by Dr Habib Naqvi MBE
Published: 30 Mar 2021
We are currently carrying out an inquiry into racial inequality in health and social care workplaces, specifically looking at the experiences of lower paid ethnic minority staff working in health and social care settings.
Guest blog from Dr Habib Naqvi MBE, Director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory
Although we cannot escape the sad reality of the devastating impact Covid-19 is having on people’s lives, we can, and must, learn lessons from the pandemic. That is why I believe the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into the impact of the pandemic on lower paid ethnic minority staff in health and social care is important. Indeed, the greater our knowledge of an issue, the less oblivious we become.
Covid-19 has had a disproportionately adverse impact upon ethnic minority communities as well as health and social care staff – who are more likely to be in casual/temporary, lower paid, frontline roles – and we must draw on actionable insights to help reduce inequalities. There is a fundamental question on the impact of discrimination in society that creates the inequalities that we see in life, including those that present themselves in the stratification of health outcomes, pay and differential attainment by ethnicity.
The unwanted intrusion of the pandemic has served to further amplify the pattern of poorer workplace experiences
The pattern of poorer workplace experiences and opportunities for ethnic minority health and social care staff is well-documented. The unwanted intrusion of the pandemic has served to further amplify that pattern. But let’s not fall into the trap of blaming the virus; the culprit here is human action (or lack of it) as opposed to a force of nature. It can, for example, be argued that the way in which society, its institutions and the structures within them have been constructed, gives us exactly the output that we get.
Take for example questions on perceptions of bullying and harassment and equal opportunities within the workplace from the national NHS staff survey over the last six years. Ethnic minority staff consistently and persistently report higher levels of bullying and harassment and lower levels of having equality of opportunity in workplace than their white counterparts. I outlined some of the reasons for this pattern in section 6.2 of the 2019 NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard data analysis report.
One of the reasons outlined in the report is that, under normal circumstances, social movements on race and equity can help to create the psychological safe spaces in which people can speak-up, and speak-out, on how it feels in the workplace. The data from perception surveys are therefore likely to reflect a more accurate picture of the issue than before, and with the implementation of effective interventions over time, things can improve.
We know legislation does not guarantee equality of outcome, it only guarantees an aspiration for equality of opportunity. We all have a moral duty to turn that aspiration into reality
But the pandemic shifted any perception of normality, and it is likely that led to an exacerbation of poor workplace behaviours amongst some.
Assignment to the frontline, PPE not always fit-for-purpose nor accessible, as well as risk assessments of variable quality, will have added to the multiple jeopardy for those already working in lower paid roles in non-compassionate working environments.
Bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace have themselves been long-standing plagues within the workplace, not just within health and social care, but across the labour market. For years, some parts of the workforce have been engaged under the leadership of those who favour bullies, collude and discriminate against those that simply want to exercise their basic, and legal, right of equal opportunity.
If we are to succeed in creating equitable and inclusive working environments, we must keep our own moral compass pointed in a true direction.
We know legislation does not guarantee equality of outcome, it only guarantees an aspiration for equality of opportunity. We all have a moral duty to turn that aspiration into reality.
Now, more than ever, people need to have confidence in the accountability associated with insights
What I have learned over time is the notion there is only so much progress and improvement that can be made on equality and inclusion within any organisation. Now, more than ever, people need to have confidence in the accountability associated with insights, recommendations for change, and in the practical actions resulting from those recommendations.
Organisations can no longer be left to mark their own homework on the critical agenda of equality, diversity and inclusion. That, for me, is one of the important lessons from the pandemic to date.
About the author: Dr Habib Naqvi MBE is Director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, which leads work nationally on identifying and tackling ethnic health inequalities. Habib joined NHS England in 2013, where he directed the development and implementation of national programmes, including the Equality Delivery System (EDS), and the award winning NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES). Habib was awarded an MBE in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to equality and diversity in the NHS. Habib is on Twitter: @DrHNaqvi