Zarah Sultana MP: 'This terrible virus is highlighting inequalities'

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

by Zarah Sultana MP

Covid-19 affects us all. Anyone can catch it, anyone can spread it. But that doesn’t mean it affects us equally.

Economic and social conditions change the likelihood of catching it and the effects it will have on you.

At one extreme, billionaires bought luxury bunkers to escape the virus and tests from private health clinics. Covid-19 impacts them, but their wealth lets them minimise its risks.

Similarly, many well-paid, secure jobs can be readily done from home, reducing the risk of catching the virus.

But at the other end of the economic spectrum, if you’re in precarious work, on a low income, live in overcrowded housing, or have an underlying health condition, you’re more likely to catch the virus and be badly affected by it if you do.

And structural inequality means these things are disproportionately true of Black and Asian people.

Black and Asian people with degrees are underrepresented in graduate level jobs and instead are much more likely to be in precarious work.

For example, 94 per cent of private hire drivers in London are from Black and minority ethnic communities, but many of these workers aren’t supported by the government’s income protection scheme. That forces them to continue working.

Similarly, poverty rates are twice as high for Black and Asian communities. If you’re poor and you get ill, you don’t have savings to rely on and with statutory sick pay so low, people have no choice but to work. 

These economic conditions also mean that disproportionate numbers of Black and Asian people live in overcrowded households, as government figures show, leaving people exposed to more potential carriers of the virus.

And many health conditions have economic determinants, explaining why poorer people are more likely to have heart disease and diabetes – which are also conditions that make you more vulnerable to Covid-19.

These factors will be a major reason why recent research has found that more than a third of critically ill Covid-19 patients are Black and Asian, nearly three times the 13 per cent proportion in the UK proportion.

This terrible virus is highlighting inequalities. It’s exposing the fact that Black and Asian people are particularly let down by our economic system.

It’s also showing us that our key workers aren’t bankers or city traders, but nurses, carers, supermarket assistants, and delivery drivers – in short, the multiracial working class.

As we look beyond the crisis, we should be spurred on to building a society liberated from the inequalities that have held us back for too long. This is a struggle against injustice – economic and racial – and it’s a struggle that Black and Asian people must be central to.

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