Cabinet Office unit to examine racial disparities in Covid-19 infection and death rates

Work to build on PHE review that found death rates are highest among BAME communities – as EHRC launches inquiry

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch will lead the work. Photo: Parliament TV

The government’s Race Disparity Unit will review how departments are addressing disparities in infection and death rates of Covid-19 – as Britain’s equalities watchdog launches an inquiry into the “entrenched“ UK racial disparities highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Race Disparity Unit, part of the equalities hub in the Cabinet Office, will work with equalities minister Kemi Badenoch to examine departments’ actions to address the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people. A review by Public Health England, published this week, found death rates from coronavirus are highest among black and Asian communities.

Badenoch will also review the “effectiveness and impact” of actions departments and agencies were taking to lessen disparities linked to age and sex, occupation, obesity, comorbidities, geography and ethnicity, according to the equalities hub.


The review will put forward new policies or modifications to existing policies to address the problem and carry out further data, research and analytical work “to clarify the scale, and drivers, of the gaps in evidence highlighted by the [PHE] report”.

The work will be supported by PHE and other government departments and agencies, and will build on PHE’s stakeholder engagement to “consolidate and develop the qualitative insights gained and how they may support further actions that should be taken to address the disparities highlighted”, the hub said in its announcement yesterday.

The hub will also aim to improve public health communications to ensure campaigns reach “all communities across the country”.

“This government is rightly taking seriously the initial findings from the PHE report published earlier this week. However, it is also clear that much more needs to be done to understand the key drivers of the disparities identified and the relationships between the different risk factors," Badenoch said.

“That is why I am now taking this work forward, which will enable us to make a real difference to people’s lives and protect our communities from the impact of the coronavirus.”

The equalities hub will provide quarterly updates to the prime minister and health secretary on the progress made in different parts of government to tackle the issue.

The news came as the Equality and Human Rights Commission said it had launched an inquiry that aimed to develop “clear, evidence-based recommendations for urgent action to tackle entrenched racial inequalities”.

There is also a renewed focus on the treatment of people of colour around the world following the death of African-American man George Floyd in police custody.

EHRC chair David Isaac said: “Now is a once in a generation opportunity to tackle long-standing entrenched racial inequalities. 

“We intend to use our statutory powers to address the loss of lives and livelihoods of people from different ethnic minorities.”

He added: “An inquiry is one of a number of steps we are taking as part of a wider programme of work to address systemic race inequalities. 

“This includes reviewing and strengthening our existing calls on the government to put in place a comprehensive race equality strategy.  

“We have also been active on specific pandemic issues affecting some ethnic minorities, including predicted grading in education and return to work policies.”

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