Chinese and East Asian Communities: Racism during Covid-19

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:25 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North 5:25 pm, 13th October 2020

Please forgive me, Mrs Cummins; I should have said that it is a great honour to be serving under your chairmanship. I did not realise it was your first day in the Chair, so thank you.

I will start by picking up on some of the Minister’s comments. First, I am grateful to hear her condemnation of hate crimes and racism against Chinese, East Asian and South-East Asian communities, and I know that the community will be really glad to hear it. As I said in my speech, it is a low bar just to ask for condemnation of racism, but it is a start, and I am grateful to the Minister for it. She was absolutely right to mention Chinese businesses: for many of these businesses, the pain occurred well before lockdown, well before other businesses started to see their profits decline and started having to lay off staff. That pain is continuing, and we need to do serious amounts of work to ensure that community, and that business community, is supported throughout this pandemic like so many others should be.

Picking up on the Minister’s second point about the online harms Bill, I am heartened by that Bill, because we have heard countless examples of why it is absolutely necessary. I said that social media is a cesspit; it genuinely is, and it needs cleaning up. One area that I would like the Government to concentrate on and look into through the online harms Bill is the comments sections of news outlets, which I know is an area that the Government have been resistant to include in that Bill’s regulations.

The Minister started by saying that this is a vital debate. It is a vital debate, and I am really grateful that hon. Friends have come here to represent their communities and provide support, but the Minister is here because she has to be. Where are her colleagues? There are six seats empty on her side; not a single Conservative, not a single Government Member, decided to turn up. I know that this is Westminster Hall and it is supposed to be less political, but what message does that send to our communities? It sends a damning message.

I wanted to pick up on some of the points that my hon. Friends have raised, because they are important to solving this problem. My hon. Friend Kim Johnson spoke eloquently and passionately about the history. The Minister talked about our integration: it started in Liverpool, Riverside, the home of one of the oldest ethnic communities in this country. She also spoke about the importance of education about that history; I do not know how many people really understand or fully know the damage that was caused by those forced deportations of Chinese sailors, ripping the hearts out of families and entire generations. Having a helpline is fantastic, and it should be celebrated and supported, but again, the community is having to step up when the state has stepped back.

My hon. Friend Catherine West was absolutely right to speak about the pain our community faces when it comes to mental health. We have all found this period really difficult, with loneliness, losses of earnings and of loved ones, and being separated, but add to that being blamed and being scared to go out of the front door. It is not just hate crime that our community has suffered: thousands of healthcare workers have come from China and all over South-East and East Asia, and those workers are the very people who we stood on our doorsteps and clapped for, yet we cannot say that we are going to protect them. More Filipino nurses, healthcare workers and carers have died in this country than in the Philippines during the pandemic.

I thank my hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

Sitting adjourned.