Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:34 pm, 18th June 2020

I am delighted to speak in this debate, and I want to thank my hon. Friend Dawn Butler for securing it. I am proud to represent the diverse constituency of Vauxhall in Parliament, not least because my constituents have fought on the frontline of this pandemic, including at St Thomas’s Hospital, where our Prime Minister was treated so well. But tragically, we have seen more than 500 deaths in my borough of Lambeth as a result of coronavirus, and 40% of those deaths have been black, Asian and minority ethnic people. Those deaths are not just statistics. They are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. They are sons and daughters and they are grandparents. A number of my constituents were not able to say goodbye to their loved ones.

Public Health England has found that the death rate from covid-19 is much higher for people from BAME backgrounds than for white ethnic groups. It has also found that black males are 3.9 times more likely to die than white males, and that black females are 3.3 times more likely to die. This is not a coincidence. We should not be surprised or devastated by these statistics—shocked, yes; surprised, no. The report shows that BAME communities continue to catch covid-19 and that they are more likely to live in overcrowded housing, more likely to live in deprived areas and more likely to have jobs that expose them to this deadly disease. I might add that it is those crucial jobs that have kept our country going over the last few months: the bus drivers, the nurses, the midwives, the care workers, the taxi drivers and the security guards. They are really crucial jobs.

Nor should we be surprised to read in the report that the pre-existing structural inequalities that BME communities face are a factor in those high death rates. For me, the most damning sentence in the report reads:

“It confirms that the impact of COVID-19 has replicated existing health inequalities and, in some cases, has increased them.”

It is there in black and white. Those deaths cannot and should not be separated from the tragic death of Belly Mujinga here in the UK, or from the shocking death of George Floyd in the USA. Those deaths cannot and should not be separated from the deeply entrenched structural inequality and racism that our BME communities continue to face every single day. We cannot begin to tackle the disproportionate impact of this virus until we acknowledge the deep-rooted cause and the deep-seated racism that still tragically exists in 2020. That is the racism that I and many other colleagues on both sides of this Chamber have faced, and we have spoken about it in this Chamber. We continue to experience that racism.

The report also highlights the direction that we should be taking. It concludes:

“These results improve our understanding of the pandemic and will help in formulating the future public health response to it.”

It goes on to say:

“It seems likely that it will be difficult to control the spread of COVID-19 unless these inequalities can be addressed.”

They have to be addressed. If the Government are really serious about tackling this real issue and making sure that we have concrete action to tackle racial inequality in our society, they must show leadership by acting on the failures that have led us to this debate today.