Latin Americans ‘Invisible’ During COVID-19 Pandemic

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The Latin American community in the UK is disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, amid mounting concerns of their access to the vaccine rollout, a new Indo-American Refugee Migrant Organisation (IRMO) report has found.

It is estimated that around a quarter of a million Latin Americans currently reside in the UK. 145,000 Latinex people live in London, including communities from Argentina, Brazil and Columbia, making the community the eighth largest ethnic group in the capital city. However, recent reports have highlighted the group’s invisibility, only heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Lack of Recognition

As of 2021, Latin Americans are not officially recognised as an ethnic minority group within the UK. Consequently, there is no ethnicity option of ‘Latin American’ on the UK census, and the ONS and Public Health England do not hold any official data on Latin Americans.

The lack of formal recognition has been found to limit access to public services and, in the instance of the pandemic, limit knowledge of ongoing impacts due to disregard of the group in COVID BAME reports. 

IRMO represent the Latin American population in the UK and their right to fulfilled lives. Their report published this month, includes a survey of 170 Latin Americans and their experiences throughout the first national lockdown. The figures shine a light on the disproportionate and underreported impacts of COVID-19 on the community.

NHS vaccination centres are vital but organisations worry about latin americans access to the vaccine
Many Latin Americans are expected to find difficulty accessing the COVID 19 vaccine. [Image: Evening Standard]

1 in 7 Latin Americans in the UK are not currently registered with a GP, the report found, primarily due to lack of translation services provided for the registering process. As local GP’s act as the main gateways to health services, many Latin Americans could struggle to access the COVID-19 vaccine and subsequently be left more at risk.

The invisibility of formal recognition has negatively impacted all Latin Americans in the UK

Moreover, Latin American’s overrepresentation in frontline or insecure work presents another public health threat. Previous Queen Mary University research from 2019 showed three quarters of Latin American people earn less than the London Living Wage, much higher than the average across all other groups. 14% of the respondents were still working as ‘essential workers’ in the first lockdown, therefore disproportionately affecting individuals less able to access local health resources. 

Latin American Workforce

77% reported they were unable to work from home due to being in hospitality, cleaning or construction and 49% had increased worries of job security during the pandemic caused by insecure employment contracts. Nearly half of respondents stated they were out of work by mid-May.

Clearly, Latin American people are concentrated in some of the worst-hit and essential employment sectors but with low levels of pay and support.

Over a third of respondents stated they were actually receiving no income at all by the end of the first lockdown. Keeping up with rent payments, childcare, and food shopping became widespread financial struggles.

Representation is power. Latin American invisibility in government data has clearly led to unacceptable issues with their protection, support, and welfare. As the community struggles to access the resources they need, reliance on food banks and child food insecurity has increased.

Mental health impacts have been great, at a time of global instability. Anxieties stemming from employment insecurity caused depression, insomnia, and panic attacks for many of the IRMO respondents.

Food bank many latin americans have had to rely on food banks during the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many Latin Americans relying on food banks this past year. [Image: The Trussell Trust]

Furthermore, with 27% of Latin Americans not being entitled to government support due to their immigration status, the group is more at risk of homelessness, food poverty, and unemployment, especially during the pandemic. 

Organising for Representation

It is evident in these statistics that not enough is being done to support the Latin American community living within the UK, not just during the pandemic but overall.

The invisibility of the group in government data has clearly led to an issue with the protection, support and welfare of Latin Americans in the UK

The IRMO concluded that the first step that needs to be taken is officially recognising Latin Americans as an ethnic minority group, stating ‘invisibility can only be overcome by organising collectively.’ Campaigning for this is crucial to ensure that public services are made fully inclusive and accessible.

They also argued that ‘monitoring access to the vaccine will be critical to ensure that it reaches all groups, including the Latin American community.’ The government must put in place pathways that increase access for those who would otherwise struggle in receiving the jab.

It is also clear that food insecurity is an essential issue that needs to be tackled, as no person should have anxiety about accessing food. The IRMO recommended that the government and local authorities therefore must put in place ‘adequate referral pathways and partnerships’ to tackle food insecurity.

The current pandemic has highlighted the protection and security that the Latin American community in the UK are being wrongfully robbed of. They make huge contributions to the culture, social and economy which should be better recognised. The cloak of invisibility that has been forced over the group must be snatched away in order to ensure that a path to equal access to resources and services can be fully achieved.

[Header Image: Sky News}

Written by
Aaron Gates-Lincoln