Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Sam Tarry Sam Tarry Labour, Ilford South 3:10 pm, 18th June 2020

I thank my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn who, as we all know, has campaigned so passionately on many of these issues for a very long time.

This is a deeply troubling moment for many minority communities, not least in my constituency of Ilford South, where minority communities—black communities, Asian communities, people representing nearly every corner of the globe—represent over 53% of the population, and growing every year. Ilford South has a tapestry of communities that coexist, that work together. Through the recent covid crisis, I have had heartening moments with local people, such as when the local gurdwara has provided over 4,000 meals a week to help the vulnerable and those in need. People have been working together—churches alongside mosques alongside synagogues. And yet it is our local community that has suffered so badly. On my Facebook page, I see people from the Bangladeshi community putting up posts asking us to make prayers for their friends and family members who have lost loved ones. The impact has been difficult and dark for many people in my community.

So many people have taken the time to reach out to me, to write in to me—I have had hundreds of emails and letters on this issue. Not just about the death of Belly Mujinga, who was a member of my former union, the TSSA, and rightly took the time, a few weeks ago, to challenge Govia Thameslink directly over the lack of protective equipment and the way that she was forced to go and work on the platform, rather than safely in the ticket office where she normally worked. So many people have lost loved ones during this pandemic and in some cases, I am afraid to say, it appears to be avoidable. Many more have been terrified to leave their home for fear of contracting this deadly disease.

Actually, in many BAME communities, the proportion of people who work in frontline services, whether it be bus drivers or people working in the NHS, is incredibly high and people are fearful, and they are angry that they and their communities have not been prioritised by the Government in the way that they should have been. These are rational fears. In my Bangladeshi community —my own friends—the risk of death has been double that of people of white British ethnicity. In other communities—Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean, black communities—the risks have been 10% to 50% higher than for white British people, and yet many of those people were the first to be put on furlough, the first to lose their jobs, and have had the greatest burden in terms of how many they have seen die from their own community.

There are many factors behind these deaths. One would appear to be a lack of support, in that they often feel too scared to speak out. But I have been working on it, and this week we are having another Zoom meeting—something that has seemed ubiquitous recently—and I am expecting hundreds of people to join up from local black communities, to talk about these issues. There will be a moment of self-reflection for those of us who have real privilege, about what we can do to be genuine allies to communities facing oppression and always finding themselves at the bottom of the pile. I look forward to that, and I thank the hon. Members who will be joining me for that call later this week.

I would like to talk a little bit about one of the cases that I have had about frontline health care staff. You know, we were quite proactive in Redbridge. When we realised that many of our care homes did not have the PPE that they needed, we sought out what in old-fashioned parlance might be described as a local rag trade company —a manufacturer of garments—and begged them to turn their machinery to producing the garments needed for our care homes, so that people working there could have the protection that they needed. Yet we found too often, time and again, that frontline workers were sent into the firing line, despite being ill-equipped and despite being in vulnerable categories. That is still so unacceptable.

I think that many of us will look back on this period and ask what more we could have done, and our Government could have done, to protect these communities, which have borne such a heavy toll.

Over the past few months, one thing that I have found particularly difficult has been the increase in not just fear but racism—that some communities have almost been targeted, perhaps because of online rumours that their community is more likely to be bringing in this awful disease. That is totally unacceptable. From the Bangladeshi community to the Chinese community, so many communities have faced racism. It has been really tough for my own family. My son happens to be mixed-race Chinese, and some of the comments that his mother has had have been pretty appalling.

We as a nation need to put those who too often find themselves at the very bottom to the very top of our priorities. Comments from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and decisions by people such as Dominic Cummings have meant that the trust that even some of my constituents had in the Government has been utterly eroded. We can never have a situation—