unequal impact of covid19 on minorities and migrants report cover
Published On: 27 July 2023Tags: , ,

Today, the Race Equality Foundation unveils a groundbreaking report shedding light on the
disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on disempowered ethnic minority and
migrant communities. The report’s findings strongly indicate that evidence-based and
responsive policies could have significantly mitigated the disparities in infection rates and
mortality among these marginalised populations. The Race Equality Foundation worked in
partnership with University College London, and charity Doctors of the World. The data in
the report is from research which was funded by the MRC, UKRI and NIHR.

The comprehensive study reveals the following key findings:

  • Increased Vulnerability: Depending on the ethnic group, individuals were found to
    be between 5 and 88 percent more likely to contract the virus. This alarming disparity
    underscores the urgent need for targeted interventions to address the specific
    challenges faced by these communities.
  • Disproportionate Mortality Rates: Black men were found to be twice as likely to die
    from COVID-19 compared to White British men during the first wave of the pandemic,
    with the likelihood increasing by 70 percent during the second wave. Additionally,
    people of South Asian heritage, constituting 1 in 13 of the population, accounted for 1
    in 10 of the fatalities. These statistics underscore the systemic inequities that
    contribute to differential health outcomes.
  • Excess Deaths: By April 2022, the end of community testing, Asian communities in
    England had over 10,500 excess deaths and Black communities almost 6,000. These
    are people who would likely have been alive were it not for the pandemic. Black and
    Asian communities had around a 23% higher risk of experiencing excess deaths and
    the same trend exists for other ethnic groups too.
  • Limited Access to Sick Pay: Black, Asian, and minority ethnic workers were found
    to have less access to sick pay, while undocumented workers had no access to it at
    all. This lack of financial protection not only compromised the health and wellbeing of
    individuals but also perpetuated the spread of the virus within these communities.
  • Inadequate Support Schemes: Many Black, Asian, and minority ethnic individuals
    reported limited support from existing schemes. This insufficiency exacerbated the
    economic and social hardships faced by these communities, hindering their ability to
    cope with the pandemic’s impact effectively.
  • Unequal Vaccination Coverage: The vaccination program failed to reach migrants
    and Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities adequately, leaving them without
    the same level of protection as their White British counterparts. This disparity
    threatened to prolong the pandemic and perpetuated health disparities among
    different demographic groups.

The report’s findings underscore the urgent need for evidence-based policies and practices
that prioritise the needs of Black, ethnic minority and migrant communities. It calls for a
comprehensive and inclusive approach that addresses the systemic barriers to healthcare
access, ensures equitable distribution of resources, and tackles the underlying social
determinants of health.

Jabeer Butt, Chief Executive, Race Equality Foundation, said:
“The government policy decisions made during the pandemic did not appreciate the impact
on existing inequality, and nothing was done to actively mitigate the risk of policies for certain
groups – eg. the call to work from home. Many people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic
backgrounds were in jobs that could not be done from home, and were more likely to live in
shared houses, high rises and have less access to green space and therefore had difficulties
isolating. They were then much more vulnerable to exposure to catching and passing on the

“Our report provides evidence on the unequal impacts of the pandemic on ethnic minority
and migrant communities. We want this report to be the springboard to policy making that
uses existing evidence to prioritise addressing inequality. Policy making that does not try to
explain away racial inequality but focuses on the action that will need to address the racism
that perpetuates it. And we need for this change to take place now, because the same
inequalities that led to increased infections and deaths, are exposing these communities to
comparatively poorer health every day. We sincerely hope that lessons from the pandemic
are reflected on, are learned, and these missteps are never repeated.”

Simon Tyler, Executive Director, Doctors of the World, said:
“The needless exclusion, disregard, and suffering of thousands of people living in the UK
during the COVID-19 pandemic has gone largely unnoticed, and needs to be addressed by
this government. For many years Doctors of the World UK has warned of the risk that
hostile migrant health policies present both to individual and public health. During the
pandemic, the government failed people who were most in need of help, leaving entire
communities without essential information or the resources to protect themselves. It also
failed the UK public with its short-sighted approach to healthcare in a time of crisis, focusing
on upholding barriers to vital services and their cruel anti-migrant agenda. Healthcare is a
human right. It was and remains the responsibility of those in power to ensure that everyone
living in the UK is able to access medical care, including those in the most vulnerable of
situations. When we protect one, we protect all.”

Rob Aldridge, Professor, University College London, said:
“Too often, pandemic policies did not consider or prioritise ethnic minority and migrant
communities. Instead, our research demonstrates how the policies and decisions that were
taken entrenched the inequalities exposed by the pandemic and exacerbated the poor
outcomes experienced by these communities. For example, sick pay rates in the UK are
among the lowest in the developed world, and our analysis revealed that South Asian
workers were around 40 per cent more likely to lack access to sick pay than white British
workers. We also found that living in households without space to shield, socially distance or
isolate may explain one third of the increased risk of getting COVID for migrant communities.
We call for the evidence in this report to be urgently used to stimulate change that will
provide comprehensive assistance to individuals and communities facing challenges in the

The Race Equality Foundation, urges policymakers, healthcare professionals, and
community leaders to:

  • Develop targeted interventions and public health campaigns to raise awareness and mitigate the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minority and migrantcommunities.
  • Implement inclusive and accessible sick pay policies to ensure financial security for all workers, irrespective of their immigration status or ethnicity.
  • Strengthen support schemes to provide comprehensive assistance to individuals and families facing socio-economic challenges during the pandemic.
  • Prioritise equitable vaccine distribution and actively engage with disempowered communities to address vaccine hesitancy, promote trust, and ensure equal protection against the virus.


For more information on the report’s findings and recommendations, visit: https://raceequalityfoundation.org.uk/health-and-care/not-by-choice-the-unequal-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Media Contact:
Eva Morrison, Communications and Influencing Manager, Race Equality Foundation
eva@racefound.org.uk / 07593 454 182

Notes to Editors

Race Equality Foundation
Race Equality Foundation is a national charity tackling racial inequality in public services to improve the lives of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The Foundation believes that everyone should be provided with the opportunities to flourish. The charity was established in 1987 as part of the National Institute for Social Work (NISW) and was first known as the Race Equality Unit. It became an independent charitable organisation in 1995. In 2006, the Race Equality Unit changed its name to the Race Equality Foundation.

Doctors of the World
Doctors of the World is an independent humanitarian movement working at home and abroad to empower excluded people to access healthcare. Through 350 programmes in 80 countries run by more than 3,000 volunteers we provide medical care, strengthen health systems and address underlying barriers to healthcare. And we share skills and training locally so communities stay strong in the long term. We also strive to give a voice to the most marginalised, reporting on violence, injustice and unmet health needs wherever we find them. Our vision is a world without barriers to health, where healthcare is recognised as a fundamental right. In the UK, we run a clinic, adviceline, outreach services and advocacy programmes that provide medical care, information and practical support to excluded people such as destitute migrants, sex workers and people with no fixed address.

University College London – Virus Watch
Understanding community incidence, symptom profiles, and transmission of COVID-19 in relation to population movement and behaviour. The Virus Watch Study (MRC, NIHR and UKRI funded) led by Professor Rob Aldridge, brings together a team of multi-disciplinary researchers from across ten UCL Departments and Clinicians from University College London (UCLH) and Royal Free Hospitals. This is the most comprehensive and ongoing community cohort study of COVID-19 in the U.K.
To find out more visit: www.ucl-virus-watch.net

The Medical Research Council (MRC) improves the health of people in the UK – and around the world – by supporting excellent science, and training the very best scientists.

Launched in April 2018, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and
    social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to
    translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the
    relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health
    and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a
    cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the
    poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle
income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government