Article reprinted from the UK Guardian newspaper 1 May
IFS report says number of UK deaths looks disproportionate in most ethnic minority groups
The death rate among British black Africans and British Pakistanis from coronavirus in English hospitals is more than 2.5 times that of the white population, according to stark analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
The highly respected thinktank also found that deaths of people from a black Caribbean background were 1.7 times higher than for white Britons.
NHS England figures published last week showed that hospital deaths per 100,000 among British people of a black Caribbean background were three times the equivalent number among the majority white British population. However, unlike previous analysis, the IFS research, published on Friday, strips out the role of age, gender and geography and shows that they do not explain the disparities.
Far higher numbers of people from black Caribbean backgrounds have died from Covid-19 per 100,000 people than other ethnic groups
Ross Warwick, a research economist at IFS and co-author of the report said: “When you account for the fact that most minority groups are relatively young overall, the number of deaths looks disproportionate in most ethnic minority groups. There is unlikely to be a single explanation here and different factors may be more important for different groups. For instance, while black Africans are particularly likely to be employed in key worker roles which might put them at risk, older Bangladeshis appear vulnerable on the basis of underlying health conditions.”
Accounting for differences in age, sex and geography, the IFS found deaths of British black Africans background to be 3.5 times those of the white British population and British Pakistani deaths to be 2.7 times as high.
Examining the possible reasons, it says that a third of all working-age Black Africans are employed in key worker roles, 50% more than the share of the White British population. Additionally it says Pakistani, Indian and Black African men are respectively 90%, 150% and 310% more likely to work in healthcare than white British men.
Two-thirds of British Bangladeshi men over the age of 60 have a long-term health condition that would put them at particular risk from infection, while underlying health conditions are also especially prevalent among older people of a Pakistani or black Caribbean background, according to the report.
Concerns have been growing about the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people since figures published earlier this month showed that 35% of almost 2,000 Covid-19 patients in intensive care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were non-white, compared with 14% of the population of England and Wales, according to the 2011 census. Fears were fuelled by the fact that the first 10 doctors with the virus reported to have died were also BAME.
After the head of the British Medical Association told the Guardian an inquiry was necessary to get to the bottom of the disparities, the government obliged a week later, although it has yet to reveal the terms of reference or timescale.
Further statistics showing up disparities have since come to light. The Guardian revealed last week that minority groups were over-represented by as much as 27% in the overall Covid-19 death toll. Additionally, 63% of the first 106 health and social care staff known to have died from the virus were black or Asian, according to the Health Service Journal.
While cultural practices and genetics have been mooted as possible explanations for the disparities, higher levels of social deprivation have also been mooted as a cause and the IFS warns that some ethnic groups look more likely than others to suffer economically from the lockdown.
In older age brackets, people from Bangladeshi backgrounds are much more likely to report one or more long-term, ‘at-risk’ health problems
Professor Lucinda Platt, from LSE and report co-author said: “There are striking differences in economic vulnerability between ethnic groups. Bangladeshi men are four times as likely as White British men to have jobs in shutdown industries, with Pakistani men nearly three times as likely; and household savings are lower than average among Black Africans, Black Caribbeans and Bangladeshis. By contrast Indians and the largely foreign-born Other White group do not seem to be facing disproportionate economic risks.”
Dr Zubaida Haque, deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, praised the report and said it was important it recognised different ethnic groups have different socio-economic factors affecting them.
“It is bringing into sharp relief the health and economic inequalities among ethnic minorities, which Runnymede trust have been saying is absolutely critical to understanding why some ethnic minority groups are bearing the brunt of Covid-19,” she said. “But I think we need to go a step further and say it’s not enough to just observe and recognise that. The government needs to think about what more it can do, right now, on top of the review it commissioned, to buffer the health and economic vulnerabilities that ethnic minorities are much more exposed to.”