Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:21 pm, 18th June 2020

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Dawn Butler for giving us the opportunity to speak about this today. It is a pleasure to follow the sage, sad and passionate contribution from Christine Jardine.

In Newham, we have statistically the second highest mortality rate from covid in the country. We have lost Ramesh Gunamal, who worked on the front desk at Forest Gate police station. We have lost Dr Louisa Rajakumari, who taught English at Kingsford Community School. We have lost Dr Yusuf Patel, a much missed GP from Forest Gate, and Abdul Karim Sheikh—sometimes a political opponent, mostly a friend, and a man always dedicated to the best for our communities. Those are just a few of the people who Newham and West Ham mourn deeply.

We know that deprivation doubles the risk from covid, and Newham is deprived—of that, there is no doubt. Like many of my friends’ areas, we have beautifully diverse communities, which means that they have been hurt massively by the pandemic. Those from our Bangladeshi community have twice the risk of death, and that is more than 12% of my constituents. Those from the Pakistani community have a 44% higher risk, which is 10% of us in Newham. Those from the Indian community have a 22% higher risk, which is 15% of us in Newham. Those from the black Caribbean and black African communities have a 10% and 6% higher risk, which is 4% and 11% of us in Newham.

Some 73% of us in Newham are from an ethnic minority, so we need this Government to act before we see a second wave. We need action so desperately that I have broken shielding to be here today so that I can demand it. The fact that I had to do so is wrong, but that is not nearly as wrong as the denial of equal protection for my constituents from this terrible virus.

I have written to the Minister for Women and Equalities, the Health Secretary and others about this twice. The first letter was sent more than six weeks ago. I do not think the urgency of my language could have been misunderstood. I wrote again two weeks ago, expressing, again, a desperate need for action. I have received absolutely no response of value. However, I was pleased to hear yesterday that there is finally going to be an urgent review of evidence and possible action on vitamin D deficiency. I hope we get that very, very soon, because if there is a second wave and we have constituents dying for the simple lack of a vitamin supplement, the Government know there will be a price to pay.

We know that it goes further than vitamin D. Staggeringly, despite the fact that black and minority ethnic communities are at greater risk of death, they are under-represented in clinical trials. Why? What possible excuse is there for that? In my humble opinion, it is incompetence, at the very best.

Let us look at the Government’s approach to covid-19 across this pandemic: it has been about slowing down its spread, which depends on two weeks’ full isolation. But in poor communities where there is no spare cash— there are no savings—excessive living costs have to be met week in, week out. Frankly, we all know that statutory sick pay just is not enough to keep people afloat, so sick people go to work. They put themselves at risk, they put the people on the tube with them at risk, they put the people who are on buses with them at risk, and they put their co-workers at risk, all because they are not paid enough money to enable them to stay at home like the rest of us can do, and recover. The Government have not even suspended the no recourse to public funds policy so that people can isolate. Why? Why do they not understand what these actions mean?

In Newham, many of us live in overcrowded homes—even my home feels a bit overcrowded at the moment with just me and my husband—which means that people at home cannot self-isolate. I accept that the Government are not going to be able to eliminate overcrowding overnight, but it would be great if they made a start. The fact that they cannot means that the other policies, such as track and trace, are really important. If we have a second wave, as I fear, and black and minority ethnic communities die in numbers out of all proportion again, we will be holding the Government to account for those excess deaths.