April 18, 2020 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
London: Several Sikh organisations – the Sikh Network, Sikh Council UK and Sikh Federation (UK) came together two weeks ago to collect data on the number of Sikhs that are falling victim to Covid-19.
Anecdotal evidence from these grassroots organisations suggested the number of Sikh deaths was growing very rapidly.
Gurdwaras and funeral directors that would know about Sikh deaths were approached to determine the proportion of Sikh deaths from Covid-19.
Collecting the data has proved extremely challenging as places of worship, Gurdwaras, that normally manage the religious input to all Sikh funerals were forced to close at short notice without any government consultation or specific advice on funeral arrangements that Gurdwaras could continue with appropriate safeguards around social distancing.
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The main source of data has therefore focused on the West Midlands and come from over worked funeral directors that normally handle Sikh deaths. The data collected indicates 47% of all Sikhs deaths in the last two weeks in the West Midlands have come from Covid-19.
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released this week based on registration of deaths confirmed 21.2% of deaths in England and Wales were a result of Covid-19. The ONS data indicated 22.1% of the deaths were Covid-19 related in the West Midlands.
The ONS data for London that has seen the highest proportion of deaths from Covid-19 was 46.6%. The number of Sikh deaths from Covid-19 in London where around one-third of Sikhs live could therefore easily be in the region of 60-70% based on the West Midlands data.
On 23 March 2020 Preet Kaur Gill, the first female Sikh MP and Shadow International Development Secretary asked Matt Hancock how many Sikhs had been diagnosed with Covid-19 and died because of the disease. The Parliamentary Question should have been answered on 25 March. Yesterday and nearly four weeks later the Health Minister embarrassingly responded by simply stating “we do not collect data on cases or deaths by ethnicity or religion”.
The Sikh Federation (UK) wrote to the ONS at the start of the month about the data they release every week on deaths. The ONS responded: “Our data is taken directly from the Death Certificate, ethnicity and faith are not recorded as part of the registration process and therefore we have no access to this data.”
This has highlighted that public bodies in the UK are systematically failing in their equality duty to collect data about Sikhs who have been legally recognised as a distinct ethnic group for nearly 40 years.
The harsh reality is many public bodies at best simply collect data based on so-called “ethnic” categories decided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the census carried out every 10 years. As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown some public bodies are sluggish, have not changed their practices for many years and do not collect the information they should be collecting for equality purposes.
The Sikh community are therefore lost in the statistics and face what can only be described as institutional discrimination by not being recognised and monitored separately. Therefore, the Sikh Federation (UK) with the backing of over 150 Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations has been forced to take both the UK and Scottish governments to court regarding the ethnic categories recognised in the census.
The latest judicial review challenge against the Cabinet Office was formally lodged in the High Court earlier today. Scottish Ministers will receive a pre-action letter from Balfour and Manson LLP tomorrow giving notice of action in the Court of Session.
Downing Street has recently announced an inquiry into why ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. It will be led by the NHS and Public Health England and will look at both the wider community and those working for the NHS. It has been reported a staggering 70% of health and social care workers that have died from Covid-19 were from ethnic minorities.
But how can the Health Minister claim not to have any ethnicity data in response to a Parliamentary Question and 24 hours later Downing Street announce an inquiry. Many are therefore sceptical about the inquiry and if representatives of communities most affected will be consulted from the outset or if it will simply be a cover up or a damage limitation exercise.
Medical experts in Public Health England have provided guidance and advice on recording Covid-19 risk in considering the co-morbidity of patients. This has been highlighted for males over 65 years, those with respiratory issues or suffering from diabetes and those prone to flu or have a high viral load.
Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “The government, health bodies and other public bodies have known for some time that Covid-19 is impacting disproportionately on ethnic minorities. For the Health Minister to claim not to have any data is at best negligent or possibly dishonest.”
“Public bodies are almost certainly in breach of the Equality Act by not collecting comprehensive ethnicity data, especially when it appears obvious that ethnicity appears to be a factor.”
“During a pandemic there is no excuse for public bodies not to collect data specified in the Equality Act, monitor those most vulnerable and provide them with the best advice to remain safe.”
“Specific health vulnerabilities have been reported by leading medical journals about people of Sikh background i.e. diabetes, heart conditions etc. Therefore, the inquiry looking at ethnicity should examine if public bodies and decision makers provided timely and appropriate advice to those at greatest risk.”
“We hope the NHS and Public Health England that are leading the inquiry will reach out from the outset to us and other ethnic minority groups that best understand the combination of age, medical condition, social habits, religious practices and extended families.”
“We also cannot stop here as we are deeply worried government and public bodies are totally underestimating the impact of continued isolation, dealing with bereavement in very difficult circumstances and financial devastation that are creating a massive mental health time bomb.”
“Government must consult leading Sikh community organisations on the continued restrictions on places of worship and produce specific guidance in a number of different areas tailored for individual ethnic minority communities knowing their precise needs.”
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Related Topics: Coronavirus, COVID-19, Sikh Council UK, Sikh Diaspora, Sikh Federation UK, Sikh News UK, Sikhs in United Kingdom, The Sikh Network