Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:16 pm on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Colleen Fletcher Colleen Fletcher Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:16 pm, 12th January 2021

Since 2010 the unfair and regressive economic and social policies implemented by this Government have perpetuated and, indeed, exacerbated the deep-rooted structural inequalities in our society. As a result, the past decade was marked by widening health inequalities, deteriorating health and stagnating and even declining life expectancy. This means that, even without the coronavirus pandemic, we started this new decade as a more inequitable, unequal and imbalanced society, which faced enormous challenges to help alleviate health inequalities, improve life chances and increase life expectancy. What the covid-19 outbreak has done is expose those health and wider societal inequalities and demonstrate quite starkly that the circumstances that a person is born into, that they grow up in and that they live their life in can have tangible consequences for their health. We know that coronavirus has had a disproportionate impact on many people who already face disadvantage and discrimination, and, sadly, it is becoming increasingly clear that the covid-19 outbreak has widened and will continue to widen existing health inequalities.

Similarly, we know that people who live in deprived areas have higher diagnosis, rates and death rates than those living in more affluent areas. Indeed, national and regional evidence shows that patterns of death from covid-19 correspond with patterns of deprivation. Most worryingly, the covid-19 pandemic has had a hugely disproportionate impact on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. As somebody who represents a constituency where poverty and deprivation are entrenched in some communities and where residents from BAME groups make up a large proportion of the population, I can say that these statistics are extremely concerning.

In Coventry, men in the most deprived areas can expect to live an average of almost 11 years fewer than men from the most affluent areas, with the gap for women being more than eight years. These health inequalities are reinforced by high unemployment, poor quality housing, falling incomes, declining living standards, fuel poverty, air pollution, food bank reliance, and poorer educational opportunities. This means that many young people in my constituency are held back from birth when compared with peers in different areas of the country, all of which is a consequence of this Government’s policy choices over the past 10 years.

We need the Government to commit to properly funding public health, the NHS, local authorities and others, so that we can tackle the deeply entrenched health inequalities that exist in our communities and mitigate the impact of the covid-19 pandemic. We also need the Government to take additional steps to tackle the root causes of the hugely disproportionate impact that coronavirus has had on our BAME communities. The Government cannot delay any longer. We need urgent action on health inequalities now.