Class and race are the biggest factors in determining those that have died or been taken ill by Covid-19, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Tuesday 2 June).
Unite called for a raft of policies to tackle the ‘systemic failures’ that has led to the disproportionate death toll amongst the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and also the poorest groups in society
The union was commenting on Public Health England’s report Disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid-19 which highlighted those groups that had been hardest hit in terms of mortality due to coronavirus.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This report shines a searing light that reveals the pandemic in the UK is intrinsically linked disproportionately to class and race.
“These wide disparities are detailed in this data and point to age, race and income and accompanying health inequalities as key determinants as to whom has been the worst affected by Covid-19.
“This has been amplified among those in undervalued occupations and jobs where zero hours’ contracts and precarious employment are the norm.
“Working hard to provide for your families is no defence against Covid-19 for these groups – these systemic failures need to be tackled urgently and that work should start now.
“No one policy size fits all, but such an agenda should include ethnically sensitive risk assessments and income guarantees for workers who through ‘test, track and trace’ would otherwise be reliant on statutory sick pay (SSP), while in isolation.
“The Real Living Wage should be the basic minimum for those in ‘at risk’ occupations as an interim measure, with a commitment to sectoral bargaining for care workers and the guarantee of the necessary funding.
“All these measures are achievable with government support. If austerity is over, as ministers claim, the best defence against the inequalities which the report exposes is to narrow the income gap and invest in public services with priority to social care.
“The pandemic has shown that the crisis in social care can no long be pushed into the political long grass. The lack of testing for residents and staff, and also the shortage of PPE, in care homes has wreaked a terrible toll on the elderly who have died in their thousands due to Covid-19.
“Social care can no longer be regarded as the poor relation when it comes to funding from the budgets of central and local government – a ministerial blueprint for social care should be a top priority as we emerge from the lockdown.
“Poverty is the parent of disease and Covid-19 has been a willing accomplice in this respect. Once this pandemic has passed, we need to look as a country anew to how we can recalibrate economic and social policies to create a fairer society.
“All these issues must be investigated in depth when the post-pandemic public inquiry takes place, which will be needed in the interests of accountability, openness and transparency.”
The PHE report said that those parts of UK society most affected included the elderly; Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) populations generally and those BAME NHS staff on the frontline in particular; those with underlying conditions, such as diabetes and dementia; those living in care homes; and those from deprived communities.
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.