Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 1:45 pm, 18th June 2020

I congratulate Dawn Butler on having secured this important and timely debate. She picked up on several themes that I will probably echo, but she also spoke about voices, focusing on Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling—people who have used their voices effectively. In my speech, I will concentrate on the voices of BAME workers in our health service.

At the very start of the pandemic, we had a debate in this Chamber about the emergency covid legislation. I vividly remember receiving a briefing from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission that spoke about how the pandemic might affect different groups of people differently. It is interesting to read and review that briefing with 2020 hindsight. When it spoke of BAME communities, it mentioned their employment opportunities, including the likelihood that young BAME people in particular would be working in unsecure employment in the gig economy and on zero-hours contracts. What it did not speak about was their health.

I think that the death toll has shocked us all. But it is not only the death toll, is it? As the hon. Member for Brent Central highlighted, BAME people are more likely to be hospitalised. If hospitalised, they are more likely to end up in intensive care units. And if in intensive care units, they will be there for longer. As we have learnt over the course of the pandemic, all those things have a significant impact on people’s wellbeing going forward because the longer that someone is in ICU, the longer it will take them to recover and to return to their home, their family and their employment.

At the start of the pandemic, the Women and Equalities Committee launched an inquiry into the unequal impact of covid. That has now split into three separate inquiries looking specifically at: the impact on disabled people and their access to services; the gendered impact of covid; and—the inquiry that we have launched within the last couple of weeks and on which we have already taken significant evidence—the impact on our BAME community. As I said to Committee members last week before we had the first evidence session, “If there is one thing you can rely on from the Women and Equalities Committee, it is that our inquiry will come up with recommendations for the Government to act.”

Yesterday we heard from Dr Chaand Nagpaul and Professor Kamlesh Khunti. I do not wish overly to paraphrase their evidence, but I only have six minutes so I really will have to. They both reiterated what can be found in the NHS England and NHS Improvement briefing on the disproportionate impact of covid—that BAME staff are over-represented in the lower grades of the NHS hierarchy, that there is not enough diversity in management structures, and that, as a direct result, BAME staff are worried to speak up when they do not have the right PPE. Those staff are not having their voices heard—or, worse, they are too scared to use their voices. That is Britain in 2020: BAME staff in the NHS are scared to speak up. We have to make sure immediately that channels are open for people to be able to do so, whether they work in the NHS or in other frontline roles such as bus drivers, retail workers and nursery assistants—the people without whom, to be blunt, our country would have ground to a halt over the course of the last 12 weeks.

The Committee heard from Professor Sir Michael Marmot, who did a review back in 2010. He refreshed his review in February this year—hard up against the start of the crisis.