Occupation a major factor in Covid's disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups, government study finds

Minister warns against ‘one size fits all’ fix because the pandemic affects different groups in different ways

Occupation is a major reason why ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, a government report has found.

The report from the Race Disparity Unit, part of the Cabinet Office, said working in roles in higher risk occupations, such as frontline NHS roles, was one of a number of factors that likely explained the high infection and mortality rate experienced by different ethnic minority groups.

Healthcare workers, indoor trade and transport workers in particular were at least twice as likely to test positive for antibodies during the second wave when compared to people employed in other professions, the report said, while the security industry also had a significantly higher risk of infection.

The report said people from Bangladeshi or Pakistani ethnic backgrounds alone accounted for more than one in 10 (11 per cent) male security officers.

Other factors that contributed to the higher risk faced by ethnic minority groups noted in the report included living with children in multigenerational households and living in densely-populated urban areas with higher levels of deprivation.

The report added that ethnicity itself wasn’t a risk factor, but noted that research has suggested that the majority (61 per cent) of people with South Asian ancestry carried a gene that doubled the risk of respiratory failure from the virus.

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Kemi Badenoch, Conservative MP and minister for equalities, said there were a number of public health lessons to be learned from the first waves of the pandemic. “We must continue to build trust with all communities including ethnic minorities, who remain less likely to be vaccinated than their white counterparts,” she said.

In a covering letter to the report, Badenoch also said it was important to avoid “stigmatising ethnic minorities by singling them out”, which she warned could mistakenly imply they are “inherently vulnerable or…  somehow at fault”.

“We must also avoid treating ethnic minorities as a homogenous group. Covid-19 has affected different ethnic groups in different ways and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to tackling these disparities is clearly not effective,” she added.

Throughout the pandemic there has been mounting evidence that individuals from ethnic minority groups are not only more vulnerable to the virus but, because they are disproportionately represented in sectors where home working was not possible, or where jobs were low paid and insecure, they have also faced more of an economic burden.

Research released earlier this year suggested that ethnic minority workers were three times more likely to have had their hours cut during the pandemic than white workers.