The Government will look at evidence first rather than assume “every issue experienced by ethnic minorities is caused by racism”, according to an equalities minister.
Kemi Badenoch insisted no-one in the Government has “ever denied the existence of racism” and told MPs they will develop solutions based on where the evidence leads.
Her comments came after Conservative former minister Simon Clarke asked for the Government’s view on the impact of “structural racism” on the cause of disparities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
For Labour, shadow equalities minister Marsha de Cordova warned Covid-19 has had a “devastating and disproportionate” impact on black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.
The latest report from the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit said factors that can increase Covid-19 infection risk include working in public-facing roles, deprivation, living in larger households, and younger and older relatives living together.
Ms Badenoch said the report also showed ethnic minorities should not be viewed as a single group in relation to the pandemic.
Speaking in the Commons, she told Mr Clarke: “Of course racism exists. No-one in this Government has ever denied the existence of racism.”
She explained she has raised her own experiences of racism, adding: “What we will not do is assume that every issue experienced by ethnic minorities is caused by racism without looking at the evidence.
“We develop solutions based on where the evidence leads, unlike Labour whose report in October recommended we decolonise the curriculum to address Covid-19.
“There is a legitimate debate to be had on how we tackle racism and how we address ethnic disparities.
“But just because our means for achieving these goals may differ, it should in no way undermine our shared commitment to building a fairer and more cohesive society.”
Labour’s Diane Abbott, a former shadow public health minister, also noted Ms Badenoch had been “very insistent” that the “widely disproportionate” rates of infections and death amongst black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has “nothing to do with the fact that they are black or Asian or from a minority ethnic group”.
Ms Abbott said: “Has it occurred to her that the reason they’re more likely to be in overcrowded, poor housing conditions, in the types of jobs that leaves them liable to infection, these things aren’t random, they’re to do with race and ethnicity.”
She also pressed the Government to ensure ethnicity is included on death certificates before asking for more information on the Haredi and Orthodox Jewish community, noting they had experienced “disproportionate” levels of Covid deaths in the United States of America.
Ms Badenoch, in her reply, said: “What I would say on recording ethnicity data on death certificates, that was one of the recommendations in my previous report.
“It’s not something that can be done overnight, it will probably require legislation, but we are on our way to getting that – so that’s some good news she can have.”
Ms Badenoch said research from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine estimated 64% of the Orthodox Jewish community may have had Covid-19 in 2020.
She added: “The researchers said the reasons behind this high rate of infection are not yet known.
“Strictly Orthodox families have significantly larger households than the UK average. They also live in areas of increased population density and, in pre-pandemic times, had regular attendance at communal events and gatherings.
“The reason why I use them as an example is that this is why it’s wrong for us to mix together lots of different groups.
“The Orthodox Jewish community has been more impacted than many of the ethnic minority groups that get a lot of the attention in the press, but we don’t say this is due to structural anti-Semitism.
“We look at what the underlying factors are. Multigenerational households, for instance, are not due to racism but often due to cultural factors.
“We’re not going to be taking grandparents away from families because of Covid, what we’re going to be doing is providing them with guidance to ensure they can look after themselves safely.”