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How is Covid-19 impacting on BAME communities?

Covid-19 raises important questions on health inequalities and the disproportionate impact it has had on BAME communities. As the world watches the events unfold across the UK and over the pond, Samira Ben Omar reminds us of the importance of having a voice, a sense of belonging and the powerful desire to tackle social injustices.

Community Voices, an initiative that began two years ago to collect stories across health and care systems, is now the bedrock for a change movement.  It has brought people together through a common purpose to understand the experience of BAME communities in North West London during Covid-19 and provide a platform for those voices and stories to be heard.

Opening up conversation 

Community Voices hears what matters to people, it gathers the stories of our communities, in their own words and through their preferred formats. We strongly believe that this is the logical starting point for change and the only way for an honest, open conversation with communities on agendas that matters to them.

Some, in the health and care, academic and wider settings in which we work, challenge this approach. They suggest we should record interviews or conduct more conventional research that is seen as ‘objective’ and therefore more valid. But the heart of Community Voices is situated in ways of knowing and researching that see value in stories as a form of acceptable, robust and important research and valid sources of data. It works with people and communities and positions them as central to producing knowledge.

The collaborative approach of the Community Voices initiative has encouraged the incredible willingness from BAME individuals and frontline staff to share their stories. Most of us belong to the communities which, current information is showing, are at highest risk from Covid-19.

Covid-19 raises public awareness of the underlying causes of health and social inequalities across multiple dimensions… people want to share their experiences of this in an effort to tackle these wider inequalities.

Covid-19 raises public awareness of the underlying causes of health and social inequalities across multiple dimensions – housing, employment, health and social care, and how these structures affect the everyday choices and decisions BAME communities make. People want to share their experiences of this in an effort to tackle these wider inequalities.

BAME groups are not hard to reach or hard to hear or respond. A simple ask to share personal stories resulted in over 30 stories being shared within the space of two weeks. BAME front line staff are equally not difficult to engage and their perspectives go beyond pay grade. The experience of front line staff who are low paid, and from BAME backgrounds also provide deeper insight into what is working at the frontline and where fundamental workforce adjustments need to be made.

What have we learnt so far?

There are several reports and articles now that provide strong evidence for the disproportionate impact of Coronavirus on BAME Communities. The demographic impact of Covid-19 in London for example, shows us clearly that there is a fundamental difference in the experience of Covid-19 based on geography and race.

We collected the evidence from the eight North West London boroughs to demonstrate the importance of these two overriding factors.  In Brent, 65% of the population is from BAME communities and 12.1% of residents live in overcrowded accommodation. Brent has sadly lost almost 4 times more (467 deaths) residents to Covid-19 compared to Kensington & Chelsea (120 deaths) where 30% are from BAME communities and 5.1% living in overcrowded accommodation.

Join this movement 

Movement approaches to change transcend the boundaries of organisations, formal roles and job descriptions. Movements go deeper to the personal commitment to see change take place. On the other hand, this approach relies on allies, organisations and systems working collectively to provide access to valuable expertise, and resources.

Finally, at this critical point in history where the energy for change is palpable, we have ‘an ask’ of you to join us in addressing system inequalities in health and care. Make public your commitment to model diversity in your organisation and in conversations with your networks.  The same ask goes to our friends and allies.

Join us to continue this conversation and help us to capture more #communityvoices and #storiesforchange by sharing your story whether you are an individual or a frontline health, care and community worker or a system/community leader.


Just like the Community Voices programme, this blog is a collaborative effort, even down to the decisions about what stays in and what gets edited out. It’s been produced through conversations to include a diversity of views and to validate assumptions.  So Janet and Meerat, I hope you approve!

Samira Ben Omar9 June 2020


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