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What impact has the pandemic had on BAME Londoners?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the pre-existing economic and health disparities faced by people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests in London, on top of a plethora of findings highlighting the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) citizens has made it more important than ever to tackle structural racism in the capital and larger society. This blog is a brief exploration of the views and experiences of BAME Londoners during the pandemic, as part of our Snapshot of Londoners survey (a collaboration between Centre for London and Savanta).

Economic prosperity and financial wealth

The crisis has exposed how different groups of Londoners are coping financially. Our survey found that only 38 per cent of Black African and Caribbean respondents reported having enough to get by, compared to around half of Asian and Asian British, and White respondents [see Figure 1].When asked to compare their incomes with last year, Mixed Minority Ethnic respondents were the most likely to report a drop in income (39 per cent).

Economic inequality for BAME Londoners is not new. Before the crisis, incomes were already lower for these groups. According to the Greater London Authority’s economic fairness data on ethnicity pay, in 2018 White Londoners earned one and a half times as much per hour compared to those from a Black African, Caribbean or Bangladeshi background. In the midst of the pandemic, less than a third of BAME employees who have not been able to work received the government’s furlough package and these groups are also more likely to have sought income support.

Access to green space

Visiting parks and public spaces has been an antidote to staying cooped up indoors during the lockdown. People have avoided travelling far and instead ventured closer to home, becoming more appreciative of green spaces in their local neighbourhoods.

BAME Brits are more likely to live in overcrowded households and have less access to gardens, further entrenching space inequality. Further, where Londoners have been able to spend time outdoors, 72 per cent of White Londoners reported going outside during the panemic, compared to 61 per cent BAME Londoners who also reported feeling less happy about the overall quality of parks and public spaces.

Concerns about air pollution

Less traffic on the roads at the peak of the crisis meant that air pollution in London was significantly reduced, giving us a glimpse into what a cleaner, greener city could look like. This matters particularly to BAME Londoners, who are more likely to live in areas with high pollution. Black African, Caribbean and Black British groups are more exposed to nitrogen oxide levels in London, compared to White, Asian, and Asian British groups.

It’s no surprise then that a third of BAME Londoners in our survey reported that they worry regularly about air pollution compared to 22 per cent of White Londoners.

Times could get tougher, but London’s BAME population are optimistic

London has always prided itself as being a city of opportunity. But for now, prospects seem uncertain. Research led by the University of Essex found that BAME Londoners have been subjected to greater job losses in the UK compared to the rest of the population during the crisis. Though the furlough scheme has provided a layer of comfort for thousands, BAME people’s jobs are concentrated in some of those sectors (hospitality, arts and leisure, and retail) that are most at risk of job losses in the coming months.

Even before the outbreak, disproportionate rates of unemployment were prevalent between groups. Particularly, towards the end of 2019 black men in London were three times more likely to be unemployed than white men (3.7 per cent vs 11 per cent). The crisis is likely to make things worse.

Nonetheless, around three quarters of Asian and Asian British Londoners said that they are likely to remain in London in the next year compared to 60 per cent of Black African, Caribbean and Black British Londoners. Despite the bleak outlook, BAME Londoners seem to remain optimistic about the future [Figure 2].

London is home to the most ethnically diverse population in England and Wales. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted the livelihoods of those from BAME backgrounds who make up almost half of the capital’s residents. The last few months have ignited another wake up call for the nation and local leaders to take further action to ensure that the welfare of those from ethnic minority backgrounds are protected, should we want this optimism to last well into the future.

Note on language: BAME refers to Black African/Caribbean/Black British, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups. We recognise that there are complications with the term. Where data has allowed for an analysis for individual groups we have included it, however data constraints limit our ability to break the groups down further.

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Mario Washington-Ihieme is a Researcher at Centre for London. Follow her on Twitter.