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Majority Ethnic Minorities in the UK and US Vulnerable To Economic Downturn From Corona Crisis

Majority Ethnic Minorities in the UK and US Vulnerable To Economic Downturn From Corona Crisis

The UK has passed a grim benchmark this week as the number of deaths due to  COVID-19, passed 10,000. The crisis is also having a severe impact in the economies of both the UK and the US, with many companies shutting down, furloughing their employees or otherwise requiring them to work from home. Amidst these developments, rights groups and equality advocacies are warning that a disproportionate number of Black, Asian, and ethnic minority (BAME) people in both countries stand to lose heavier from the economic downturn.

According to advocates, economic measures to support British people and businesses through the crisis that were announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, in the March 2020 budget, failed to address the specific economic vulnerabilities of BAME people, who often earn too little to be eligible for support such as Statutory Sick Pay, or are otherwise self-employed. Many BAME people also work under zero-hour contracts or are in sectors that do not enable working from home, risking them ending up out of pocket with no legal protection, or otherwise having no choice but tocontinue working. An equality advocacy, Operation Black Vote, warned that black people are far more socially isolated now than ever due to COVID-19.

Critics have also warned that not enough support or advice is being given to help multi-generational households who have little-to-no options for self-isolation.  

Far from being a “great equaliser” – as some have predicted – there are now fears that the COVID-19 outbreak will worsen economic inequalities, and could even worsen the outbreak as people are forced to go to work and return to crowded housing while being unable to afford treatment for non-COVID-19 issues that can still leave them vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.

Economic Vulnerabilities Risk Worsening the Outbreak

The Runnymeade Trust, a UK-based race equality think-tank, warns that socioeconomic factors have likely already contributed to the disproportionate number of deaths among BAME groups that the UK and the US are experiencing. 

The Trust warned that many BAME individuals work in low-skilled and low-paying positions, and are twice as likely to be in unstable employment conditions such as zero-hour contracts and agency contracts. As a result, many people are finding themselves out of work and not eligible for support, especially if their places of work are deemed non-essential. Even in essential businesses, the economic downturn and the nature of contracts may compel people to go to work despite the inherent risks of infections under these circumstances. This is supported by a BMG poll conducted for the Independent. The findings note that one-in-20 households had their finances cut, with BAME households twice as likely to have lost income and jobs.

The advocacy group also noted that ethnic minorities are more likely to live in multi-generational households, as well as overcrowded housing – where overcrowding is defined as there being more people than bedrooms – making isolation more challenging in such households, especially where high-risk individuals such as the elderly are present. The Government’s own figures show that BAME households, especially Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Arab and Black African backgrounds, suffer from overcrowding. Government figures also show that populations usually rent, rather than own their homes, leaving them more vulnerable to homelessness, either due to inability to pay rents as a result of loss of employment due to the aforementioned reasons, or due to wrongful evictions by landlords themselves.

This is a pattern that repeats in the US. Among the 700,000 jobs lost in the country last month, younger Americans, especially African-Americans, were heavily represented due to many of them being employed in hospitality and retail sectors that have been hit particularly hard from the economic downturn relating to the outbreak.

NHS Workers Stand Particularly Vulnerable

Among the BAME people, frontline workers, including NHS workers, are particularly vulnerable. BAME people are highly represented in the NHS in proportion to their general population. This, in combination with the aforementioned factors, means that such individuals are not only at higher risk of infection and even death, but they also run the risk bringing the infection back to their families and communities, especially where means of self-isolation are unreliable.

The British Medical Association warned that 10 out of the 11 first doctors to die of COVID-19 were of BAME background and warned that many BAME individuals are under higher risk of exposure due to the nature of their jobs. The increased risk of exposure, in conjunction with a number of other, pre-existing factors such as concerns about the bullying of BAME staff in the NHS and the on-going protective equipment shortages, has raised fears that many such individuals at risk will not be able to get the support they need in these critical times.

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