Coronavirus: Doreen Lawrence to head Labour probe on minorities

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image captionSir Keir Starmer has appointed Baroness Doreen Lawrence as Labour's race relations adviser

Baroness Doreen Lawrence will lead a review into the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, the Labour Party says.

The campaigner and mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence has been appointed as Labour's race relations adviser by leader Sir Keir Starmer.

The review will examine why the virus appears to disproportionately impact those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The government has also commissioned an investigation into the issue.

The Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre found that 34% of more than 4,800 critically-ill patients with Covid-19 identified as black, Asian or minority ethnic.

This is despite only 14% of people in England and Wales being from ethnic minority backgrounds, according to the 2011 census.

The virtual launch of Labour's review on Friday was attended by Baroness Lawrence, Sir Keir and Labour's shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, Marsha de Cordova.

Other attendees include Muslim Council of Britain's general secretary Harun Khan, Operation Black Vote's director Lord Simon Woolley, Royal College of Nursing deputy president Yvonne Coghill and the Sikh Network's Jas Khatkar.

'Tragic pattern'

Sir Keir said it was "extremely concerning" to see the "disproportionate toll" coronavirus was having on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

"We cannot afford to treat this as an issue to investigate once the crisis is over. We must address it now."

On why Labour has launched a rival review instead of supporting the government, Sir Keir said: "We are happy to work with the government but it seems we've approached this differently by going straight to the representative groups and we will feed this back to them".

Baroness Lawrence, a Labour peer, said: "The coronavirus pandemic has brought society together, but it has also exposed the gulf in living standards that still blights our communities.

"Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have long been disadvantaged by the social and economic injustice which still exists in our country.

"There is a clear and tragic pattern emerging of the pandemic's impact on those communities which must be better understood."

She added: "I think sometimes the government don't understand or they pretend that we are not as important - yet we make up so much of the medical profession."

Analysis

By Rianna Croxford, Community Affairs Correspondent

This is a complex issue that cannot be reduced to a single answer. While it is too early to draw conclusions, researchers have said the pandemic is exposing existing health and social inequalities.

Underlying health conditions such as diabetes and high-blood pressure are more prevalent in black and Asian communities, which are overrepresented in families living in poverty and overcrowded housing.

People from these backgrounds are also more likely to be in precarious jobs or employed on the frontline as key workers - putting them at greater risk of catching the virus.

Geography has been a key factor as the majority of coronavirus cases have been in diverse cities such as London, which has a higher proportion of ethnic minority communities relative to the rest of the UK.

Over the last few weeks some families have also expressed concerns that their loved ones were not seen as "priorities" by emergency services.

Speaking about the government's review at a Downing Street press briefing, Professor Chris Whitty, the UK Chief Medical Adviser, said: "It's absolutely critical that we find out which groups are most at risk so that we can help to protect them."

But he said that there is currently no conclusive evidence to show that coronavirus poses a bigger risk to people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

"This is not yet clear in terms of ethnic minorities and we need to look at this more carefully," he said.

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