BAME communities express fear of ending “lockdown”

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic residents tell us about life during Covid-19.

There is widespread acknowledgement that the impact of Covid-19 has not been evenly spread. Across the UK, people who are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) have experienced a disproportionate impact, both in numbers contracting the virus and the likelihood of more serious outcomes once sick.

We have been asking local people about their experiences of Covid-19. So far, we’ve heard from over 360 BAME residents who have shared their stories with us.

Finding information

A slightly higher number of BAME residents have told us they found it hard to find and understand information about Covid-19, and advice about how to access services and to keep well. However, we’ve also heard complaints about confusing and inconsistent information in the early weeks of lockdown from a wide range of non-BAME people too. There also appear to be possible differences in the information sources used by BAME residents, compared to others in Camden; BAME respondents were less likely to rely on newspapers and radio for information about Covid-19, and more likely to use the messaging service WhatsApp.

A shared experience?

Many emerging themes and concerns are similar across both BAME and non-BAME residents. We heard widespread reporting about deteriorating mental health and rising levels of anxiety as lockdown continued and some positive experiences about the shift to digital services.

Heightened stress and anxiety

However, as lockdown starts to ease, BAME residents are more likely to report anxiety about the risks associated with the changing government guidelines.

 “With all the news and statistics around increased risk for BAME communities we do not feel safe,” says one BAME parent.

We need to be even more cautious,” says another.

Responses suggest that media coverage of the disproportionate health risks and direct personal experience of the disease adds to this anxiety.

 “Not only are we dealing with feeding our kids, home schooling, working, and keeping safe, now we also have to explain this [increased risk for BAME communities] to our kids who hear things on the news and they are scared.”

This emerging theme of fear is, at times, accompanied by mistrust — both of government advice and of local services.

“I think it’s far too soon. I don’t trust the governments intentions. It feels to be driven by economic reasons rather than safety.”

One local Somali mother feels that her ability to cope has been eroded after weeks in isolation at home. But she can’t see a way out of lockdown for herself or her two children and feels it is still too dangerous to venture out.

For some of us this is just impossible. The first four weeks was difficult but it’s just total burn out for me now. I am physically and mentally tired.  I don’t want to do something desperate. What’s the exit? Everyone is going out to the shops – they think it’s over. But I cannot take my children out. It’s not safe.

Risk of an extended “lockdown”

The decision to continue self-isolating, when others are starting to return to work or school or to use services, is being regularly reported among BAME responses to the Healthwatch Camden survey. It seems many are choosing to isolate whether or not they fall under the NHS definition of being vulnerable.

“I hear the government guidelines around re-opening things but I have to use my own judgement.”

“I am concerned that friends relatives and colleagues do not seem motivated to stay within regulations and are already in daily breach of these. Transition would be helped if I was confident that others will comply with guidelines.”

Anxiety is also contributing to a reticence to access regular health and care services. Many people have delayed seeking health and care that is not related to Covid-19 because they felt that contact with services would pose a risk of infection with the virus.

“If I have a medical emergency I would avoid going to A&E.”

However, alongside the caution about accessing traditional services, we are hearing an appetite for alternative ways to re-engage with community activities – particularly using outdoor spaces which feel safe. Ravea and her children live in Somers Town and have made the decision not to return to school as they are anxious about virus control. Yet they are keen to start getting out of their flat and are enthusiastic about joining new, socially distanced family activities at the local “Story Garden”. 

I was really excited. They had a big response so it shows that there is a demand now and people are getting more confident to go out and start doing things again,” she explained.

Next Steps

As the post-Covid-19 renewal process progresses, Camden’s health and care providers are doing everything possible to ensure that routine services are safe for service users. However, based on what we are hearing from BAME residents, Healthwatch Camden will be asking both the NHS and social care partners to invest in targeted efforts to reassure these communities that they can have confidence to access the services they need. If the fears and anxieties of Camden’s BAME communities are not addressed, the health inequalities that already exist are almost certain to be further exacerbated in the post Covid-19 era.

NOTE: Camden Council has launched a project focused on how BAME residents in the borough have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and what actions to take, in collaboration with partners and communities, to ensure individuals are protected, and to bring about systemic change. Healthwatch Camden has contributed to this project with lived experience from local people who have spoken with us and responded to our survey.