Covid-19: Disparate Impact - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 27th October 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) (Minister for Women), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 6:00 pm, 27th October 2020

My Lords, I welcome this review and quarterly report, which has been published and sent to the Prime Minister, who has endorsed its recommendations, as the noble Baronesses said. First, I pay tribute to the enormous number of NHS workers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, it is not the case, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, that we know the evidence. We know that there are disparities but, even now, we do not fully know the cause of them. We know much more about the disease and those disparities than we did three months ago, but the picture is not complete. With £4.3 million, we have funded six further research projects, because we need to understand what is causing these disparities.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that the healthcare plans for the NHS, facing the second wave of the epidemic, particularly the plans for the extremely clinically vulnerable, will take into account the evidence from this report and the PHE review of the disparities. It is important and has been accepted that death certification must include data on ethnicity. There is cross-government data sharing on this now, which is how some of this data will be used. That group also works with PHE and the Office for National Statistics, which is our expert on statistical data. We are monitoring the policies of at least 10 departments to see how they are affecting ethnic minority communities.

We have been listening to local government and we are aware that public health is part of local government’s responsibility. Some £25 million is going to be targeted to specific local authorities where we are aware that the public health messaging has not necessarily penetrated to grass-roots level. In addition to the action that has been taken, we are funding community champions with links with the grass-roots to build on those communities and ensure that the message is getting out, because communication and awareness is so important here. The Government have also reached 5 million people through social media influencers to try to ensure that black and minority ethnic communities have awareness raised. Billions of pounds has also been given to local government, much of which is not ring-fenced.

On the review of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, I pay tribute to her work. I will be sending that review to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which has a call for evidence at the moment and is dealing with other matters of structural inequality. Many of the recommendations made in that review have already been enacted: the NHS, for instance, has purchased over 2,000 powered respirators so that healthcare clinicians, such as Sikhs who wear turbans, can be protected when wearing a mask is not possible. Much of what is outlined in risk assessments in the workplace is already in health and safety law and enforced through the Health and Safety Executive. However, there have been two updates since the public health report in June on guidance in the workplace—one in July and one in September—outlining the responsibility of employers to risk-assess their workplaces to ensure that precautions are taken in relation to Covid risks.

We have also responded to specific risks for black and minority ethnic populations, for whom disparities are caused by socioeconomic and geographical factors but also by occupation. That is why it is now compulsory to wear a face covering in a private hire vehicle; that specific protection was changed. Also, the advice relating to the hospitality sector has changed, so specific action has been taken.

Of course, there are other groups in society for whom there are disparities. The two main factors associated with Covid are age and gender, but there are issues around those with disabilities. Dr Emran Mian is leading the wider piece of government work on Covid disparities. I will have to write to the noble Baroness about the specific timing of the local government light-touch review so that we can learn from best practice. There is a specific health adviser in relation to LGBT issues.

As I outlined at the start, unlike in most workplaces, where the workplace itself is assessed, the NHS is assessing staff, particularly BAME staff, who are at the front line. Over the summer, 95% of BAME NHS workers have been individually risk-assessed, so the NHS is taking its responsibility seriously.

On public health information, there has been increased language translation of public health messaging, particularly the recent “Hands, Face, Space,” which seems to have reached different communities better.

Unfortunately, it would not take just a few weeks to publish risk assessments of all employers on a government portal; we are talking about millions and millions of workplaces. When I send a report to the commission, I will look at the recommendation from the Lawrence report. It is not a simple overnight fix. The work of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities remains open and that information will be passed on.

Turning to the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, about women, there have been significant support schemes. There are 1.7 million self-employed women in this country, and there have been specific initiatives such as self-employed income protection and investment in businesses started by women. We have seen a greater take-up of investment in companies set up by mixed gender groups. In fact, it accounts for 82% of the Future Fund, which is £720 million. By way of comparison, the Female Founders Fund report said that only 10% goes to mixed gender groups. So, we are focused on that issue.

On the question of women and the pandemic, we have given enormous support to the childcare sector. The entitlements money, £3.6 billion a year, has been given to those providers regardless of the number of children who are actually going through the door. That is carrying on until the end of the year to support those businesses, many of which are female-owned.

So, we have taken action on this issue; we have not rested on our laurels. We have more evidence now as to the cause of these disparities but, as I say, the picture is not yet complete. I will update the House further when there is more evidence.