Race Equality First: “As COVID restrictions ease, we expect the pandemic to reveal a deep scar on Black and Ethnic Minority communities”

06 May 2021

Race Equality First (REF) was established in 1976 the same year that new legislation under the Race Relations Act was introduced. The organisation spearheaded campaigns to tackle racial discrimination and support people who had been discriminated against across Wales.

In January 2020, REF received £26,820 in funding from People’s Health Trust, using money raised by Health Lottery Wales. The funding was provided in support of a project in Newport, South Wales which established three weekly user-led groups providing social activities for local people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities who already attend weekly ESOL and IT sessions run by the organisation.

As part of the project, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic residents in Newport set up their own social activities with objectives of reducing social isolation, increasing confidence, and empowering people to be active in their local community.

One activity set up by men from different faith groups and ethnic minority backgrounds in the community was a badminton group. The badminton sessions provided an opportunity for people in the local area to form social connections. As social connections were built, project participants felt empowered to share their experiences of racial discrimination and seek advice from REF on tackling discrimination they had faced.

When Wales went into lockdown in March 2020, the badminton group and other activities that had been set up by the community had to stop. REF have been tackling health inequalities for over 40 years and knew that the COVID-19 virus and outcomes of the pandemic were likely to have significant impacts on Black and Minority Ethnic communities.


Within the first two weeks of the first lockdown, REF reached out to 2000 people who their organisation support via phone and began setting up WhatsApp groups. Project participants felt the impacts of the pandemic immediately as many of them were working in frontline roles, and faith groups were cut off from their communities of support.

It became clear to REF that health messaging was not reaching people from all cultures due to a lack of culturally engaging material and an existing lack of trust within Black and Minority Ethnic communities. These WhatsApp groups enabled residents to share information with each other about lockdown rules, the impacts of the virus and where to seek support.

During the pandemic existing inequalities based on race and ethnicity were highlighted through the impact of COVID-19 on Black and Minority Ethnic people. COVID-19 death rates were higher for Black and Asian ethnic groups compared to White ethnic groups. ONS analysis from England and Wales showed that, when taking age into account, Black males were 4.2 times more likely to die from a COVID-19-related death than White males.

In Newport, REF saw the impacts of long-standing discrimination and inequality firsthand. There is only one foodbank in Newport which provides culturally diverse food parcels and so REF worked with community kitchens to provide suitable food. They also supported families with no recourse to public funds and people in the community who had lost work and income.

Throughout the pandemic, people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities in Newport have reported rises in hate crimes and discrimination from neighbours, worsening mental health issues, difficulty accessing technology to study and financial insecurity.

REF, have raised concerns about the long lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sy Joshua, Advice Service Manager with REF, said:

“We knew going into the pandemic that people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities were going to be disproportionately impacted and we were sadly proved right. From the outset we needed more support for different cultures through better health messaging and access to services.

As COVID restrictions ease, we expect it to reveal a deep scar on ethnic minority communities. We have been raising awareness of the deep rooted inequalities that exist in Wales for over 40 years and we hope that this will be a wake up call to governments and policy makers.

Now more than ever communities need to be empowered and given the resources to tackle discrimination and systemic inequalities.”

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