COVID-19 Study: Lived experiences of the pandemic among Black and minority ethnic women

COVID-19 has exposed quite how unequal British society remains. Black and minority ethnic communities have been especially hard hit, while women have disproportionately felt the negative effects of both lockdowns and the subsequent economic pain. Black and minority ethnic women, of course, were impacted on both fronts.

In 2020, we launched a new study to examine the pandemic’s impact on the lives of women from Black and minority ethnic communities in the UK, particularly those of African heritage. The research findings revealed the unique difficulties faced by minority women in a pandemic-ravaged world.

Lockdowns and other public health measures have had a significant impact on African women’s mental health. For the women we surveyed, 52% said that mental health has worsened during the pandemic. Lockdowns also disrupted women’s relationships and support networks, with an alarming surge in reports of domestic abuse and fewer avenues to pursue help.

Finances, work and living conditions were also likely to be a cause for concern. Many women surveyed faced a significant drop in household income, leading to worry over rent, mortgage payments and other debts.

The stay-at-home orders also impacted the quality of public services to which women had access. The responsibility to home school fell disproportionately on mothers, and a lack of digital devices and stable internet access left many worrying that their children would fall behind academically. Meanwhile, remote health appointments proved a poor replacement for face-to-face consultations, especially for those without English as a first language.

Our research led us to several key policy recommendations for governments and local authorities to markedly improve the lives of Black and minority ethnic women. These include urgent financial and employment support for families affected during the pandemic; ensuring accessibility to digitised healthcare services; addressing digital poverty and the need for effective catch-up programmes for most-affected children; and funding for culturally appropriate mental health and domestic abuse services.

This study is based on an online consultation survey with 116 Black and minority ethnic women in the UK, and 20 peer-to-peer in-depth interviews in London and Bristol.

Report authors: Amy Abdelshahid and Khadra Habane