Black Maternal Health Week — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:02 am on 14th September 2021.

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Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 10:02 am, 14th September 2021

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It is up to the many Members of this House who are not already doing it to do it, and those of us who are doing it must keep repeating over and over again that black women are four times as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth as white women. For women from mixed backgrounds it is three times as likely, and for Asian women it is twice as likely.

The reason we need to keep saying that is that, despite the fact that the inequality and disparity in maternal and newborn health has been highlighted for many years, we still do not fully understand why it exists, as we have heard, and we do not have the targets that we need to tackle it. Caroline Nokes, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, of which I recently became a member, said that the statistics are so stark that there should be immediate change. She called on the Government to meet ambitious targets rapidly, and I completely agree.

In the previous debate on this matter, I focused on some of the shocking statistics that MBRRACE-UK highlighted in its confidential inquiry into maternal deaths; I shall repeat some of them. For every 100,000 women who gave birth between 2016 and 2018, 34 black women, 25 mixed ethnicity women and 15 Asian women died, compared with eight white women. Behind those numbers are people—women and babies. Compared with babies of a white ethnicity, black babies have a 121% increased risk of stillbirth and a 50% increased risk of neonatal death, and the gap has been widening since 2013. So there are these tiny human beings—boys and girls—who never got a chance at life. There are grieving fathers and husbands. There are whole families and whole communities.

In addition to the higher mortality rates, other concerns include the number of near misses and the number of times that women have felt that their voices have not been heard because of their skin colour. Florence Eshalomi described a terrifying experience, when she must have felt completely powerless. That is wrong. I was shocked to hear many stories of mothers denied pain relief or left to suffer with undiagnosed post-partum conditions. I know that these things happen to women who are not black—it is always wrong—but for someone to be treated differently because of their skin colour surely compounds the problem. Just as we would research and address any medical causes of these things, we must research and address this issue. I echo the calls of the hon. Member for Streatham for the Government to address it.

As someone who is white, it took me some time to learn that people who are black just know when someone’s behaviour towards them is because of their skin colour. It is hard to explain. It was hard for me to understand at first, and obviously it is harder for me as a white woman to explain it because I do not experience it, but I have no doubt about it. I encourage everyone who does doubt it to really listen to what black and Asian mums are saying and trust that they just know.

NHS GP Dr Adwoa Danso has pointed out that instances of medical mistreatment have impacted on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities’ faith in the health services, and we saw that when it came to getting the covid vaccine. There is a further suggestion that, as the majority of migrants are disproportionally black, Asian and mixed ethnicity, the Home Office’s hostile environment immigration policy makes public services incredibly difficult to access. Ms Abbott talked about the hostile environment and has campaigned hard against it for many years.

Women seeking asylum have been blocked or refused by reception staff acting as gatekeepers, often in conjunction with expectations or experiences of prejudice and discrimination. The hostile environment also leads to decisions such as taking women seeking asylum out of supportive communities and into places such as the so-called mother and baby unit in Glasgow, where tiny babies are put in tiny rooms with not even enough room to crawl. The frustrating thing for me as an MP representing Glasgow North East, in a country where we have our own Government, is that our Government can do nothing about it because all the decisions about it are taken down here in Westminster.