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The Life or Death Consequences of Prejudice and Discrimination

MU Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Official John Shortell explains why “now is exactly the time to talk about difference and about inequality,” and the disparities which the Coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus.

Published: 12 May 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:30 PM
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People from marginalised and disadvantaged groups who already experience poorer outcomes are being disproportionally affected by the current situation. Photo credit: Shutterstock

We keep hearing the same phrases reiterated by MP’s and the Prime Minister, that this virus “doesn’t discriminate”, how the virus is a “great leveller” and that we’re all in this together. These phrases, whilst I’m sure are intended to bring people together, are not only untrue but completely fail to recognise that not everyone is starting from the same place.

At the moment there’s a sense that anyone working in equalities will recognise – that now is not the time to be talking about such things as equality, diversity and inclusion. That there are more important, immediate things to be discussed.

But now is exactly the time to talk about difference and about inequality. We can’t pretend that the impact of this virus will be felt equally across different social groups. It will not, and that has already started to show.

Significant disparities between communities that existed before Coronavirus have now been brought into sharp focus in a way that hasn’t happened before, and people from marginalised and disadvantaged groups who already experience poorer outcomes are being disproportionally affected by the current situation.

Socio-economic background is one of the biggest risk factors

Socio-economic background has been identified as one of the biggest risk factors for contracting and experiencing severe health and economic outcomes from the virus. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed that the death rate from the Coronavirus in deprived areas of England is more than double of more affluent areas.

Long term causes of socio-economic disadvantage, such as years of austerity and cuts to public services have left working people in poverty, forced to access food banks and faced with lower life expectancy and lack of access to education.

People that face discrimination because of a protected characteristic, such as sex, race or disability, are significantly over-represented amongst the most socio-economically disadvantaged.

There’s a section of the Equality Act 2010 that specifically deals with socio-economic disadvantage that has never been implemented, Section 1 the Socio-economic Duty. The MU have lobbied for the implementation of socio-economic duty as part of our access to music education campaigning.

The socio-economic duty could had made a difference had it been in force, as it would have required consideration on whether policies in relation to housing, homelessness and disaster planning were robust enough to address the Coronavirus crisis.

LGBT+ communities are facing risks at home

Younger LGBT+ people have reported having to move back in with LGBT+-phobic families, and the LGBT Foundation have experienced a 70% increase in calls to their helpline about transphobia and 36% more calls about homophobia. The Albert Kennedy Trust has advised people to reassess if you they should come out to their families at this time.

LGBT+-phobic families are one of the reasons LGBT+ people make up 25% of the UK’s homeless population. 30% of LGBT+ homeless people cite LGBT+-phobic family as their main reason for living on the streets.

Homeless people are more likely to experience ill health and less likely to be able to self-isolate. As we’ve heard during the Coronavirus crisis, some homeless people have experienced issues accessing healthcare because they don’t have a fixed address.

BAME communities are at higher risk of death

There have been reports of BAME communities being more at risk of death from Coronavirus, and some of the reasons for that still aren’t clear. What is clear is that racism and disadvantage are a contributing factor.

Underlying health conditions that disproportionally affect BAME communities are just one of the reasons cited for an increased risk of death, many of these conditions are linked to poverty caused by deeply rooted prejudices in our society.

BAME communities are some of the poorest communities in the UK and are more likely to work in lower paid, frontline jobs. Many in these communities won’t have the option to work from home, putting themselves and their families at a heightened risk of contracting Coronavirus.

Combine this increased risk of exposure with the fact that BAME communities are more likely to live in overcrowded housing – and this means it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to self-isolate to stop the virus spreading throughout their families.

Disabled people could be losing access to care and to work

Disabled people are some of the poorest people in the UK and are much more likely to be dependent on social care.

Austerity economics have eroded the social care sector to the extent that some disabled people have not been receiving even essential care. Only now this is becoming apparent to wider society as we hear about issues such as lack of staff and lack of PPE for carers and personal assistants.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 is piece of legislation that was rushed through to give the Government emergency powers to cope with the Coronavirus crisis. The Act contains a clause that allows Local Authorities to suspend duties to provide care for disabled people unless it is a breach of their human rights.

In reality, the situation would have to be extremely severe for it to qualify as a breach of human rights, meaning disabled people could be left with minimal or no support. In a time of crisis, it seems unimaginable that the Government would remove care and support from those who need it most.

Disabled people who are self-employed may lose Access to Work grants if they claim Employment Support Allowance or Universal Credit.

Access to Work grants are an essential part of disabled people overcoming the barriers they face finding work and in the workplace. Losing the grants would mean having to apply again, a process that is complicated for freelancers and can take up to six weeks.

Women face losing out to the Government’s support schemes

We’ve already covered how women and new parents will be disadvantaged by gaps in the SEISS scheme and we are encouraging members to sign this petition calling on the Government to stop short changing self-employed mums. Those gaps have exposed how the Government has not considered a gendered response to their support.

Women are more likely to be in low paid, insecure work and the majority of key workers in the highest risk roles are women. The majority of caring responsibilities still fall on women, and because of the closure of schools and nurseries, women are having to give up work or reduce their hours significantly.

Domestic abuse charities have reported a huge surge in demand for their services since the lockdown was imposed. In recent years millions of pounds have been cut from spending on refuges, leaving them unable to cope even before the pandemic hit.

Women’s Aid research has revealed that the sector needs urgent support to cover costs over the next six months to ensure that domestic abuse services are able to continue running and meet the needs of those accessing support.

Prejudice and discrimination has life or death consequences

Coronavirus has and will continue to have an unprecedented effect on the daily lives of everyone. However, the impact of the virus is bringing existing inequalities to the attention of wider society and we need to have an honest conversation about how prejudice and discrimination has life or death consequences.

The Government must review the impact of Coronavirus on marginalised and disadvantaged groups as a matter of urgency, and be held accountable for the policy choices that have disproportionately affected those groups. The review must be independent, transparent and engage directly with the communities impacted.

The problems we’re seeing now are caused by long term equality issues and there won’t be a short-term solution, but this could be a huge opportunity to consider equality, diversity and inclusion when we begin to rebuild society and to implement the things we’d like to see.

Take action now

It is vital that no musicians are left to fall through the cracks by the Government’s support schemes.

Ask the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to protect all self-employed workers, and ensure no musician is left behind.

You can use our template letter if you're not sure what to say. Remember to include how you are affected too. Personal stories make all the difference.

Write to Rishi now, see our advice on how.

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