatory.

However, we are disappointed that this has taken the Government so long. We agree with the Minister for Equalities that the data would have been helpful, and we do not understand why collecting this data was delayed. This data will be valuable in assessing the impact of coronavirus on BAME people and will also add value to understanding wider health disparities. We understand that data sharing is voluntary.

However, we believe it is the Government’s responsibility to build trust among BAME communities so that they are comfortable in volunteering data.

We strongly disagree with the Minister’s approach and the resistance to deploy resources for data collection; this does not show a sustained effort to capture “a full picture”.’

Source: Women and Equalities Committee Unequal impact? Coronavirus and BAME people Third Report of Session 2019–21

‘We strongly disagree with the Minister’s approach and the resistance to deploy resources for data collection’?

Ouch. Wonder what resistance to deploy resources for data collection means?

There again the Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch MP is also on record as saying that systemic racism does not exist.

If the Covid-19 case data disaggregated by ethnicity is ever released it might just prove that systemic racism does exist and that a lot of BAME people died as a result.

Covid-19 BAME data timeline

DateEventUK DeathsIncrease
9 January 2020First confirmed Covid-19 death in Wuhan, China0
6 March 2020First UK death from Covid-19 reported in media11
10 April 2020Report published by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre revealed that 34.5% of Covid-19 patients in critical care were black, Asian or from an ethnic minority (BAME), despite accounting for only 13% of the general population.10,81310,812
1 May 2020Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report “The impacts of the COVID-19 crisis are not uniform across ethnic groups, and aggregating all minorities together misses important differences.”27,38116,568
7 May 2020ONS publishes data that counted deaths, where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate by ethnic group, by using a linked dataset from 2011 census.30,3212,940
14 May 2020First 10 doctors in the UK named as having died from the virus were all BAME32,9922,671
2 June 2020Public Health England (PHE) publishes COVID-19: review of disparities in risks and outcomes, allegations that large section of report removed.37,7804,788
10 June 2020Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch MP rejects ‘systemic injustice’ claims in House of Commons39,0251,245
16 June 2020Public Health England (PHE) Beyond the Data: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on BAME Communities report mandates collection of ethnicity data on death certificates, this report believed to contain previously edited contents.39,515490
1 July 202040,491976
1 August 202041,202711
1 September 202041,504302
1 October 202042,202698
22 October 2020First Quarterly report on progress to address COVID-19 health inequalities by government Race Disparity Unit (RDU) published44,3472,145
15 December 2020House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee third report ‘Unequal impact? Coronavirus and BAME people published’ with comments that ‘we do not understand why collecting this data was delayed’ and ‘disagree with the Minister’s approach’.64,90820,561
12 January 2021News story in New Scientist UK government won’t say if it has ethnicity data for covid-19 shots83,20318,295
25 January 2021Date of publication97,93914,736

This issue of a lack of Covid-19 data case data for ethnic minorities is not just about the Bangladeshi population in Tower Hamlets, although we do have a particular interest for obvious reasons.

Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) means many things. White and Black Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, African-American, Caribbean-American, Somali, White and Black African, Asian. The list goes on and rightly so.

It seems that Covid-19 has a different impact on different groups. Why? We need to know to stop more people dying. Without data we are guessing.

If you do have knowledge of when the Covid-19 data for all sections of the population might be published please get in touch hello@eastendenquirer.org

Related Internet Links

Please support the work of the East End Enquirer

If you found this story useful (or even just amusing!), please consider helping the Wapping Mole and the East End Enquirer continue to cover issues like this by clicking the PayPal link below.

Donate via PayPal here.

As community journalists we do exactly what it says on our tin – we work for the community.

In Tower Hamlets, which covers most of London’s East End, that means we spend a lot of time investigating allegations of political corruption.

It is an unfortunate fact that the poorest local authority in the country is still beset by the highest levels of corruption.

As Love Wapping we were instrumental in exposing the electoral corruption of Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

We hoped that would be an end to our work – no such chance!