Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:21 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 4:21 pm, 18th June 2020

I had to change my seating arrangements earlier as I was told that the microphone where I was originally sitting was not working—not that that has stopped me in the past.

First, let me pay tribute to Dawn Butler for her brilliant speech. I thank her for allowing me to intervene so that I could mention some of the topics on which I now wish to start my own speech.

I was standing in this very spot last night when I started my Adjournment debate by condemning completely the far-right violence that we saw in George Square in Glasgow last night. The far right targeted a peaceful protest by asylum seekers who were protesting about the living conditions that they have been put in by the Home Office. Such violence and thuggery must be condemned, and is condemned, by many proud Glaswegians.

There are a number of issues that I have had to deal with on behalf of BAME constituents, which are just plain wrong and which show systematic racism. The first one I will touch on involves the Foreign Office, which was trying to bring back constituents who were stuck abroad. When we made the case that these were individuals who needed to be brought back home, who had health issues that needed to be addressed, those individuals were all of a sudden told by the British consulate that they were not British nationals. Why are they not British nationals? It is because they were given indefinite leave to remain. It was quite ridiculous. Even when the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office told the Foreign Affairs Committee that, yes, they would bring people back home on the basis of their address and where they were resident, consulates were saying that people were not British nationals. That is something that we really need to address. I have been working on the matter with Mr Dhesi.

I will not revisit my 23-minute address that I made last night on how asylum seekers are treated, but to bundle them into vans and place them in hotels, under what is now known as hotel detention, with culturally inappropriate food and no social distancing is, quite frankly, a disgrace.

We also need to deal with the level of asylum support. A 26p increase in asylum support has been announced by the Government. That is the equivalent of being given a Freddo bar. That is what asylum seekers are being asked to live on in a week. It is an absolute disgrace. What they are being paid is 42% of what someone would expect on social security. I completely echo the comments of my friend the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Stephen Timms, on the issue of no recourse to public funds. He has done a great job on that. He embarrassed the Prime Minister, who did not seem to have a clue about that.

I want to touch on how public services are dealing with risk assessments and with BAME employees in particular. We have seen industrial disputes fairly recently, including here in London, in the Foreign Office, with BAME workers going on strike for not being paid the London living wage. It is an absolute disgrace that a Government Department has allowed a contractor to deal with that, and we really need to deal with equality impact assessments properly. It is no use for Governments to say that they have carried out an equality impact assessment and have come to the conclusion that everybody is being hammered equally, so there is therefore equality in the system. That really is not good enough. Frankly, at times I think the Government ignore their duties on equality impact assessments and the public sector equality duty.

I hope that Members will sign early-day motion 596, on the “Dying for sick pay” campaign, led by John McDonnell, which particularly relates to how BAME employees—predominantly female BAME employees—are being dealt with in the workforce. I also hope Members will sign early-day motion 599 on the Scottish Trades Union Congress’s “Break the race ceiling” campaign.

In closing, we need positive action in this country. As secretary of Show Racism the Red Card, I say that we need to use our education system to eliminate racism in this country. I was delighted to see the National Football League having to do a U-turn, forced by NFL players and NFL black players. That shows that action can work.