Researching factors affecting ethnic minority groups during COVID-19

Senior Woman home quarantined with face mask

UK researchers are to dig deeper into the reasons why people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Four new projects, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to a total of £4.5 million, will place the social, cultural and economic impacts of COVID-19 under the lens. Their aim is to better understand how and why these groups have been disproportionately impacted, both by direct and indirect consequences of the pandemic.

During the first wave of the pandemic last year, people from some Ethnic Minority groups, particularly Black and Asian, were more likely to be infected, diagnosed and die than people in white ethnic groups. Minority Ethnic groups are also among those who have faced the biggest labour market shocks as a result of the pandemic, and have experienced above average increases in mental distress.

Findings from the four projects will be used to design health interventions, policy recommendations and other measures to help lessen the effect of the pandemic on these groups across the UK.

Assessing the impact of COVID-19

The investment builds on previous funding by UKRI and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to understand ethnicity and COVID-19, taking total government research investment on this issue to £8.8 million. This work will help plug current research gaps.

Two large consortia projects will investigate the wider social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups in Britain.

In the first, researchers led by a team from the University of Manchester will assess the impact of COVID-19 Ethnic Minority communities across a broad spectrum of issues including health, housing, welfare, education, employment and policing.

In the second, a consortium led by the University of Leeds will investigate the combined impact of COVID-19 and racial discrimination on wellbeing and resilience across Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities in the UK.

Two smaller projects will focus on:

  • the effects of COVID-19 on Birmingham’s ethnic minority Muslim communities
  • the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

The projects will be co-designed and/or co-produced with people from Ethnic Minority backgrounds throughout.

Crucial insight to address inequalities

Minister for Science, Research & Innovation Amanda Solloway, said:

COVID-19 has shone a light on the inequalities facing our society, with evidence showing that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are more severely impacted by this dreadful disease.

Not only does science and research offer us a way out of this pandemic, but it will also help us to understand why these disparities exist. These four government-backed research projects will work directly with BAME communities to provide crucial insight that will enable us to address these inequalities and continue protecting as many people as possible.

Minister for Innovation, Lord Bethell, said:

This pandemic has highlighted something we have known for a long time – that some communities are impacted disproportionately in a crisis, and we must ensure the diverse needs of all our nation are met.

BAME communities have been hard hit by COVID-19 and we need to better understand the reasons for this. We need impactful policy backed by government action and we need to work with community leaders to tackle these problems.

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said:

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated longstanding inequalities in health, employment and education in the UK.

Emerging evidence suggests that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds have experienced the hardest economic shocks. We cannot ignore the social, cultural and economic factors that have shaped the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities throughout the pandemic.

It is crucial that we understand the depth and breadth of the impacts of these factors so that we can take action to alleviate the consequences for these communities.

Professor Iyiola Solanke who leads the University of Leeds project said:

There are two viruses affecting people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities across the UK. One is COVID-19 and the other is discrimination. We want to illustrate that the way in which COVID-19 is exacerbating the experience of inequality for those in these communities.

The people in these communities have developed new strategies to promote their own wellbeing and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, but given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, official interventions are also needed to support them.

There is agency – people are able to adapt and support themselves – but the combined impact of COVID means that government intervention is essential to ensure the ongoing wellbeing of people of all ages who are subjected to these two viruses.

Professor Bridget Byrne who leads the University of Manchester project said:

The pandemic has brought the lethal impact of racial and ethnic discrimination into sharp focus. We know COVID-19 has caused more deaths among racial and ethnic minority communities, but it’s also urgent that we understand and take steps to mitigate the wider social and economic impacts.

For example, we know that COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns have had profound and unequal impacts on these people’s lives, such as their access to healthcare and education, and their livelihoods and employment. And these can be influenced by where people live, who they live with and their relationship with the police, the NHS and other bodies.

If we are to develop policy and practical initiatives to address these inequalities, we need to understand these complexities.

That’s why at the heart of this research is a survey of ethnic minorities that will be the first and largest of its kind. This will allow us to document, like no other data can, the experiences of ethnic and religious minorities in the UK during the pandemic.

The projects will begin in the coming months and will each run for 18 months.

The funding for these projects was provided through UKRI’s COVID-19 rapid response call via a Highlight Notice calling for research on these topics, and will be administered by ESRC, part of UKRI.

The funded projects

The social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic on ethnic and racialised groups in Britain

£2.2 million, led by Professor Bridget Byrne of the University of Manchester.

Researchers will examine the effects of the social, economic, cultural and health inequalities emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic and its management on British ethnic and racialised communities, with particular focus on vulnerability of ethnic minorities to COVID-19 and its health impacts. They will study these effects against the backdrop of Brexit, an economic downturn, the increased awareness of racial inequality in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, and the rise of racist and anti-racist activism. The team will work in partnership with a wide range of public and private sector, government and non-governmental organisations to maximise the impact of their findings.

Consortium on Practices for Wellbeing and Resilience in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities (BAMEFC)

£2 million, led by Professor Iyiola Solanke of the University of Leeds.

A multidisciplinary research team will investigate the combined impact of COVID-19 and racial discrimination on wellbeing and resilience across Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities in multi-cultural Britain. Their research will help create a fuller picture of the jostling over-lapping stressors endured by people in these communities under COVID-19. The team will use their findings to produce evidence-based recommendations to mitigate disproportionate harm to the wellbeing and resilience of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities, as well as to social cohesion and mobility.

Religious community organisations’ interventions around the impact of coronavirus on Muslims in Birmingham in post-COVID Britain

£130,000, led by Dr Damian Breen of Birmingham City University

This project will research the effects of COVID-19 on Birmingham’s Minority Ethnic Muslim communities, particularly those of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and black British backgrounds. The researchers will examine how community organisations have provided support and offered interventions to Muslim communities within the context of COVID -19. The research will focus on religious behaviour during and post-lockdown and its implications for community solidarity in times of crisis.

Part of this process will also look at the role of mosques and other community organisations in facilitating rituals and practices around death and burial within the context of COVID-19, and perceptions around state responses, including access to healthcare during the pandemic, and national strategies around vaccination. The researchers will develop toolkits that will have applicability nationally and across Minority Ethnic communities in Britain.

A collaborative approach to understand and remediate the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in BAME communities: a pilot study

£235,000, led by Valentina Cardi of Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London

This project will explore which mental health difficulties young, black adults experience during the pandemic. It will also explore how they access clinical services, and improve our understanding of how online carers’ training could be adapted to meet the needs of this population to improve mental health wellbeing in families.

Further information

About UK Research and Innovation

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is the largest public funder of research and innovation in the UK, with a budget of over £8 billion. It is composed of seven disciplinary research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

We operate across the whole country and work with our many partners in higher education, research organisations businesses, government, and charities.

Our vision is for an outstanding research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, enriching lives locally, nationally and internationally.

Our mission is to convene, catalyse and invest in close collaboration with others to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good.

The Economic and Social Research Council

ESRC is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.

Diversity in the UKRI COVID-19 and ethnicity call

New UKRI-funded research to uncover the social, economic and cultural factors affecting Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities during COVID-19 was announced on 9 February 2021.

Details about how we developed the call and considered diversity and inclusion throughout the process are outlined below:

How was equality diversity and inclusion considered in the designing of this call?

The UKRI COVID-19 and ethnicity call was shaped by a workshop convened by UKRI in June 2020 to explore key evidence gaps about the vulnerability of different ethnic groups to COVID-19 and its impacts. A range of 17 experts joined this formative discussion, bringing with them considerable community, sector and research knowledge.

Attendees’ backgrounds covered a variety of disciplines including sociology, social policy, psychology, law, philosophy, research methods, epidemiology and public health. Key policy and government stakeholders also participated. Over 40% of attendees were from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups.

What diversity data was collected as part of the operational running?

Data on equality and diversity was collected from all applicants for this call. We received 13 applications in total.

Across all applications 42% of investigators (both Principal and Co-Investigators) were from a Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic background.

The four successful projects are highly collaborative and co-designed and/or co-produced with representatives from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities throughout.

What was the diversity of the award selection panel?

We gave careful consideration to ethnicity, gender, institutional affiliation, location, and expertise for the award selection panel. The panel included the following members:

  • Professor Tarani Chandola (Chair), University of Manchester
  • Professor Sinead Brophy, Swansea University
  • Jabeer Butt, Race Equality Foundation
  • Professor Jagjit Chadha, National Institute of Economic and Social Research
  • Dr Jayati Das-Munshi, King’s College London
  • Professor Meena Dhanda, University of Wolverhampton
  • Professor Azhar Farooqi, Clinical Director, Centre for Black and Minority Ethnic Health
  • Professor Peter Hopkins, Newcastle University
  • Associate Professor Stacy Johnson, University of Nottingham
  • Professor Meena Kumari, University of Essex
  • Professor Simonetta Longhi, University of Reading
  • Professor Ambreena Manji, Cardiff University
  • Professor Linda McDowell, University of Oxford

What is the diversity profile of those we are funding?

Over 60% of the investigators (both Principal and Co-Investigators) of the projects we have funded through this call, are from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background. These projects are highly collaborative and are co-designed and/or co-produced with representatives from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities throughout.

The four project teams harness the strength of research expertise from across different disciplines.

We recognise there are a number of established areas of inequality within the research and innovation landscape. We know that far more action is needed to address this issue and deep engagement with our community is key as we develop actions. Find out more about our work on addressing under-representation and active participation.

What efforts went into working with under-represented groups?

The long-term strength of the UK research base depends on harnessing all available talent. UKRI expects that equality, diversity and inclusion is embedded at all levels and in all aspects of research practice and funding policy.

The COVID-19 and ethnicity call was shaped by a workshop convened by UKRI in June 2020 to explore key evidence gaps about the vulnerability of different ethnic groups to COVID-19 and its impacts.

The successful projects are highly collaborative and co-designed and/or co-produced with representatives from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities throughout.

Were there any conflicts of interest relevant to this call and how were they handled?

None of the selection panel members were applicants for the call.

If a panel member was affiliated with an institution or collaborated with an individual on an application, they took no part in the assessment or in discussions concerning the decision to fund the application.

Useful links

UKRI Equality Diversity and Inclusion

The impact of COVID-19 within ethnic communities

Addressing under representation and active participation

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