As the representative of Leicester East, one of the most diverse constituencies in the country, it has been extremely concerning to see the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on African, Asian and minority ethnic communities. This was proven by the Government’s own report, which they shamefully published only after repeated pressure, and which does not outline any protective measures to deal with the disproportionate impact of covid-19. In a constituency like mine, which has a significant number of people from the affected communities, I worry about the processes of tracking, testing and so on, and whether that will be put right, because we can imagine what impact a second outbreak would have on such constituencies.
The Office for National Statistics has found that black people are 1.9 times more likely to die of covid-19 than white people, people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani descent are 1.8 times more likely to die, and people of Indian descent are about 1.5 times more likely to die. Those figures reflect the severe racial disparities in our economy.
We already know from a Resolution Foundation think-tank estimate that black, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi employees experience an annual pay penalty of £3.2 billion. Analysis from Public Health England shows that once in hospital, people from African, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are also more likely to require intensive care. Those communities accounted for 11% of those hospitalised with covid-19, but 36% of those admitted to critical care.
Many have tried to dismiss the imbalance in deaths as being explained by cultural or even genetic factors. I have been dismayed by some of the information that has come through my inbox about what people need to do to tackle these genetic problems. Yet discrimination is not about that; it is deeply ingrained in the social, political and economic structures of our economic system. The scourge of institutional racism results in unequal access to quality education, unequal access to healthy food and unequal access to liveable wages and affordable housing, which are the foundations of health and wellbeing. That is the context in which the coronavirus crisis is operating. The virus itself may not discriminate, but our economic and social system certainly does.
Existing racial and class inequalities coupled with inadequate Government support mean that working-class communities, migrants and African, Asian and minority ethnic communities are at greater risk from exposure to covid-19. The severe racial disparities in our economy mean that those communities are more likely to fall through the cracks in the Government’s financial support and therefore more likely to be forced to work in unsafe conditions. A decade of cruel austerity has deepened the racial and class inequalities that exist in our society. Last year, a UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur reported on discrimination in the UK. We know that one of the grim findings was:
“Austerity measures in the United Kingdom are reinforcing racial subordination.”
NHS staff are at considerable risk from the virus, as we know. It is vital that we repay the extraordinary contribution of frontline workers with a permanent extension of migrant rights. That means an end to the hostile environment. That means shutting detention centres and ending them, and it means granting indefinite leave to remain to all NHS workers, to carers and to their dependent families. Recent reports indicate that migrant NHS workers and carers are still being charged for using the health service that they work in. That is despite the Government saying that they would end that.
As the inspiring crowds of protesters across the country have shown in recent weeks, it is crucial that we in the UK do not assume that we are immune from the disease of institutional racism. The failure of the Government to outline any protective measures, despite being evidentially aware of the disproportionate impact of covid-19, is yet another instance of the institutionalised neglect of African, Asian and minority ethnic communities.