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 agree with my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington is calling for a public inquiry into black deaths from covid. I support her in that, but, as my hon. Friend highlights, it must not be an excuse to kick this issue down the road. We need action now for the people at the frontline who are still affected by this. If we have the second peak that we all fear is coming, they need to be protected. If people are moved out of frontline jobs to be shielded and protected because of their greater risk of death, they must not see detriment to their career path. We need action now. We need workplace plans to support people. It is a tragic and visible reminder of the inequalities we see.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic households are nearly five times more likely to be overcrowded than white households. I have repeatedly raised in this place the tragedy of families who are living in double households, with one family in the living room and one in the bedroom. My right hon. Friend Stephen Timms highlighted how no recourse to public funds also feeds into that, and 43.9%—so nearly 44%—of London NHS staff are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. A staggering 67% of adult social care staff in our capital are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

One interesting and important point is how we communicate public health messages. Sometimes one size does not fit all. If you live in an overcrowded household and are told to self-isolate, it is a different challenge than if you live in a home with spare bedrooms, studies, extra living rooms, large gardens and big kitchens. People need advice about how to manage the public health situation in their own domestic situation and their own workplace. The digital divide is a big concern in my constituency when it comes to getting that message across, with 11% of Hackney residents having no access to the internet.

This is near Shoreditch. Shoreditch is part of my constituency—part of the borough that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and I represent together—yet just over one in 10 residents have no access to the internet and 20% say they are not confident using the internet.

This has been a thoughtful, measured debate, and I do not doubt that every Member here, and many others who would have liked to have spoken, means every word they say about action now. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jo Churchill, is a reasonable and thoughtful woman and I look forward to her response, but I must repeat that the Prime Minister under whom she serves has repeatedly used racist language. Where is the word “piccaninnies” from? I am not going to give a history lesson, but look it up. It is not acceptable for a Prime Minister of this country to have only in recent times described people in those pejorative terms, using the phrase “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and talking about women in burqas with “letterbox” slits.

That does not set the tone or give me confidence that the Government will act. I believe that there are good people in the Government. There are good people in the Prime Minister’s party, but he needs to shape up. Just as Marcus Rashford educated him about the poverty and hunger of children on free school meals, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and I stand ready, with our constituents and with colleagues across the House, to educate the Prime Minister about how badly wrong he is getting the messaging on this. He needs to act now.