Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:16 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) 3:16 pm, 18th June 2020

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow Sam Tarry. I add my voice to those paying tribute and thanks to Dawn Butler for introducing the debate.

I have to say I am disappointed and ashamed that we have got to this stage in our country. Here we are in 2020, and it has taken a pandemic like covid-19 and the protests from BLM to make us recognise something that was in front of us all along. Covid-19 has certainly shone a very stark spotlight on our society, and shown quite clearly that there are cracks that we may have thought we had mended, and inequalities that we hoped we had addressed. There are still gaping holes, and inequalities that have gone not just unaddressed but largely unacknowledged.

Our society’s acute emotional response to the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on BAME communities has been perhaps the one saving grace in this shocking failure to protect our communities, so many of whom were at the forefront of tackling the virus and have paid the ultimate price. The impact of covid-19 is only part of that unacceptable picture. Another is the economic crisis, which may grow and which is also hitting our BAME communities particularly hard. They are disproportionately likely to be on zero-hours contracts. Only 31% of BAME workers have been furloughed; 20% have already lost their jobs.

If the Government are serious about tackling the systemic racial inequality that is now absolutely and undeniably clear in this country, what we need is not just another review setting out specific points. There are immediate steps that they could take. They could scrap the hostile environment. They could stop suspicionless stop-and-search. They could amend the Domestic Abuse Bill. There are so many steps that they could take now. The review is a first step, and I hope that it will make recommendations, but we already have 35 recommendations in the Lammy report, 110 in the Angiolini review, 30 in the Windrush lessons learned review, and 26 in Baroness McGregor-Smith’s review. We have reports, reviews and recommendations on the shelves in Whitehall, which are weighed down with them. What we need now is action.

More than that, I believe we need a race equality strategy for the whole of the UK. If this Government are serious about tackling racial injustice, that is what they need. The commission may be a first step, and it shows that the BLM protests are having an impact, but it must not be a way of avoiding tackling the issues that they have brought to light. We need that racial equality strategy. In truth, we needed it decades ago. So often I have believed that we were turning a corner. So many of us hoped—indeed, believed—that the Macpherson report after the murder of Stephen Lawrence would prove a turning point. We now realise that despite all the work that has been done by so many people, there is so much—too much—still to do. We cannot afford another false dawn in this country.

I am disappointed that I cannot pay tribute to the BAME community in my constituency or anywhere in Scotland and talk about the impact on them, because National Records of Scotland does not record deaths by ethnicity—it is voluntary—so the impact could be anywhere between 1% and 10%. I find it unacceptable that the Scottish Government do not have the figures to recognise that and address the issue in the way that we are at least attempting to in Westminster. I ask them to do that now. In fact, I ask our Ministers here at Westminster to impress on the Government in Scotland the need to act now, so that we can have a cross-government race equality strategy like the one recommended by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, effective across the United Kingdom.

This has been a difficult time for all of us. Standing here as a white woman, I acknowledge that, while I might sympathise, I cannot fully feel the injustice that so many of our communities are feeling today. But I do know that we all feel that this must be our moment for change. We have to change our society, and we have to change it now.