Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:53 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee 3:53 pm, 18th June 2020

I speak today not just for my constituents, but to represent my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott, which may surprise most people, because in her 33 years in this place, I think everyone would agree that she has never needed anyone to speak for her. She has been perfectly capable, able and talented at speaking up on inequality repeatedly in her 33 years, and she was the first ever black woman to be elected to this place. Sadly, the Government’s refusal to allow remote participation means that she is unable to attend today because she is shielding, but she wanted me to speak for our borough together, because of the concerns we both share about the number of deaths from covid-19 of black, Asian and minority ethnic people. I am proud to stand with her. She has spoken up for the marginalised for many years, and I am proud to have her as a neighbouring MP and a friend.

My right hon. Friend highlights that black deaths from covid-19 have been particularly traumatising  for the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, who are very likely to know someone who has died. We have heard that very firmly in the Chamber today. I also want to highlight the very important work of Councillor Carole Williams, a cabinet member on Hackney Council, who highlighted this inequality at an early stage. She was ahead of the curve of many people in this Chamber today, and of the Government. It is because we live and work in the community, and understand its needs and its trauma, that we really wanted to raise these points today.

Hackney is the 22nd most deprived local authority district in England and the third most densely populated. Our housing overcrowding is severe, as I have often mentioned in this House. When we break that down in terms of ethnicity, over 70% of people on our housing waiting lists are from ethnic minority backgrounds. These are inequalities that we are all weary of raising. As my hon. Friend Dawn Butler, who has done a great job in securing the debate today, highlighted, it is a pattern that we recognise and are weary of having to highlight again and again and again. I echo the points raised by my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi and my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy about the need for action now. We know a lot of these problems. We have raised them repeatedly. We need to see action.

Hackney has the third-highest death rate per 100,000 people, at 183, of all local authority areas. With 40% of our population from BAME backgrounds, it is not surprising that we have had 175 deaths from covid-19, but 70% of those deaths were of people born outside the UK and 60% of the deaths were of people employed in routine and manual occupations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington highlighted when we were discussing this matter today, we also know that it is not just a matter of underlying health conditions. Black people are disproportionately employed, as other colleagues have highlighted, in sectors exposed to covid: transport, social care and the NHS. They are more likely to be agency staff or in roles with zero-hour contracts, so feel less empowered to insist on proper PPE. This goes very much to workplace rights as well and the ability to call out something when it is wrong. If you call it out and lose your job, it is of course harder to do that.