The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on equalities and human rights

Glasgow Equality Forum members have been working hard to adapt their services to meet the needs of their communities, in light of Covid-19 and the current lockdown.  I wanted to share the brilliant work our members have been doing, and highlight the particular needs of people with protected characteristics at this challenging time.

We intend to submit these perspectives to the Scottish Parliament’s Equality and Human Rights Committee Inquiry into the equalities and human rights impacts during the pandemic.

You can find out more about this Inquiry and submit your own evidence here
Lorraine Barrie, GEF Manager




There are health issues of amongst BME communities due to larger families- lack of private space to work from home and the lack personal equipment i.e. chairs/sockets/extensions/wifi which is leading to stress, health issue like back pains etc

Other family members having to interpret for the elderly in particular with English as a second language as most of the health related concerns are now taken over the telephone i.e. GP/A&E/NHS24

Travelling to GP surgeries and health centre or A&E is more difficult for the some families in particular elderly who do not drive and have no public transport operating

Added issue for some members of the Muslim community who are fasting due to Ramadan i.e. not going out to work is not helpful adding to stress and fatigue also children at home not at school adds to this.

  • Faith in Community Scotland

Along with disconnection caused by lack of transport, digital exclusion is a huge issue for families and individuals experiencing poverty, which is then complicated by other factors such as language barriers, disability etc.

We’ve been running a small grant programme which has over 5 weeks so far distributed £56,000 to 88 organisations across Scotland and here’s a short synopsis of each grant here:

  • Amina MWRC

I would say that the current situation is causing particular distress to women. The experiences around Covid-19 are definitely gendered, and one of the impact of this has been an increase in domestic abuse/violence against women and girls. For women living in extended families and experiencing abuse from more than one family member, this further exacerbates the situation. During this pandemic, there has been a lot more pressure on women to fulfil their ‘roles’ as homemakers e.g. Cooking, cleaning, childcare, caring for the sick and elderly. As the main caregivers to older/ill family members, there is also a level of anxiety/fear about passing on the virus to these vulnerable groups. Fundamentally all of this impacts on the wellbeing of Muslim and BME women we work with. The fact that quite a few Muslim and BME frontline staff have died as a result of Covid-19, also adds to the fear that perhaps Muslim and BME people are more prone to contracting this virus (though this inequity in death rates so far, may be due to other reasons – which I won’t go into here).

With regards to Muslim communities, the far right are using the Covid-19 situation to spread narrative that incites divide and hate e.g. That Muslims will be mixing with each other during Ramadan and will be spreading the virus to each other as well as the wider communities.

These are some of the issues we have come across as an organisation so far. There are also positive stories too, happy to share if you would want me to.

  • CRER
    (Excerpt from letter to Scottish Government)

Multi-generational households and overcrowding:
These are two separate but linked issues. Black minority ethnic communities are more likely to live in overcrowded housing as well as in multigenerational households. UK figures show that 70% of white 70+ households do not have younger people living with them, compared to just 20% of South Asian households. For both older people and people with health conditions, higher numbers of people in the household will increase the risk of infection. Specific advice as to what such households should do to minimise risk might be worth issuing. Additionally, if we understood correctly, the Minister seemed open to looking at securing alternative accommodation for people most at risk (e.g. to separate the elderly from others with the virus) and this should be explored further.

Also linked is the issue of kinship carers. In relation to BME communities, an issue will be those who do not see themselves as carers; rather it’s just what they do. So whilst there may be additional advice and assistance being provided to carers, some additional work may be needed to reach this group of people who would not call themselves carers.

Health Inequalities

As you know, some minority ethnic groups have statistically high rates of particular health issues, and unfortunately most of these are conditions that have serious implications regarding coronavirus. The three conditions with the highest fatality risk in comorbidity with coronavirus are all statistically higher in specific BME populations – the fatality ratio is 10·5% for cardiovascular disease, 7·3% for diabetes and 6·0% for hypertension. Lupus is another example; treatment for this usually involves immunosuppressants. Immunocompromisation itself is a symptom of sickle-cell anaemia. Whilst nothing can be done about this potentially higher fatality risk, it does make it essential that the treatment people receive is as good as it can be. The Sickle Cell & Thalassaemia Support Group Scotland have raised repeated concerns about inadequate treatment due to lack of specialism in this area, so with the current pressures on NHS resources, there could be additional risks here.Existing inequalities in experience of accessing healthcare are also likely to be exacerbated by the current crisis, and in some cases could create risks. For instance, the Scottish Inpatient Experience Survey (which has, for some reason, stopped asking about ethnicity in the past couple of years) showed that non-white patients had significantly more negative experiences regarding the amount of time in which they waited to be admitted after a referral, and more negative regarding if they were told what was happening in a way they could understand in A&E admission.

BME communities in rural areas:

Great work seems to be going on all across Scotland in connecting with vulnerable individuals and families. Within this, we need to be mindful that the groups providing assistance are reaching BME communities in their areas. We know that many well meaning people may be less open to approach BME people for fear of saying/doing the wrong thing and we need to find a way around this at this difficult time. Not sure what the solution is here, but its worth  keeping an eye on.

Isolated individuals:

We spoke briefly about this in the conference call. The issue is not just non-religious people; there may also be people of faith that for various reasons do not link in with a (or their local) place of worship. Again, not sure of the ideal solution here but we should not assume because places of worship are providing assistance that this reaches all BME communities in any particular area.

Ethnicity / deaths:

It many be too early to see if there are any patterns about people with Covid-19 or those dying from the virus and ethnicity. However, there has been some concern raised that Muslims are more susceptible to the virus (perhaps for the reasons given above) (e.g. see and we know that a number of medical professionals who have died after contracting Covid-19 have been of BME origin. We hope that the ethnic monitoring of deaths in Scotland is continuing, and that someone is able to keep an eye on this to see if any concerning patterns are emerging that need to be analysed.

Anti-Chinese racism:

Possibly not an immediate issue whilst the lockdown is operational, but even after this is over there is likely to be a surge in racism, especially against the Chinese community in Scotland. Whilst Chinese people have particularly been targeted, the crisis may also be used by far right individuals to push their broader racist agenda; for example, a social media post by a UKIP Councillor falsely claiming a Mosque had refused to close for the lockdown was shared 2,600 times a couple of days ago. We should probably have a separate conversation on what we can do to minimise and mitigate this in due course.

Religious burial rites:

We are aware that this issue was raised in the Scottish Parliament by Anas Sarwar and that the Government has committed to issuing guidance to Muslim and Jewish organisations about this. However, we are aware of an incident in Airdrie which has caused considerable distress to the Muslim community there. As we understand it, after the death of a man with coronavirus the family were not able to follow the required steps regarding prayer, washing and wrapping the body. At first it was also indicated the body couldn’t be buried quickly in accordance with the religious rules, however community representatives stepped in to ensure this happened. We would suggest that the forthcoming guidance also be shared with healthcare and funeral services, as if there is a need to suspend normal practices as a result of coronavirus then there needs to be consistency and clarity about when and why this should be the case.

Future socio-economic implications:

There will be obvious implications for household incomes over the coming period. This is likely to disproportionately impact minority ethnic groups who are already at a greater risk of poverty, more likely to be in precarious employment and more likely to be private renters (hence paying higher rent and less likely to receive flexibility if payments can’t be made).


  • LGBT Health and Wellbeing“No one else has checked in on me [since the start of the coronavirus]. I could have been lying here dead – no one would know. The fact that someone cares out there, that you’ve taken the time to phone me. That has made my day.” (Older LGBT person contacted by LGBT Health, March 2020)“LGBT Health and Wellbeing’s core business is providing community programmes and one-to-one support to address social isolation and promote good mental and emotional wellbeing – this clearly remains really critical during the pandemic.Our key message to the LGBT community has therefore been: “We are still here for you – we have suspended face to face services and events, but we are not stopping our work” – this message has gone out through our social media, e-bulletins, website and communications from partners.Our service delivery now looks somewhat different, but we continue to provide:- One-to-one support: via video calls, phone and email through our counselling service, mental wellbeing, trans and refugee projects. In addition, we’ve launched a Telefriending service, aimed at older more isolated LGBT people.- Group activities: with digital community, trans and age (50+) programmes, as well as- support to community groups to continue their meetings online.- LGBT Helpline: support via phone, email and LiveChat now expanded from 2 to 4 days per week.Here at LGBT Health we have particular concerns around:
  • Older LGBT people: especially those who live alone and are therefore particularly isolated, and possible not digitally connected. Older LGBT people engaged with our programmes have shared their concerns about self-isolation (most are living on their own, have no immediate family or friends nearby), losing connection to the LGBT community, their mental wellbeing (how to keep their mind active) and well as support with practical issues in their own area (shopping, prescriptions). They are the key target group for the new Telefriending service.
  • Trans people: who are likely to experience increased vulnerability given the public discourse around Gender Recognition Act reform (now delayed), lack of access to the Gender Identity Clinics, and concerns around access to gender-affirming treatment (hormones, delayed surgery). Our Glasgow Trans Support Programme continues to provide support, as does our Helpline.
  • Mental health of the LGBT community: already poor, but likely to deteriorate due to anxiety around the pandemic, increased isolation and concerns around encountering discrimination and poor treatment within health services. Support is available through our Glasgow Mental Wellbeing Programme, which offers counselling, one-to-one support and a mental wellbeing digital programme.
  • LGBT asylum seekers and refugees: an already very vulnerable and marginalised group, including many refused asylum seekers receiving very limited or no support. Individuals often require assistance with access to basic needs and are experiencing extreme isolation. We are able to help through our new Refugee Project, including support to LGBT Unity to continue to provide peer support.