It has been over a year now since the first lockdown began back in March of 2020 and since then countries all around the world have been struggling to contain the virus. But there is another struggle going on at the same time, one that many people aren’t even aware of. And that is – the other pandemic. 

Emerging research surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed some shocking truths about how the virus is affecting black and minority ethnic communities disproportionately to the rest of the population. In the UK, health.org.uk found that the likelihood of COVID-19 related death is more than four times higher for people of black ethnicity than the rest of the population. Furthermore, they found that individuals living in the poorest areas of the UK are at higher risk from COVID-19 whereas people living in the most affluent areas are 50% less likely to die from COVID-19. 

The evidence is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating already existing inequalities and this is something that needs to be addressed. In this article, I will detail some of the most important findings in relation to pandemic inequalities in Europe, the root causes behind them and finally what we can all do to help.

Low-Income Individuals

While the virus doesn’t discriminate, the way it impacts disadvantaged groups reveals more and more about society’s inequalities. 

The pandemic has erased years of economic progress in Spain where the country is in its worst recession in over 80 years and that is felt most heavily by its poorest citizens. Many Spaniards are falling through the cracks with little to no financial aid and have become dependent on food banks and receiving hand-outs to make ends meet. 

Unemployment in Spain, and in many nations around the world, is at an all-time high and the effects of the shattered economy will be felt by its most disadvantaged people for years to come. According to government figures released in May, seven million people (almost 30% of Spain’s workforce) are now depending on state aid, and some of Spain’s hardest-hit casualties are revealed to be immigrants, migrant workers and those with low income.

The European Food Banks Federation (FEBA) has seen the number of beneficiaries skyrocket amid the pandemic and have struggled to keep up with the new demand. This has been made even worse by the fact that many food banks faced sudden drops or highs in surplus food, lack of volunteers and financial resources, and disruptions in their logistics due to lockdowns.

Members of the Spanish Red Cross prepare food for families in need at a food bank, as part of a special food distribution campaign, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Ronda, southern Spain, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

And it’s not just the most disadvantaged groups of populations who have found themselves unemployed and relying on hand-outs. The pandemic has affected dozens of our youth, with figures showing that young people in the UK are the most likely to lose employment. According to the health.org.uk article ‘The Same Pandemic, Unequal Impacts’ one in three 18-24-year-olds have been furloughed or have lost their jobs which is twice the rate of working-age adults.

This article also highlights that people living in the poorest areas of the UK are at a higher risk from COVID-19. With the opposite being true for the country’s affluent. Finding that those in the most affluent areas are 50% less likely to die from COVID-19 than those in the poorest areas.

Black and Other Ethnic Minority Groups

According to research conducted by ONS, there is clear evidence that black and minority ethnic groups are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than the rest of the population. In a study conducted between March and April of 2020 researchers at the health foundation in the UK found that the likelihood of COVID-19 related death is more than four times higher for people of black ethnicity than those of white ethnicity. 

Furthermore, the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre also showed that 34% of COVID-19-related admissions to intensive care were for ethnic minority people, while they only account for 13% of the population of England and Wales. This research leaves us to conclude that not only are black and other ethnic minorities dying from COVID-19 more rapidly than the rest of the population but also, when they do contract the virus, they have an increased risk of having a severe infection.

So, why is this happening? One factor that is contributing to these statistics is that people from black and minority ethnic groups are likely to have been more exposed to the virus in the first place. Black and minority ethnic communities tend to live in more densely populated urban areas where the virus has spread fastest, and are more likely to be key workers. Additionally, some minority ethnic groups are more likely to live in over-crowded accommodation increasing the risk of transmission within households. 

Experts also point to racism as a fundamental cause, affecting health in multiple ways. A strong evidence base has demonstrated that racial discrimination affects people’s life chances through, for example, restricting access to education and employment opportunities. Meaning that black and minority ethnic groups tend to have poorer socioeconomic circumstances which lead to poorer health outcomes.

So, What can we do to Help?

It is clear that black and minority ethnic groups are being hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others, and that the virus is exacerbating existing inequalities in our society. A step to tackling this issue is to simply find out more. More research is needed into the different dimensions as to how and why these inequalities are impacting our communities, in order to take the right steps to help.

“If policy responses to COVID-19 are to benefit black and ethnic minority communities as much as others, there is a real need for future studies to consider fundamental, societal issues – such as the role of racial discrimination and economic disadvantage – in how they theorise and measure the impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minority communities. There is also a need for any studies to value insights from ethnic minority community members themselves, that researchers reflect the diversity of the communities they are studying, and to ensure that black and minority ethnic participants are meaningfully involved in the research effort.” – health.org.uk

According to the European Commission, people of African descent see a particularly strong disconnect between the quality of their employment and their level of education, manifesting in a lower-paid work rate among those with a tertiary degree compared to the general population. Furthermore, there is evidence that candidates who openly identify as Muslim in their curriculum vitae receive fewer invitations to job interviews compared to equally qualified candidates with a ‘religiously neutral’ curriculum vitae. These inequalities may be the first stepping stone in the pathway that leads to the pandemic inequalities we see today.

The crux of many of the effects from this ‘other pandemic’ can be addressed by everyone, but particularly by policymakers who can pave the way for equal health and equal lives. Below I have listed some links for further reading and more ways to get involved in tackling this other pandemic, together we can make a difference. Because it’s enough that we have to fight one pandemic, there really shouldn’t be two.

Further Reading/More Ways to Help:

Author: Jessica Milsom

Jess is a marketer at SPEAK. She is from England, Shanghai, The Netherlands, Taiwan, and now Portugal. But actually, don’t ask her where she is from, it’s a long story. She is a good listener, an open-minded communicator, and a fruitful debater. And her favourite pastime is watching k-pop music videos with a warm cup of tea.

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