Has the UK Government Protected Black and Asian British Muslims During the COVID Pandemic?

During April 2020, reports showed that a third of UK patients dying and critically ill with COVID-19 were from Black and ethnic minority groups.

During April 2020, reports showed that a third of UK patients dying and critically ill with COVID-19 were from Black and ethnic minority groups.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, there is strong evidence to suggest that British Asian and Black Muslims in the UK have been negatively affected in comparison to Caucasian non-Muslims. 

On Wednesday the 25th of November, Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out his plans for UK’s government spending to deal with the “economic emergency” caused by Covid-19. According to the ONS (Office for National Statistics), 1.6 million people are unemployed and this is expected to rise to 2.6 million next year.

The government has attempted to protect as many jobs as possible through the furlough scheme, which has been extended until the end of March 2021, and there have been renewed promises to help unemployed people get back to work. But there will be a pay freeze for many key public sector workers, and there is economic evidence to highlight that coronavirus has taken its toll specifically on the UK Muslim workforce. 

According to a new report titled ‘Financial Impact of COVID-19 on the Muslim Community’, which has been compiled by Muslim Census.:

  • Job loss amongst Muslims is six times greater than the national rate since the pandemic
  • 35% of working Muslims are in key worker roles – 13% higher than the UK average
  • 42% of Muslims have used their savings to cover expenses due to the pandemic
  •  1 in 5 Black Muslims have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. And 50% of Black Muslims have used their savings to cope with the increased financial strain of the pandemic – greater than any other ethnicity recorded in the study

The disparities and inequalities go beyond economics. During April 2020, reports showed that a third of UK patients dying and critically ill with COVID-19 were from Black and ethnic minority groups. It was initially believed that factors such as housing, pre-existing health conditions, and employment inequalities also played a role in the number of BAME coronavirus cases. British Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who have much higher rates of heart disease and diabetes were deemed more vulnerable to die from Covid-19.

But on the 16th of October, the ONS report revealed that differences are not driven by pre-existing health conditions, but instead are driven by factors such as living arrangements. Professions were also to blame as well (Black and ethnic minorities are also more likely to live in overcrowded housing with different generations of family members).

Mosques have been urged by organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain during both lockdowns to pray at home – this also applied during the Ramadan period, which mosques happily complied with. But according to hate crime monitoring charity TellMAMA, there has been a 40% increase in Islamophobia during the first official lockdown, compared to the same period in 2019. This was mainly due to the spread of fake news and racist memes on social media.

Another study conducted by Imran Awan, Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University, and Roxana Khan-Williams, found that Islamophobic online ‘Cyber Hubs’ were being formed which linked Muslims to the spread of COVID-19. Fake news stories shared online consisted of mosques refusing to close during the lockdown, Muslims not observing social distancing, and police unfavourably treating Muslims in fear of being accused of racism and Islamophobia.

On the 27th of October, Baroness Lawrence, whose report was commissioned by the Labour Party, stated BAME groups had “also been subject to disgraceful racism as some have sought to blame different communities for the spread of the virus”. She also said that “The impact of Covid is not random, but foreseeable and inevitable, the consequence of decades of structural injustice, inequality, and discrimination that blights our society.”

The Muslim Council of Britain launched a report, entitled “Together in Tribulation: British Muslims and the COVID-19 Pandemic”, which looked at what British Muslims experienced during the first seven months of the COVID pandemic. The report also highlighted the effects of job loss and income gaps. According to the Runneymede Trust, 25% of BAME workers have zero-hour “gig economy” jobs as compared to 14% of the general population, which puts them at a disadvantage as their income is not guaranteed, and they are not eligible to benefit from the UK Government’s emergency support packages.

The government had been criticised by its own Islamophobia adviser, Qari Asim, who said Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s claim on Twitter added to “hateful narratives” and “gave the impression that Muslim communities were not social distancing and were ignoring the government guidelines”. His comments came after a restriction ban separating households in parts of Northern England was issued 3 hours before Eid-Ul-Adha, preventing Muslim family celebrations. Many Muslims wondered if the UK government would allow this to happen on Christmas Eve night? And the answer is a resounding no.

Coronavirus restrictions will now apparently be eased to allow most people to visit family and friends, despite scientists warning the UK government of a third wave of Covid-19 after Christmas.

The UK government needs to show a greater sense of urgency to ensure everyone (including Muslims) in the UK are supported to survive physically, mentally, and economically during and after we recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

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