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Covid inquiry ‘must investigate structural racism as a key issue’

THE Covid-19 inquiry has been urged to investigate structural racism as a key issue in every module by bereaved families. 

Earlier this month, the lead counsel to the inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic said it was not planning to consider structural racism during the first module, which will be looking at pandemic preparations. 

But in a letter to inquiry chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett yesterday, bereaved families and racial justice groups argue that the issue should be looked at in all 11 modules and that understanding the racial disparity in the Covid-19 death toll must be a priority. 

Official figures show that the death rate during the early phase of the pandemic was higher among every ethnic minority compared with the white British population. 

Campaigners have accused the inquiry of running scared from properly examining why. 

“Covid-19 is not just a health crisis: it’s also a social and economic crisis,” the letter, signed by the Black Equity Organisation, the Caribbean & African Health Network, the Race Equality Foundation, the Runneymede Trust and the Windrush National Organisation, reads. 

“The ability to cope, to protect and to shield oneself from the virus varies vastly for people from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.”

It calls for the inquiry to commission expert evidence on structural racism, highlighting how government policies toward undocumented people such as denying them benefits and restricting access to healthcare had a disproportionate impact on people of colour. 

At a hearing on February 14, Hugo Keith KC, the inquiry’s lead barrister, claimed that looking at racism in the first part of the inquiry would be an impossible task.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families & Justice campaign, which co-ordinated the letter, also raised concerns about a “listening exercise” to gather people’s experiences of the pandemic rather than hearing from families first-hand. 

“If the inquiry is going to have a meaningful impact, it needs to listen to families like mine and learn from what happened to us, even if it finds that uncomfortable,” Jean Adamson, a spokeswoman from the campaign who lost her father during the pandemic, said.

An inquiry spokesperson said: “The unequal impacts of the pandemic will be at the forefront of all the inquiry’s investigation” and that it had instructed two world-leading inequalities experts to contribute to the first module.

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