Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:11 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 2:11 pm, 18th June 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Dawn Butler on securing the debate and on her powerful and moving speech. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for ensuring that the debate was allocated time this afternoon.

I will not speak for too long, but the impact of covid-19 on black and minority ethnic communities has been so shocking that I feel I must put on record my concerns, and add my voice to those calling for urgent and decisive action. We have known for months, as Ms Ghani has just said, that BAME people are being hit very hard by this pandemic. Last month, the Office for National Statistics found that black men and women are four times more likely to die from covid-19 than white men and women, and that people from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and mixed ethnic groups also had a raised risk.

The Health Service Journal reported that more than 90% of doctors who have died during the pandemic have been BAME—more than double the proportion in the medical workforce as a whole—and that, although BAME groups count for 21% of all NHS staff, they account for 63% of those dying from covid-19. Similar inequalities have been exposed by our universities, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and many others, and of course they have been confirmed by Public Health England’s review. However, this is not just about numbers; it is about people. It is about the families and communities that have lost loved ones, including hon. Members present this afternoon.

That is why dozens of my constituents have written to me about Belly Mujinga. They did not know Belly, but they understand that failing to protect black and minority ethnic people from covid-19 leaves behind devastated families. They are appalled by the story of her death and they are demanding action. They want to know what the Government will do to ensure that things change. They want to know that the inequalities that have produced this disproportionate impact will be tackled, and they want to know that it will be done quickly. The virus has not gone away, and we all know that the risks of a second wave are very real.

Why are we seeing the disproportionate impact? We know that poverty matters. Both ethnicity and income inequality are independently associated with covid-19 mortality. People from the most deprived communities are almost twice as likely to be admitted to intensive care as the least deprived.

We know that housing matters. The Marmot report found that BAME people are more likely to live in overcrowded housing, making self-isolation more difficult. Some 30% of Bangladeshi households and 15% of African households were overcrowded, compared with just 2% of white British households. Where that over- crowding coincides with multi-generational households, it can make shielding impossible.

We know that where you live matters, with links between poor air quality and increased susceptibility to covid-19. The places most affected by pollution are also more likely to have higher BAME populations and are home to more deprived communities.

We know that where you work matters. People from BAME backgrounds are more likely to work in jobs that cannot be done from home, in frontline roles where they are dealing with the public—as taxi, private hire and public transport drivers; security workers; retail workers; and especially health and social care staff, where there is a higher risk of exposure to covid-19. If people do not get sick pay, or if it is so low that they cannot live on it, they might be forced to choose between risking their health and that of others and managing to put food on the table.

We know that racism and race discrimination really matter. If someone has experienced racism at work or already feels isolated, of course it is harder for them to speak up or raise concerns about safety. The British Medical Association found in 2018 that BAME doctors were twice as likely as white doctors to say that they would not feel confident raising safety concerns. More recently, BAME doctors told the BMA that they were more likely to feel pressured to see patients without adequate PPE. If people have had bad experiences of using health services in the past, they are less likely to seek treatment. If someone is worried that they might be challenged about their right to be here, they might not seek hospital help and care. That is a real impact of the hostile environment.

Tackling these inequalities is urgent. It requires efforts across Government and by employers and other organisations, and it must be done in collaboration with BAME people themselves. When the Minister responds to the debate, she must tell us that the Government will act now to implement all seven recommendations in the Public Health England report as soon as possible. More than that, we need to hear that there is a detailed plan setting out how they intend to do so. Perhaps most of all, we need to hear that the Government understand that systemic racism is real and that we do not need another review. We need Government to act on the recommendations of not just this report but all the others that are sitting gathering dust—as my hon. Friend said, deeds, not words.