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Government steps to protect ethnic minorities from Covid disparities not enough, says IPPR

Think tank urges faster and further action now to save lives from second wave of pandemic this winter 

Today the government is unveiling its first response to the wide inequalities in the impact of Covid-19 on people from ethnic minority communities – just days after a IPPR and the Runnymede Trust highlighted the full extent of the disparity. 

The think tanks’ joint research found that: 

  • If the white population faced the same risk as the black population, at least 58,000 more people in England and Wales would have died from the virus during the first wave; while 35,000 more would have died if the risk was the same as for the south Asian population. 
  • After stripping out the effects of age and sex, at least 2,500 black and south Asian deaths could have been avoided during the first wave of the pandemic if those populations did not experience a higher risk of death from Covid-19.  
  • Only a small proportion of the higher risk these communities face can be explained by variations in underlying health conditions. 
  • Main factors are likely to be unequal social conditions (such as occupation and housing), unequal access to healthcare, and the structural and institutional racism that underpins them. 

The think tanks called on the government to take urgent steps this winter to reduce the disproportionate ethnic minority death toll during the second wave of the pandemic. (See notes below). 

The government’s measures are a welcome first step, says IPPR, but fall far short of what is needed. 

Dr Parth Patel, IPPR research fellow and an A&E doctor during the first wave of the pandemic, who was lead author of this week’s report, said: 

“This report is welcome, but the measures announced are not even close to the size of the inequality we’re talking about. 

“We asked the government to support Covid Champion schemes, but as part of a more comprehensive winter funding package for all local authorities. Similarly, more tailored messaging is important, but information alone doesn’t work if your living and working conditions make you more exposed to the virus” 

“The government says they have ‘prioritised protecting the most vulnerable in our society’ – they haven’t. If they had, they’d better funding local teams, they’d provide more support for people to self-isolate, and they’d make sure everyone can use the NHS this winter” 

“We need more research – of course we do – we need to highlight every aspect of structural racism. But when did waiting for the most precise, perfect evidence become good policymaking? The government needs to stop prevaricating when it comes to black and minority ethnic people’s lives” 

“The government’s updating it’s shielding list to encompass ethnicity as a risk factor – why isn’t it also updating it’s testing system?” 



1. The joint IPPR and Runnymede Trust paper, Ethnic inequalities in Covid-19 are playing out again – how can we stop them? by Parth Patel, Alba Kapoor and Nick Treloar, was published on Monday and is available at: The IPPR report Care fit for carers can be found here: 

2. Among the urgent steps it called for are:  

  • Include ethnicity as an independent risk factor alongside occupation and underlying health conditions when deciding priority for limited testing.  
  • Offer temporary accommodation to all people who need to isolate but cannot do so due to their living conditions.  
  • Ensure that isolation pay support, worth £500 to low-paid workers, is available to all, including people without immigration status and the 1.4 million whose visas currently allow them no recourse to public funds.  
  • Stop charging patients to use the NHS during this crisis, under the ‘hostile environment’ aimed at deterring undocumented migrants, as this regime embeds racism and exclusion into public services and discourages a wider range of minority ethnic people from seeking timely medical help.  
  • Send clearer and better targeted messaging to encourage all vulnerable populations to seek healthcare in a timely manner.  
  • Introduce emergency health protection funding for local authorities this winter. 

3. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence. 

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