Death rates for ethnic minorities in England up to double those of whites

Black and minority ethnic groups in England are up to twice as likely to die of coronavirus than their white counterparts, according to a report published by a government agency.

Public Health England found the largest disparity in Covid-related deaths was age, with people aged 80 or older 70 times more likely to die than those aged under 40.

The agency also concluded that being male was a “significant risk factor”; working-age men had been twice as likely to die from the virus as women.

After accounting for the effects of sex, age, deprivation and region, the report from PHE concluded that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death compared with white British people.

“People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other black ethnicity had between 10 and 50 per cent higher risk of death when compared to white British,” the report said.

The analysis did not factor in obesity, occupation, or underlying health conditions. “Occupation is associated with risk of being exposed to Covid-19 and we know some key occupations have a high proportion of workers from British and minority ethnic (BAME) groups,” it said.

Matt Hancock, UK health secretary, acknowledged on Tuesday that coming from BAME backgrounds was a “major risk factor” and the pandemic “has exposed huge disparities in the health of our nation”.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, he said: “This is a particularly timely publication, because right across the world, people are angry about racial injustice. And I get that. Black lives matter.

“There is much more work to do to understand what is driving these disparities and how the different risk factors interact and we are absolutely determined to get to the bottom of this.”

Challenged on why the report did not set out recommendations for tackling the dangers facing certain ethnic groups, he admitted more research was needed.

Mr Hancock said work was continuing in order to understand the “unequal and disproportionate way that this disease targets people including those who are from black or minority ethnic backgrounds”. The review would be led by junior equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, he added.

The PHE findings echoed research published by the Office for National Statistics, which found that poor socio-economic conditions and public-facing occupations exposed Bame people to greater risk.

Prof John Newton, PHE’s director of health Improvement, told the Downing Street press conference: “It is not necessarily because of their ethnicity, it may be related to their occupation or other reasons why they might be at higher levels of exposure.”

PHE noted that the baseline “all cause rates” showed lower mortality in Asian and black ethnic groups than white, which indicated that inequality in coronavirus mortality between these groups was the “opposite of that seen for all causes of death in previous years”.

The report concluded that the impact of the virus has “replicated existing health inequalities and, in some cases, has increased them”.

Mortality rates in the most deprived areas were found to be double those in least deprived areas. “This is greater than the inequality seen in mortality rates in previous years, indicating greater inequality in death rates from Covid-19,” the report said.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary, said: “This review confirms what we already knew — that racial and health inequalities amplify the risks of Covid-19. Those in the poorest households and people of colour are disproportionately impacted. 

“But when it comes to the question of how we reduce these disparities, it is notably silent. It presents no recommendations. Having the information is a start — but now is the time for action.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said it was important to view the report’s findings within the broader context of “entrenched race inequality across all areas of life”.

“Only a comprehensive race equality strategy will address these issues,” she said.

Chai Patel, legal policy director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, accepted it was not yet clear why ethnic minorities and migrants were disproportionately affected.

But he pointed out that in April the Court of Appeal had ruled that Home Office policies resulted in discrimination against migrants and British ethnic minorities trying to rent housing, meaning they were forced to rent less desirable, less safe homes.

“We know the government’s hostile environment in the NHS deters and prevents people accessing the care they need,” he said, referring to successive governments’ efforts to control migrants’ access to free healthcare. “We know key workers are putting up with unsafe conditions because they’re afraid of not being able to renew their visa or pay the huge fees required and are denied access to a safety net.


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