Lib Dems, Labour act over ethnic minority coronavirus concerns

The UK’s two opposition parties are pressing for action over issues adversely affecting Britain’s black, Asian and ethnic minority communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to improve the diversity of journalists and media outlets invited to pose questions to No. 10 spokespersons “as a matter of priority.”

Separately, Labour’s new leader Sir Keir Starmer has appointed Baroness Doreen Lawrence as race relations adviser to the party. Her first task will be to  lead a review into the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

The veteran campaigner who came to prominence after her teenage son Stephen Lawrence was murdered by racists in 1993, review will examine why the virus appears to disproportionately impact those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

As reported by T-VINE on 7 April (UK Turkish coronavirus deaths top fifty, as report finds 1 in 3 COVID-19 critically ill patients are from ethnic minorities), a report by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre found that 35% of 1,966 critically ill patients with COVID-19 were from a BAME background, yet are only 13% of the UK population.

Official portrait of Keir Starmer, 2017,. Photo © Chris McAndrew, CC By 3.0

At the start of April, the Turkish Cypriot community also seemed to be disproportionately affected by the killer virus with 40 deaths, representing 0.7% of the national death toll, while the community is just 0.4% of the UK population.

At the virtual launch of the Labour review on Friday, 24 April, Sir Keir said it was “extremely concerning” to see the “disproportionate toll” coronavirus was having on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

“We cannot afford to treat this as an issue to investigate once the crisis is over. We must address it now,” he added.

The Government has also launched its own probe. The health service and Public Health England will review evidence after data on patients with confirmed COVID-19.

BAME staff make up 44 per cent of medical personnel and the first 10 doctors to die in Britain from COVID-19 were all from BAME communities, prompting the British Medical Association to call for an inquiry.

The failure to acknowledge the issue of higher BAME coronavirus deaths and the lack of diversity among media given access to Downing Street have been questioned by the Liberal Democrats

In a letter to the First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, 50 parliamentarians raised concerns about “newsrooms missing out on important stories” due to the lack of diversity in journalism at the No. 10 press conferences.

The call from Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrats Spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, has been supported by Lib Dems in both Houses, including all 11 MPs, and Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, the Lib Dem Spokesperson for Women and Equalities, Baroness Floella Benjamin and Lord Navnit Dholakia.

The letter stated:

“We are writing to ask that you urgently address the diversity of journalists and media outlets that are invited to ask questions at the daily No. 10 press briefings.

“It is well known that a lack of diversity in journalism can lead to newsrooms missing out on important stories. Diverse messengers and figureheads can also help build trust in the message. We believe that the No. 10 press conferences are failing in both regards.”

The letter also raised the disproportionate deaths among BAME communities:

“Whilst we recognise that a formal review has now been announced, this has only happened after more than 13,500 deaths. This issue might have been put to No. 10 earlier had there been greater diversity amongst the journalists and media outlets permitted to challenge the government on its daily statistics.”


Main image, top of Lib Dem Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece (left) and Labour Baroness Doreen Lawrence. Both photos © Roger Harris, CC By 3.0