Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:16 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:16 pm, 18th June 2020

I thank my hon. Friend Dawn Butler for securing this debate. “Unprecedented” is a word we have heard bandied around a lot in the last few months. The new ways of working and interacting with our communities may be unprecedented, but sadly, the effect of covid-19 on black and minority ethnic communities does have precedent. If the Government had taken the findings of previous reports seriously, not only is it possible that many of these black and minority ethnic deaths could have been avoided, but we would not once again have to be asking the Government to ensure that more people do not lose their lives to this horrible disease.

In 2017, the Lammy review and the race disparity audit were published. Both highlighted the structural inequalities experienced by black and minority ethnic communities. Asian and black households and those in other ethnic minority groups were more likely to be poorer and most likely to be in persistent poverty. The ethnic minority population is more likely to live in areas of deprivation—especially black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people. Around one in 10 adults from black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or mixed backgrounds were unemployed, compared with one in 25 white British people. Overcrowding affects ethnic minority households disproportionately. London has one of the highest rates of overcrowding of all regions in England. There has been an increase in the number of ethnic minority households accepted by local authorities as statutorily homeless over the last decade.

The Government will tell us that tackling racism is at the core of their efforts. Last week, I asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government how much it spends on tackling racism. The response said that the Department

“paid approximately £219,00 to projects specifically to target racism in the financial year 19/20.”

People across this nation are watching. Black and minority ethnic communities have faced structural racism for decades, and we are having to have the same conversations 20 years on. People are concerned and, rightly, angry. Although I support both Show Racism the Red Card and the Anne Frank Trust, which the Government fund, is this the message that the Government want to give—just £219,000 of the Department’s annual budget is spent on racism, yet the Prime Minister is willing to spend £900,000 on rebranding his plane? Can somebody tell me what kind of message that sends to our country? The message is that this Government care more about the colour of a plane than fighting racism, bigotry and discrimination for people of colour. Is this the message the Government are sending? Is that the Government’s priority? And they wonder why people are so angry.

Morally, the Government’s priorities are not in the right place and nor are they economically. The McGregor-Smith review found that black and minority ethnic career progression could add £24 billion a year to the UK’s economy. If we could tackle racial inequality, we would be billions better-off. Yet I ask the Government how much they are spending specifically on tackling this type of race inequality. If the Minister wants to tell the House how much is spent on trying to retrieve up to £24 billion lost to the economy, I am happy to give way.

On 9 April, I also wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Over the past few months, the Government have published significant material on covid-19 restrictions and guidelines on the Government website, and Ministers have been briefing the nation on air every single day. Yet I have still not received a response, despite me reaching out to the Government to support them in their efforts to reach minority communities. On a community level in Bradford West, the Al Markaz Medics, the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Bradford Council for Mosques all put out their own communication. It did not come from the Government. Nationally, lot of organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain did what they needed to do for their own communities, but the Government did not. We have had to take it upon ourselves. The Government failed to acknowledge the significant language barriers that exist in communities, despite this being a pandemic where everyone has needed to receive clear messaging.

I am a former commissioner. From my commissioning days, I remember the Rocky Bennett inquiry. In 1998, Rocky Bennett was held down by five nurses. He could not breathe either and he died. The report, published over 20 years ago, made recommendations to the Department of Health to

“cure this festering abscess”— racism—

“which is a blot upon the good name of the NHS.”

Rocky Bennett was a 38-year-old black man with huge ambitions who had been offered a traineeship with Chelsea.

Structural inequalities are what this comes down to. Even in this place last year, a young man who had grown his Afro for years had to cut it to even be considered for an interview. Structural racism exists in this place. The Government need to listen and stop papering over with more reviews. We know what the issues are. Now is the time for action.