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

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. That is why I specifically raised those who are working in transport and the gig economy, who do not have those routes. In the NHS they should at least be there; in some sectors, they do not exist in the first place.

We heard from the hon. Member for Brent Central some uncomfortable truths—issues that may be difficult for us to hear—but we cannot just listen and review; we must act. When I rather proudly told one of my constituents, as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, that we had launched an inquiry, her instant response was not great: it was, “Not another inquiry. Not another review. Please, can you come up with some action?” She was right.

The race disparity unit in the Cabinet Office was set up specifically to obtain data, but it needs to do more than just get data. It needs to be able to look at datasets and understand them—of course it does; we have to know where the structural inequalities lie—but it is of no use to accurately record a growing deficit, or perhaps a shrinking deficit. We have to have actions. We need policy levers to effect change, so that the young Caribbean boy in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brent Central has the same educational opportunities as the white girl in mine; so that the job opportunities and chances of progression in work—and that is absolutely key: it is about not just getting a job but getting a good job getting, a better job—are available whatever someone’s ethnicity; and so that someone’s ability to speak out when they do not have the right PPE is the same regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion, age, sexuality or disability.

I cannot stand here and predict the outcome of my Committee’s inquiry—it would be wrong to do so—but I can predict that we will expect delivery from Ministers, not warm words, not more reviews and not more commitments to get better data. We want action and improvement.

Covid-19 is of course a novel virus and we have been forced to learn about it at pace, but it has highlighted health inequalities that are real and current: if someone lives in overcrowded, poor-quality housing, they are more likely to be negatively impacted; if someone is in frontline, public-facing work, they are more likely to be negatively impacted; if someone’s English is poor or they have learning difficulties, they will not be able to receive the important public health messages that they need; and if someone lives in multigenerational families, they are more likely to be negatively impacted, as are those whose work is insecure. Of course, a person may well have no choice but to carry on working at the height of a pandemic to feed their family. No one can be a careworker, a retail worker or a transport worker from the safety of their own home.

We have not had a public health crisis like this since the Spanish flu 100 years ago, and I do not know whether our generation will see another, but we cannot lurch to another crisis without having worked out how to risk-assess our frontline workers; without having established culturally intelligent ways to disseminate information; and without having empowered people in the workplace to voice their concerns and enabled the routes to redress.

I know that the Minister and her colleagues across Government will work hard on this issue. We heard last week from my hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities about the importance of the work that the race disparity unit is doing, but I urge the Minister present to come forward with what is actually going to happen, because that is what our BAME communities up and down the country wish to hear.