Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 4:11 pm, 18th June 2020

First, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend Dawn Butler on securing this important debate. The way in which different groups and communities have been affected by this coronavirus shows how scarred by inequality, and social and racial injustice, we are as a society. Coronavirus has laid bare the deep inequalities, particularly those faced by BAME communities and by white disadvantaged communities. It is truly shocking that BAME communities are more likely to contract the disease, with some groups, such as those of Bangladeshi origin and background, twice as likely to be affected as their white counterparts. As others have pointed out, the disparities report highlighted the fact that other BAME groups are between 10% and 50% more likely to die if they contract coronavirus than their white counterparts. The evidence is very clear. What we need is urgent action, and that is what has been lacking.

The PHE report, coming on top of the work the Office for National Statistics had done, again showed the massive disparities and the dangers for those in certain sectors, particularly in frontline jobs. We have heard a lot about that in terms of the disproportionate impact on those working in the NHS. We have seen the toll taken on those who have worked in those sectors, from BAME communities, in particular. We mourn the loss of all those who have lost their lives, of all backgrounds, but this debate is about how we can ensure that the Government learn the lessons quickly, so that we do not continue in this appalling direction of further fatalities.

My constituency has the highest number of Bangladeshi- origin constituents and a sizeable Somali community, and since this pandemic began my constituents have been mourning the loss of loved ones. In every part of our community, we have seen people having to deal with the fact that they have had to organise burials very quickly, without being able to attend funerals together as a community. I know that experience is shared by all of us across the country, and it is so painful. Those communities that have been hit the hardest, such as the BAME communities and those from white disadvantaged backgrounds, have been hurt the most in our country. We need to look at how we address these structural inequalities, and how we address race and class discrimination in our country, if we are to learn from this appalling period in our experience as a country and ensure that we do not continue in this way. If there is anything we can gain from what has happened so far, it is by ensuring that we do not see the further loss of life.

Moving forward, we need the Government to look at some of the specific issues that affect BAME communities. They include severe overcrowding, and the high prevalence of health inequalities in those communities. People live in intergenerational families, and the Government were too slow to see that, even though we warned them. We need greater investment in housing, and we need to deal with those structural inequalities with more investment in primary health care and prevention to protect different communities. As we ease lockdown, we must ensure that we carry out risk assessments to protect those who are shielded, and to ensure that those who have family members who are shielding, but who are being asked by their employers to return to work, are properly protected. Otherwise, more people will die.

We need the Government and Ministers to learn fast as they move towards easing lockdown. If our exit from lockdown is not done properly and responsibly, we will see the double catastrophe of more people in BAME communities dying, as well as more people from poorer backgrounds facing death. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the points that have been raised today, and act quickly.