Black History Month 2021: The importance of communities in the COVID-19 recovery

Over the past year the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 have become clearer. In this blog Media and Communications Officer, Holly Beattie, looks at the evidence highlighting the unequal negative impact decisions during COVID-19 have had on black people and the experiences of one of our funded partners in Wales. She argues that communities must be at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery in order to tackle these inequalities.

Black History Month is celebrated every October in the UK. As well as a time to learn and celebrate black history, it is also a time to reflect on ways to tackle existing barriers in our society contributing to structural racism, discrimination and inequality faced by black people.

The first lockdown in response to COVID-19 in England, Wales and Scotland happened in March 2020. Shortly after, reports that more people from non-white backgrounds were dying from the virus began to emerge. In May 2020, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that black people were more than four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people.

In August 2020, Public Health England released their report ‘Disparities in the risks and outcomes of COVID-19’ which found that people of black ethnic groups had the highest rates of COVID-19 infections. Some of the causing factors listed in this report were that black people and other minoritised ethnic people were “more likely to live in urban areas, in overcrowded households, in deprived areas, and have jobs that expose them to higher risk”.

In May 2021, Sy Joshua, Advice Service Manager for our Active Communities funded partner Race Equality First in Wales, 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.”

Beyond the complex issues relating to higher death rates amongst black communities, Race Equality First found that their project participants were also disproportionately impacted by barriers to education, financial security and food as well as facing greater direct discrimination during the pandemic. The Welsh organisation stepped in to provide support in areas that statutory services were not reaching.

For example, there is only one foodbank in Newport which provides culturally diverse food parcels and so Race Equality First 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 reported rises in hate crimes and discrimination from neighbours, worsening mental health issues, difficulty accessing technology to study, and financial insecurity.

As we start to look ahead to the social and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the unequal impacts of the last two years are becoming more clear. Data from April 2021 found that unemployment amongst young black workers was 40 per cent, three times higher than young white workers. In the first nine months of the pandemic the unemployment rate of young black people rose by 64.4% compared with 17% for their white counterparts.

Our funded partners have shown incredible resilience during the pandemic and most have taken on even more responsibilities such as providing food parcels, mental health support, and welfare and housing advice.

Without the expertise of communities, the inequalities we have seen exacerbated throughout the pandemic will remain unaddressed. As the COVID-19 recovery gets underway, the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities begins work to tackle health inequalities, and in the wake of the The Civil Society report on the state of race and racism in England, it is important that policy makers listen to the people and community groups who have been tackling these issues first-hand about what resources and changes they need to see.

As Sy Joshua from Race Equality First told us:

“As COVID restrictions ease, we expect it to reveal a deep scar on ethnic minority communities. Now more than ever communities need to be empowered and given the resources to tackle discrimination and systemic inequalities.”

Race Equality First has been active in tackling racial inequalities and discrimination for 40 years. The depth of knowledge and expertise of organisations like this about what their community needs will be essential for the government and local policy makers to understand where resources are most needed.

The inequalities impacting black people must be considered beyond Black History Month. Working alongside those facing racial discrimination would help ensure that these important issues are no longer overlooked and unaddressed.

Find out more about Black History Month and taking part in the new Proud to Be campaign.