Blog: A major disappointment – but just the latest for Black people

Gloria Mills, UNISON equalities national secretary, on why the report into the impact of COVID-19 on Black people is a “major disappointment”

We must recommit to fight racism in all its forms – that was the very clear message from UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis last week after the murder of George Floyd and the events in the US.

It was a call supported by Kebbah Manneh, chair of the UNISON’s national Black members’ committee, and echoed by everyone on the committee.

The reaction to the murder of George Floyd coincided with the publication of the Public Health England (PHE) report into the increased risks and deaths experienced by Black people in the UK as a result of coronavirus.

This report was eagerly awaited as its terms of reference promised action to deal with the disproportionate impact we knew that COVID-19 has had on Black frontline workers and communities.

Over 60% of NHS workers who have died from coronavirus are from Black communities, rising to over 90% of doctors.

Earlier reports from the Office for National Statistics and the Institute for Fiscal Studies had already highlighted the impact of social deprivation and inequalities as key factors with clear evidence that coronavirus seems to thrive on inequality.

But this report makes no recommendations – not one – to deal with racial and health inequalities or protect Black communities from the disproportionate impact of COVID-19.

The PHE report is a major disappointment. It is an absolute failure by this government to take action after weeks of inaction on this issue.

However, it should come as no surprise to UNISON’s Black members or the wider Black community as it repeats a familiar pattern of failure by public institutions to act in any serious or committed way to protect the interests of Black communities.

We have just seen that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – the regulator for equality in the country – has been forced, in the face of mounting pressure, to use its statutory powers to address the structural racial inequalities that COVID-19 has made so prominent.

The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating – especially for those who have lost loved ones, for frontline workers and for families on low pay.

This is why we cannot wait for the government to take action.

UNISON is calling on its members to raise this matter with their MPs as a matter of urgency and to continue to press their employers to conduct proper health and safety risk assessments and to make sure that their staff at most risk are protected.