Coronavirus: Matt Hancock accused of ‘empty rhetoric’ after ethnic minorities deaths report includes no recommendations

Health secretary under fire after long-awaited study confirms 'death rates were highest among people of Black and Asian ethnic groups' – but no action is announced

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 02 June 2020 14:38
Tulip Siddiq demands 'concrete action' not 'empty rhetoric' on BAME deaths

Matt Hancock has been accused of “empty rhetoric” after an official study confirmed higher ethnic minority deaths from coronavirus – but failed to set out how ministers would prevent them.

MPs hit out at the health secretary in the Commons after the long-awaited report concluded “death rates were highest among people of Black and Asian ethnic groups”.

Mr Hancock ducked a call to issue fresh guidance immediately to local hospitals to protect ethnic minority staff – instead asking the equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, to consider next steps.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth described the Public Health England analysis as “a call to action”, telling the health secretary he must act having “seen the findings”.

“What action will be taken to minimise risk for black, Asian and ethnic minority people?” he demanded to know, speaking in the Commons.

And Tulip Siddiq, a Labour MP, condemned “empty rhetoric” when “concrete steps” were needed “so no more people from my community’s lives are lost”.

David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, tweeted: “Confirmation: Black and Asian ethnic groups are up to twice as likely to die from covid-19.

“Families are living in fear. There must be no more delay. The government must take urgent action to protect at-risk groups.”

In the Commons, Mr Hancock told MPs: “Black lives matter, as do those of the poorest areas of our country which have worse health outcomes, and we need to make sure all of these considerations are taken into account.”

However, he said the analysis had not considered factors such as obesity and other health conditions, arguing: “There is much more work to do to understand the key drivers of these disparities.”

The report concluded:

* People of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death as white British people, after accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region.

* People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity had between 10 and 50 per cent higher risk of death.

* The largest disparity was by age – with “people who were 80 or older seventy times more likely to die than those under 40”.

* The risk of dying was also “higher in males than females” and “higher in those living in the more deprived areas”.

* Deaths were “particularly high” in social care, nursing, taxi and minicab drivers and security guards.

Mr Hancock said: “This work underlines that being black or from a minority ethnic background is a major risk factor. This racial disparity holds even after accounting for the effect of age, deprivation, region and sex.”

However, he added: “There is much more work to do to understand the key drivers of these disparities, the relationships between the different risk factors and what we can do to close the gap.”

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