The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the UK’s human rights watchdog, has launched an inquiry into why lower-paid health and social care workers from ethnic minority backgrounds are more at risk of coronavirus infection.
It will seek to understand how certain ethnic minority groups in the lowest paid roles, such as care assistants, porters and cleaners, have seen a relatively high Covid-19 infection rate, and what work factors – including conditions, policies and training – may have contributed to this.
Workers more vulnerable to Covid-19
It also hopes to establish whether immigration status or any protected characteristics other than ethnicity have had an impact on the likelihood of Covid-19 infection.
“The pandemic has exposed racial inequality across the country. We know that ethnic minority groups are over-represented in lower-paid roles and the effect of the pandemic on those working in these jobs in health and social care is a life and death issue,” said Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC chief executive.
“We need to understand the structural issues which have left people from a range of ethnic minorities at greater risk. This inquiry will help to answer those questions and make recommendations that can be applied to a number of other working environments where ethnic minorities are over-represented at the lowest paid levels.
“This includes those on the frontline who have been supporting all of us through the immense challenges we have faced this year.”
The inquiry will look at the experiences of ethnic minority workers from 1 January 2019 to date, considering a range of factors including employment status (whether secure, precarious or insecure); hours of work and breaks; access to information and equipment; policies including those dealing with sickness and grievances; statutory employment rights including eligibility for sick pay; workplace experience and culture; opportunities for training and progression; knowledge of workplace rights and access to support including managers, occupational health, complaints processes and trade unions.
The institutions that commission and run the services these workers provide, such as the NHS, local authorities, umbrella bodies and private sector firms, will also be considered.
A call for evidence and further details about the inquiry’s external advisory panel will be announced over the coming weeks.
Under the NHS People Plan for 2020-21, NHS employers are required to complete a risk assessment for all vulnerable staff, including black, Asian and minority ethnic workers, and take action to reduce the risk the virus poses to them.