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Watchdog finds evidence of inequality in treatment of ethnic minority ‘Covid heroes’ working in health and social care during pandemic

Poor data collection by employers in health and social care is legally questionable and may be masking the extent of discrimination against lower-paid workers who have experienced bullying, racism and harassment, an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has heard.

The inquiry report warned: “There are, potentially, legal implications to this issue.

"Gathering comprehensive, accurate equality data, including on those in their workforce in lower-paid, outsourced and commissioned-out roles, can help employers to show that they are complying with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).

“Even independent sector providers, of which there are many in adult social care particularly, may be subject to the PSED if they carry out a public function, or if commissioning bodies stipulate certain equality policies or procedures in their contracts.”

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The inquiry found job insecurity in the health and adult social care sectors caused fear of victimisation among low-paid ethnic minority staff, particularly if they were to raise concerns.

Ethnic minority workers in these sectors in England and Wales were also more likely than others to be employed on zero-hour contracts and job insecurity.

The EHRC launched the inquiry in November 2020 to examine the experiences of workers in roles such as healthcare assistants, porters, cleaners, security staff and residential, home and personal care workers.

Its chair Baroness Falkner said: “Our inquiry found evidence that low-paid ethnic minority staff also faced discrimination and mistreatment in their workplaces.

“What is more troubling is that a lack of good data may allow discrimination to pass unnoticed. Robust workforce data is crucial so organisations know who works for them and what their employees’ experiences are, so they can take action to end bad practice.”

Falkner said the EHRC would work with government, the NHS, local authorities, regulators and care providers “to ensure that the working conditions of lower-paid workers in this sector are improved and that their crucial contribution to our health and our economy is recognised”.

Mark Smulian

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