The Mayor of Tower Hamlets has responded to the enquiry led by Baroness Doreen Lawrence examining the impact of Coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

The enquiry, launched by Sir Keir Starmer in April, seeks to take evidence from the public, community groups, experts and those affected on why coronavirus is disproportionately affecting BAME communities, and to present findings and recommendations to the Government. The submission sets out the stark disparities, with the death rate among Bangladeshi residents nationally being twice that of white Britons.

The response from the Mayor of Tower Hamlets highlights that 55% of the borough’s population belong to BAME groups and, as of 24th June, there have been 646 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 200 people estimated to have died.

The Mayor has hit out at the Government, warning that they have ‘serious questions to answer’ for failing to take real action on Covid’s disproportionate impact on BAME communities, and for delaying the publication of data that might help public health efforts to get answers.

The submission to the enquiry highlights:

  • The difficulty, even for local authorities, in obtaining accurate information about infections and deaths, and Government’s delay in publishing vital data;
  • Census data fails to record people from the Somali community as being a distinct group, leading to gaps in the analysis – a significant problem for areas like Tower Hamlets with Somali communities;
  • Tower Hamlets Council’s work with Queen Mary University’s Excellence Group to study vital local data about the impact on BAME communities;
  • Health inequalities play a major role, with a 1.3 x rate of suspected Covid-19 in the borough’s most deprived groups – linked to housing conditions, overcrowding and health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and lung disease;
  • The council estimates it has incurred additional expenditure of £55.12m against government allocations of £19.4m, because of coronavirus. This means there is an estimated £35m funding gap.
  • The role the council and its partners will play in ‘Test and Trace’ and how it will understand and address potential barriers people might face at each stage of the NHS Test and Trace process;
  • A series of 6 recommendations to address the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities.


Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “The disproportionate impact of coronavirus on BAME communities is one of the most serious issues we face. It is quite literally a matter of life and death, and understandably a huge source of worry for many residents in Tower Hamlets.

“Baroness Lawrence’s enquiry is an important step, and it’s quite clear that the Government has serious questions to answer about their handling of this issue. I’ve been dismayed by the slowness of the Government to publish helpful data let alone take real action on the disproportionate impact on our BAME communities.

“We’ve been working closely with partners to understand the local data and what we can do about it, and we’re looking very closely at what we can do as a borough to tackle inequality and a major strand of this will be looking at the impact of Covid-19 and tackling health inequalities.”

Cllr Asma Begum, Deputy Mayor & Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Youth and Equalities, said: “We’ve known for a long time about the impact that health inequalities can have, and the Covid pandemic has really shown just how devastating these inequalities can be for many. It’s vital that we work with our partners across the borough to understand these inequalities and how we can tackle them.

“Unfortunately, the Government doesn’t seem to grasp just how serious the situation is. The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities is stark, and the Government must move much further much faster.”

Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor & Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, said: “Our response to Baroness Lawrence’s enquiry sets out some of the data on Covid’s impact that we’ve gathered working with local partners, and we also set out six clear recommendations that the Government must follow if it is to truly get to grips with the issue.

“The council has recently published its local outbreak control plan which sets out how we will work with partners to prevent and manage coronavirus outbreaks, and within our plan is a recognition that we need ‘test and trace’ to work well for everyone, especially those who are at a higher risk such as our BAME residents.”

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