(An Intergenerational Perspective)
A VIRUS THAT DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE, BUT THRIVES ON DISCRIMINATION
There’s no denying the fact that the coronavirus and the associated COVID-19 have had a huge global impact, with recovery from the social/societal, economic and physical health and psychological fallout being measured not in months, but years. In a daily COVID-19 press conference on the 27th of March, Michael Gove cited the fact that both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary had contracted coronavirus was a reminder that “the virus doesn’t discriminate”.
But while all communities and creeds are potentially vulnerable to the direct and corollary effects of the virus and pandemic, evidence suggests that four groups, in particular, carry more risk than others: men, the elderly, front-line workers and ethnic minorities. Much has been reported about the effect COVID-19 has had on people of BAME backgrounds, particularly with regard to the fact that the risk of death involving the coronavirus among some ethnic minority groups is significantly higher than the risk of death in the same context for those of non-BAME (white) ethnicity. COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on and taken root in the cracks in the UK’s socio-economic and cultural architecture that have disproportionally impacted BAME families well before the coronavirus was identified.
THE EFFECTS OF CORONAVIRUS ON BAME FAMILIES
BAME families are feeling the effects of the pandemic on several fronts. Underlying health problems that plague BAME communities cause medical complications that increase the likelihood of mortality in COVID-19 cases – King’s College researchers found that BAME patients were 15% more likely to have high blood pressure than white patients, and 24% more likely to have diabetes. The causes for those comorbidities are complex and interrelated, spanning from economic disadvantages to a distrust of and related disparity in treatment received from health services.
On the subject of income: research by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex suggests that compared with UK-born white Britons, BAME migrants in the UK are more likely to experience job loss during the COVID-19 lockdown, while BAME natives are less likely to enjoy employment protection such as furloughing. BAME Britons have been hit hardest by COVID job losses, researchers say, and coronavirus has hit BAME and single parent families worst financially.
In spite of (or perhaps in addition to) the issue of lost work, BAME workers have been more likely to be negatively impacted by the virus while at work. The majority (approximately 94%) of doctors in the UK who have lost their lives to coronavirus have been from BAME backgrounds. BAME healthcare professionals are disproportionately being affected by COVID-19 infection. People from BAME backgrounds are more likely to work in front-line jobs (healthcare, public transport, essential shop work) with all the associated risks that carries during a pandemic, and are more likely to live in deprived, densely populated urban areas in crowded, multi-generational homes. When families live like this social distancing can be difficult if not impossible to observe.
Ms P whom I know quite well is elderly, whose two children live out of London. Her daughter would drive many miles into London to leave things on the doorstep. Ms P has to come to the door to collect the items, typically foodstuff and sometimes other items. They do as best as they can to adhere to the rules as far as possible. In my case I watched my son turn away, head lowered, when I told him to leave things on the doorstep. Ultimately, I had to allow my son to enter the house because I needed him to do things for me. He is the only person I allow in, but we keep our distance, no hugging and kissing, its all done from a distance. He enters the house wearing a mask and gloves. He sanitises the shopping that he brings me, and puts things away. He ensures that all is well, then locks me in. Consider the difficulties of this kind of care, set against a backdrop of protest and the triggers for the recent Black Lives Matter movement, with stories of black men being stopped by the police and arrested while delivering food or providing assistance for vulnerable elder family members.
BAME children and young people are more likely to have a damaging experience of the pandemic and associated lockdown, according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black children are more likely to lose a loved one, more likely to experience mental health challenges and less likely to have proper access to online learning. Students from lower socioeconomic groups (in which BAME students are disproportionally represented) are more likely to have grades under-predicted than those from more advantaged backgrounds, with obvious ramifications for the further education and future prospects of those students. When this situation arises it undoubtedly creates anxiety, frustration and discontent.
Michael Hamilton, a director of the Ubele Initiative (an African-diaspora-led organisation focused on building more sustainable communities across the UK) has stated that “[r]acism and poverty create the conditions in which it becomes easier for a virus like Covid to establish itself.” An open letter from the Runnymede Trust has raised concern over a widening gap along the lines of class and race.
It is important to note that, while the term BAME can be viewed as a unifying term for people of colour, depending too heavily on such a catch-all term in an investigation of the impacts of inequality and disease runs the risk of missing the nuance and needs of or challenges facing specific groups addressed by that term. In the words of Dr Mo Akindolie, King’s College Hospital, “We need to be clear that BAME children and young people are diverse and can’t be bundled together when it comes to developing solutions… Cultural norms are radically different between, say, Hong Kong and Côte d’Ivoire.”
BridgIt A Sam-Bailey (Ms)