Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:04 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 3:04 pm, 18th June 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Dawn Butler, who is my great friend, on securing this debate and on the incredible work that she has done—not just today, but over many years—to expose racism, inequality and injustice in our society, and to persuade us that we should all learn and teach history much better in this country in order to conquer the inequalities and injustices faced by so many people.

There have been many absolutely brilliant speeches this afternoon, for which I commend colleagues. I particularly want to express my sympathy to another great friend, my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi; to not be able to attend the funerals of close family friends, and not be there to carry the coffin, is something that will live with him for the rest of his life and live with the family forever more. This crisis will have a huge effect on people’s lives and mental wellbeing for a long time to come.

The motion that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central so excellently crafted requires the Government to respond to this debate. I hope that when the Minister replies, the Government will give us some indication that they do take seriously the health inequalities that have been exposed by the covid crisis.

Some 40% of our doctors and 20% of nurses come from BAME communities, as well as a very large number of people working in social care and a group of people who were decried as unskilled migrants by previous Home Secretaries: the cleaners who clean our care homes, hospitals and schools. They are the heroes in all this because they are the ones who are helping to keep us safe. This virus has exposed the necessity of communities working absolutely together, but it also shows a disproportionate number of deaths among people from the BAME community, who are 50% more likely to die from covid-19 than those who are not from the BAME community. The same figures apply for admissions to emergency care and intensive treatment units in hospitals.

The health inequalities exposed by the pandemic are not actually new. Professor Douglas Black’s report was published in 1980—40 years ago—and exposed health inequalities in Britain. The Tory Government then tried to suppress that report. I hope that no Government ever try to suppress the levels of knowledge of inequality that exist in our society. As colleagues have pointed out, it is low wages, overcrowded private rented accommodation and unsafe working conditions that lead to under- achievement in schools and to those children having great difficulty getting through.

A couple of days ago, I was talking to a headteacher of a primary school in my constituency. More than three quarters of the children in her school are entitled to free school meals. The school has done its best to deliver food to those children during the crisis. Teachers also want them to learn online, but many of the children do not have access to computers or laptops. If they do, there is one for a very large family and the children end up squabbling over who gets to access it. The school is therefore spending money posting lessons out to children. That is the effect of inequality and injustice in our society.

Life expectancy is shorter for people from BAME communities, and there is a lack of community facilities in so many areas. I want to say thank you to all our public service workers for what they have achieved and for the way in which they have come together. I also thank the volunteers who have come together in the food banks and food hubs, such as the one that I have been working on in my constituency over the last few weeks. I also say a special thank you to the Whittington Hospital in my constituency for its work. Last week, the staff there reported no new covid cases at all; well done them.

Covid has exposed inequality in our health service and society, and the injustice in our society. Post covid, let us invest for the future and not cut with yet another new regime of austerity. The virus has also exposed global health inequalities on a massive scale, with the poorest in the poorest countries suffering the most, as the lack of access to any health facilities makes life very difficult and the quality of life that many have makes social distancing absolutely impossible. When the World Health Organisation calls for universal access to healthcare, the response of the west is too often to say, “Introduce a payments scheme or an insurance-based health service” or something like that. No—we are all at risk. If anyone is at risk anywhere in the world, surely that has to be the lesson from this covid crisis; universal healthcare is very important.

In the last few seconds, let me say this: there are 65 million people on this planet who have no home to call their own, and no country to call their home. They are refugees or internally displaced people. By and large, they have no access to healthcare. They are at a greater risk than absolutely anybody else. Let us ensure that our approach to the coronavirus crisis is fair and just in this country, and that we have international trade and development policies that tackle health inequalities and injustices across the world to give us all a better and safer future.