As I am sure colleagues will have seen, this is a very well-subscribed debate, so I intend to impose a six-minute time limit straight away so that we can get everybody in. I know that the hon. Lady is aware that she has around 15 minutes for her opening speech.
I beg to move,
That this House is concerned about the level of deaths from covid-19 among Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities; notes that structural inequalities and worse health outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people go hand in hand; calls on the Government to review the data published by the Office for National Statistics on 11 May 2020 on Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by occupation, England and Wales: deaths registered up to and including 20 April 2020, the Report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in May 2020 entitled, Are some ethnic groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others? and the full report by Public Health England on Disparities in the risk and outcomes of covid-19; and further calls on the Government to set out in detail the scope and timeframe of the Government’s review and urgently to put a plan in place to prevent avoidable deaths.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee and its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for securing this important debate. Many Members who wanted to speak cannot do so, and it is a shame that they cannot participate remotely. The Government are more focused on subverting democracy than protecting lives, but we will not go into that. Their decisions are increasingly illogical and irrational. They finally did a U-turn the other day and now children will be fed this summer; I am glad the Government are doing U-turns. I thank everyone involved, including the all-party group on school food and Marcus Rashford, who joins celebs such as Raheem Sterling, John Boyega and others who are finding their voice and using their position for change.
This is a sobering debate. We all watched the brutal, very public lynching of George Floyd—our lives were interrupted by the killing—but racism does not just manifest itself in brutal ways that can be caught on camera and shared on social media. “I can’t breathe”, the last words of George Floyd, could apply to the disproportionate numbers of black, African-Caribbean and Asian people dying from coronavirus in this country.
Every time the Government get dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing, I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe every time the Government hide a report or kick an issue into the long grass by announcing another commission or report. I can’t breathe. My breath is taken away by the lack of care, empathy and emotional intelligence shown by the Government time and again. For months, we stood at our doorways and clapped for our key workers, the ones on the frontline—the doctors, the nurses, the carers, the cleaners, the ones driving the buses, the cabs and the forklift trucks or serving people in supermarkets. The people we clapped for are the ones who are being underpaid and who are, disproportionately, dying.
The death rate for covid-19 has exposed and amplified what has been going on in society for decades. The concentration of deaths in areas where people are just about managing should worry us all. As a country, we are better than this. According to the Office for National Statistics, the burden of covid-19 has been felt more strongly in regions with greater deprivation. In those areas, people are dying from the virus at double the rate of those in more affluent areas. According to the ONS, adjusting for age, black people are more than four times as likely to die from covid as white people. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are more than three times as likely and Indians more than twice as likely.
BAME people account for 13.4% of the population, but they make up 34% of patients admitted to an intensive care unit. My constituency of Brent sadly has the highest number of registered deaths in London. In line with findings from the Office for National Statistics, those areas of greatest deprivation, such as Harlesden, have the highest number of deaths.
I thank my hon. Friend for the powerful way in which she makes these crucial points. Does she agree that the approach taken by my constituency colleague and the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething, on the disproportionate impact of these issues on BAME communities—we have seen tragic deaths in my constituency too—has been in stark contrast to the approach taken by the UK Government? Vaughan Gething has understood this issue, and led on it from the start.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. We can learn a lot from the approach in Wales, including how people are approaching the disproportionate number of deaths from covid-19 in the BAME community. I thank him for everything he does in his constituency on that issue.
We did not get to this point by accident, and we must make a concerted effort to dismantle the structural and systemic racism that exists in society, and that affects life chances from the moment someone is born.
I spoke to NHS doctors from EveryDoctor, and they told me that 63% of BAME doctors felt pressured to work in wards treating covid patients, compared with 33% of their white counterparts. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must do more to address workplace discrimination that affects ethnic minorities?
I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention, and I will come to that point later in my remarks. As constituency MPs, it is important for us to talk to doctors, and to understand and learn what is going on. I wish the Government would also take that on board.
Structural and systemic racism is also a health issue, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed that the jobs that are most at risk are over-populated by African, Caribbean, Asian, and minority ethnic people. We must be honest with ourselves and ask why that is. The higher BAME death rate is apparent across all grades of the NHS, even in the highest socioeconomic groups. We must be honest with ourselves and ask why that is. If we shy away from the truth, nothing will change. The publication of the first report on this issue stated that 17 doctors died, 16 of whom were BAME. Eastern Eye then reported that, since 2 June, when that report was published, another 18 doctors died after saving lives, 17 of whom were BAME. We must be honest with ourselves and ask why that is.
The Public Health England report that the Government tried to hide states that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) said, there were numerous examples of doctors who were not able to access appropriate PPE to protect themselves adequately. It also stated that requests for risk assessments or additional PPE from BAME workers were more likely to be refused, and that requests were less likely to be made because of the fear of adverse treatment.
Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, a nurse, was still working at a hospital while heavily pregnant. She sadly died of covid-19. They managed to save her baby girl by emergency caesarean. That is so tragic, and we must ask ourselves why she was forced to work. Let me give a couple more examples. Two black employees in London, a taxi driver and one transport worker, Belly Mujinga, died after allegedly being spat at by somebody who claimed they had covid-19. Belly had an underlying health condition and should not have been put in danger. She requested to work in the ticket office, but that was refused. We must ask ourselves why such things are happening. The Government must urgently implore and ensure that all employers carry out risk assessments in all workplaces. As lockdown is eased, those most at risk are in greater danger unless the Government introduce structural requirements for employers.
I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said so far. She talks about employers carrying out risk assessments. It is important that that includes Government Departments and the Government’s outside contractors, because, as she will be aware, many of the workers in these outside contractors—cleaners, for example—are from the BAME community.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is not one rule for Government Departments or Parliament and one rule for the rest of the country: we have seen that play out way too often. He is absolutely right that that has to be taken into consideration.
More than two in 10 black African women are employed in health and social care roles, Indian men are 150% more likely to work in health or social care roles, and 14% of doctors in England and Wales are Indians. Covid-19 does not prefer one person’s lungs to those of other ethnicities. It is not the pandemic that discriminates—it is society. It is almost as though being black is a pre-existing condition that results in worse outcomes for health, employment and education. That does not for one moment mean that it cannot be overcome. It is not a victim mentality that has put us in this situation, any more than it was indolence that put British citizens on planes and deported them during the Windrush scandal or bad sportsmanship that subjects our players to abuse on the field. We must call it what it is, because if we do not call it what it is, how can we identify it, how can we cure it, how can we stop it? It is racism, and it has become more structural and systemic. It is not just about individuals. Structural and systemic racism can exist without individual acts of racism, but it is an unfair, unequal discriminatory system—and it is literally killing us.
Does my hon. Friend agree that at the heart of Government there is huge ignorance about this agenda, and we need the Government to learn from what has happened? As we ease lockdown, the Government urgently need to do the risk assessments so that families who are at risk through inter-generational living and all those issues are taken into account and action is taken to protect people from further risks of dying.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is absolutely vital that the Government ensure that risk assessments are carried out in workplaces so as to have fewer deaths.
As I say, this is literally killing us, and just like the killing of George Floyd, we can all see it. If anyone does not believe me—if anyone does not believe that structural racism exists—believe the body count.
Incremental changes are no good if structural barriers still exist. Breaking down systemic and structural barriers will build a society that is better for everyone. Every life matters—of course it does, but not all lives are treated equally. Interestingly, some of the things that would most benefit and save black and Asian lives are the same things that will save everybody: risk assessments, test and trace, and easy access to in-date PPE. What the country needs now is a Government who are going to deliver fast and decisive action. Everyone in this House should stand up and say, “No longer should discrimination, cultural exclusion, poverty and class be allowed to determine whether you live or whether you die.”
That is why this debate is so important. It is said that if a house is on fire in a street, of course all the houses in the street are important, but the focus needs to be on the house that is burning—and right now this situation needs fixing for the BAME community. Right now we have a group of people who are dying at four times the rate of anybody else. It is the same demographic as the people who died in Grenfell Tower just three years ago. It is the same group of people who were subjected to the hostile environment just eight years ago. It is the same people who have been told to stop being victims. There is a pattern here, and we need the Government to show some urgency to address the racial inequalities that exist in the UK.
At first the Government said, “We will not publish the PHE report because it is too sensitive in relation to Black Lives Matter.” On 4 June, the Minister stood up and said, “We’ve asked Professor Kevin Fenton, a black surgeon, to lead on this review”, but apparently he did not lead on it. The Minister then said that the review was not part of the report. Confused? I know I am.
The Minister also stated that PHE did not make recommendations because it was not able to do so, but we know she was aware of the second set of recommendations made by PHE. When she gets to her feet, will she apologise on behalf of the Government for misleading the House? Why did the Government try to bury the PHE report? I was not the only one who was trying to get to the bottom of it. Eastern Eye, Channel 4 and Sky have doggedly pursued the issue because something just did not feel right. That is why people have taken to the streets—they are tired of the dishonesty.
The Government have form on whitewashing reports. Baroness McGregor-Smith’s review has seen very little progress. The Lammy review has not had any recommendations implemented. The 2018 race disparity audit has not been acted upon. The Windrush lessons learned review was edited and delayed for a year. It was published, had sections deleted and it was still not acted upon. The Government need to stop trying to erase from their reports the injustices towards black and brown people and working-class people. It is a disgrace.
The Government announce reviews and consultations to get themselves out of trouble, and then think that everybody will just forget as we stumble into the next crisis. We see what they are doing and we are calling them out on it, because they produced a document a few years ago that talked about “explain or change”. The Government said:
“When significant disparities between ethnic groups cannot be explained by wider factors, we will commit ourselves to working with partners to change them.”
I ask the Minister: what is stopping the Government from acting? The murder of George Floyd and the death toll of covid have forced us to have these overdue, open and, hopefully, honest conversations about race, so that we can ensure a fairer and more equal society.
As a member of the Science and Technology Committee, I have listened to many scientists talk about covid-19, and it is not genetics that have resulted in a higher death rate. It is not internal, and that means it is external. To back up the findings of the PHE report—the one that the Government tried to hide—it is noted that covid-19 potentially has had a less severe impact in the Caribbean, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. That raises questions as to why BAME communities in England are so severely affected. It is suggested that issues such as structural racism and discrimination and a failure to adequately protect key workers may have contributed disproportionately.
I am pleased that I have a covid testing centre in my constituency in Harlesden, which has been so hard-hit. If anyone is interested, they should register with Brent Council. As we build a better life after covid, we must do better. The UN found that the
“structural socio-economic exclusion of racial and ethnic minority communities in the United Kingdom is striking.”
The Minister and the Government should be embarrassed.
Some people have always had worse health outcomes—that is not new. Poor people have always had worse health outcomes, but the virus has magnified the scale of the inequality. Colour of skin, economic background and social and structural racial barriers and infrastructure are all factors as to whether someone has a good chance of surviving this pandemic.
The killing of George Floyd in the middle of a pandemic is a pivotal moment for the world. “I can’t breathe” is as true for covid-19 as it is for racism. History will judge each and every one of us in time on that moment when the world stood still for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. History will judge us on our actions and history will judge the Minister on her response. Minister, before you get to your feet to respond, ask yourself what will be written by your name.
Apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker.
History will judge each and every one of us. Before the Minister gets to her feet to respond, she must ask herself what will be written by her name.
Government Ministers are revealing trauma on one hand and then saying that racism does not exist on the other; it is cruel. I do not think the Minister should not give a speech. I think the Minister should list actions. What will the Government do and when will they do it? She should tell the House and the country when the Government will start to implement the 150-plus outstanding recommendations from previous reports and reviews, not focus on the new commission that the Prime Minister mentioned. We know that that is designed to agitate and gaslight us, just like the Foreign Secretary’s comments on taking the knee.
Black Lives has more in common with white working-class people, the LGBT+ community and people who are under-represented than this cruel Government do. In the words of the late, amazing Jo Cox, we have
“more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 674-75.]
I stand to tell the Government that we are done with the games, we are done with the platitudes and we are done with kicking this issue into the long grass. Enough is enough. Now is the time to act. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to get the Government’s knee off the neck of the black, African, Caribbean, Asian, minority ethnic communities.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on having secured this important and timely debate. She picked up on several themes that I will probably echo, but she also spoke about voices, focusing on Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling—people who have used their voices effectively. In my speech, I will concentrate on the voices of BAME workers in our health service.
At the very start of the pandemic, we had a debate in this Chamber about the emergency covid legislation. I vividly remember receiving a briefing from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission that spoke about how the pandemic might affect different groups of people differently. It is interesting to read and review that briefing with 2020 hindsight. When it spoke of BAME communities, it mentioned their employment opportunities, including the likelihood that young BAME people in particular would be working in unsecure employment in the gig economy and on zero-hours contracts. What it did not speak about was their health.
I think that the death toll has shocked us all. But it is not only the death toll, is it? As the hon. Member for Brent Central highlighted, BAME people are more likely to be hospitalised. If hospitalised, they are more likely to end up in intensive care units. And if in intensive care units, they will be there for longer. As we have learnt over the course of the pandemic, all those things have a significant impact on people’s wellbeing going forward because the longer that someone is in ICU, the longer it will take them to recover and to return to their home, their family and their employment.
At the start of the pandemic, the Women and Equalities Committee launched an inquiry into the unequal impact of covid. That has now split into three separate inquiries looking specifically at: the impact on disabled people and their access to services; the gendered impact of covid; and—the inquiry that we have launched within the last couple of weeks and on which we have already taken significant evidence—the impact on our BAME community. As I said to Committee members last week before we had the first evidence session, “If there is one thing you can rely on from the Women and Equalities Committee, it is that our inquiry will come up with recommendations for the Government to act.”
Yesterday we heard from Dr Chaand Nagpaul and Professor Kamlesh Khunti. I do not wish overly to paraphrase their evidence, but I only have six minutes so I really will have to. They both reiterated what can be found in the NHS England and NHS Improvement briefing on the disproportionate impact of covid—that BAME staff are over-represented in the lower grades of the NHS hierarchy, that there is not enough diversity in management structures, and that, as a direct result, BAME staff are worried to speak up when they do not have the right PPE. Those staff are not having their voices heard—or, worse, they are too scared to use their voices. That is Britain in 2020: BAME staff in the NHS are scared to speak up. We have to make sure immediately that channels are open for people to be able to do so, whether they work in the NHS or in other frontline roles such as bus drivers, retail workers and nursery assistants—the people without whom, to be blunt, our country would have ground to a halt over the course of the last 12 weeks.
The Committee heard from Professor Sir Michael Marmot, who did a review back in 2010. He refreshed his review in February this year—hard up against the start of the crisis.
The right hon. Lady makes a valid point about the NHS, in which there is not a great record on whistleblowing but at least many of those workers would be in regular jobs. Does she agree that there is a disproportionate number of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in insecure employment, for whom raising an issue could mean losing their jobs? They should not have to make that choice.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. That is why I specifically raised those who are working in transport and the gig economy, who do not have those routes. In the NHS they should at least be there; in some sectors, they do not exist in the first place.
We heard from the hon. Member for Brent Central some uncomfortable truths—issues that may be difficult for us to hear—but we cannot just listen and review; we must act. When I rather proudly told one of my constituents, as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, that we had launched an inquiry, her instant response was not great: it was, “Not another inquiry. Not another review. Please, can you come up with some action?” She was right.
The race disparity unit in the Cabinet Office was set up specifically to obtain data, but it needs to do more than just get data. It needs to be able to look at datasets and understand them—of course it does; we have to know where the structural inequalities lie—but it is of no use to accurately record a growing deficit, or perhaps a shrinking deficit. We have to have actions. We need policy levers to effect change, so that the young Caribbean boy in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brent Central has the same educational opportunities as the white girl in mine; so that the job opportunities and chances of progression in work—and that is absolutely key: it is about not just getting a job but getting a good job getting, a better job—are available whatever someone’s ethnicity; and so that someone’s ability to speak out when they do not have the right PPE is the same regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion, age, sexuality or disability.
I cannot stand here and predict the outcome of my Committee’s inquiry—it would be wrong to do so—but I can predict that we will expect delivery from Ministers, not warm words, not more reviews and not more commitments to get better data. We want action and improvement.
Covid-19 is of course a novel virus and we have been forced to learn about it at pace, but it has highlighted health inequalities that are real and current: if someone lives in overcrowded, poor-quality housing, they are more likely to be negatively impacted; if someone is in frontline, public-facing work, they are more likely to be negatively impacted; if someone’s English is poor or they have learning difficulties, they will not be able to receive the important public health messages that they need; and if someone lives in multigenerational families, they are more likely to be negatively impacted, as are those whose work is insecure. Of course, a person may well have no choice but to carry on working at the height of a pandemic to feed their family. No one can be a careworker, a retail worker or a transport worker from the safety of their own home.
We have not had a public health crisis like this since the Spanish flu 100 years ago, and I do not know whether our generation will see another, but we cannot lurch to another crisis without having worked out how to risk-assess our frontline workers; without having established culturally intelligent ways to disseminate information; and without having empowered people in the workplace to voice their concerns and enabled the routes to redress.
I know that the Minister and her colleagues across Government will work hard on this issue. We heard last week from my hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities about the importance of the work that the race disparity unit is doing, but I urge the Minister present to come forward with what is actually going to happen, because that is what our BAME communities up and down the country wish to hear.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for calling for this debate, and to the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. It is a great pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who is now the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee; I commend her for all the work that she is doing.
I also pay tribute to all the NHS workers in Basingstoke, in Hampshire and throughout the country who, despite all the headlines and despite the fear, kept going. I think particularly of those from different black and ethnic minority groups, who face particular fear and challenges. We should pay tribute to them in this debate.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North talked about the fact that when we discuss issues affecting BME communities, we often talk about employment and education. In this pandemic, it has been the differential impact on health that has shocked us all to our core. She is right that we need to give people a voice to speak out on that.
It was particularly concerning for me when I was approached by individuals in my constituency from different sectors of my thriving and vibrant BAME community about their fears and about what this meant to them. It struck me that the information available was so vague and general that it was difficult for me to respond to their questions. One particular individual from my Indian community asked, “Does this mean I’m more at risk?” I could not answer that, so I looked carefully at the research from Public Health England when it came out. I will come on to that in a moment.
We have to be careful when we look at this issue. I know that the hon. Member for Brent Central will agree that we have to take great care not to simply treat BAME communities as one homogeneous group. We run the great risk of coming to the wrong conclusions if we speak as though they all have the same challenges—indeed, if any of us have all the same challenges. We know as Members of Parliament that our opportunities in life are too often determined far too much by our socioeconomic backgrounds, by the occupation of our parents or by the healthcare that we receive throughout our childhoods. It is the same for every group in our society. The way that we can address this is by understanding each group individually, and having accurate data is important in trying to disentangle and understand this particular issue, which the hon. Lady so eloquently outlined in her opening speech.
It was with some bemusement that I read the Public Health England analysis, because it was, frankly, incomplete. It did not include a breakdown of individual occupations, it did not look at comorbidities, and it treated people from the BAME community as if they were one homogeneous group, which I think we have just agreed does not exist. This was incredibly concerning, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), will be able to address this directly when she speaks at the conclusion of the debate.
I took some time, after reading that Public Health England report, to go back through one of the reports done by the Women and Equalities Committee in September 2018, on the race disparity audit. It was a good report that was well received by the Government, and it called for distinct changes in the way in which Government organisations collected data, precisely so that we did not end up with a homogeneous approach to these issues. In particular, I would be grateful if the Minister could update the House on the work that has been done around the conclusions of that Women and Equalities Committee report, because it is unacceptable in 2020 Britain that Public Health England would not include an analysis of those particular factors in its analysis of this health pandemic.
I know that PHE is reliant on the Office for National Statistics and other organisations for the data that it is given, but that is exactly the issue that we focused on in the Women and Equalities Committee report. We identified the need for the standardisation of data and the need to ensure that we did not have a homogeneous approach, particularly when we talked about the analysis of data relating to different ethnic minority groups. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could also update the House on the quality improvement plan that was going to be put in place, where the race disparity audit was going to work with the ONS centre for expertise on inequality. A key recommendation was that the Government should have an action plan to improve data collection to ensure that disaggregation was far easier and that more data was collected. The Select Committee also called for the inter-ministerial group on race disparity to work more closely with the ONS on these issues, and perhaps the Minister could update the House on the work of that particular sub-Committee.
It is a tragedy that we are having this debate today, but it is an important debate not just for covid-19 but for the way in which we understand these problems more generally.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for securing this important debate. Without doubt, the nation needs a full independent public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the covid crisis, but one area in particular that demands scrutiny is the Government’s handling of the effects of covid-19 on the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Why have Ministers ignored the evidence, dragged their feet and almost certainly contributed to a situation where people from BAME communities have been disproportionately ravaged by this terrible disease?
For me, this is personal. I have lost loved ones to covid, such as Jagir Kaur, my lovely grandmother, our family matriarch, from whom I learnt so much, but whose coffin I was not even able to carry on my shoulder. Satnam Singh Dhesi, my fun-loving, Slough taxi-driver uncle was taken away from us way too early, and then I had to endure the indignity of watching his funeral online via Zoom. Hemraj Jaymal, my brother-in-law’s father, somehow contracted covid in a Slough care home, and, inexcusably, none of us was there to hold his hand when he breathed his last. May they all rest in peace and may we be forgiven for not being there. Families cannot attend bedsides and because the usual rituals and rights of funerals are disrupted, it makes loss even harder and grief even harsher, and there are tens of thousands of people suffering bereavement.
Back in April, we saw BAME people being disproportionately affected by covid-19 as data came in from emergency admissions to hospital from more than three months ago. On 22 May, King’s College London research showed that patients from BAME groups admitted to hospital with covid-19 are, on average, a decade younger than white patients. In May, the Office for National Statistics reported that black people were more than four times more likely to die from covid-19 than their white counterparts; that Bangladeshi and Pakistani people were more than one and a half times more likely to die from covid-19; and that the situation was similar for people with an Indian heritage. That was published more than a month ago.
Of course, Ministers have had a wealth of evidence from BAME organisations presented to Public Health England, which Ministers initially tried to delay, then cover-up and have released under pressure only this week. The evidence tells us what we already knew: ethnic inequalities in health and wellbeing in the UK existed before COVID-19, and the pandemic has made these disparities more apparent and undoubtedly exacerbated them. Why is this? One major reason is racism, and this racism, unfortunately, is also within our lovely NHS.
Figures released last week by the NHS Confederation show that the number of ethnic minority chairs and non-executive directors of NHS trusts in England has almost halved from 15% in 2010 to a mere 8% in 2018. Quoted in the Eastern Eye newspaper, Dr Ramesh Mehta, the president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, said that this was down to “rampant discrimination” and a “club culture” within NHS professions.
Representation matters, and the dismally low number of executive directors of NHS trusts is inexcusable. If BAME doctors and nurses are good enough to die on the frontline, surely they are good enough to lead. While I am proud to be a part of the most diverse party and the most diverse Parliament ever, the lack of leadership positions in most key industries is shocking, including the all-important finance sector, where the majority of FTSE companies still have all-white boards. Rather than just tweeting about Black Lives Matter, those companies need to take a long hard look at themselves to judge whether they are indeed a part of the change that they proclaim to be.
Diversity is crucial because it brings in people with fresh perspectives and different priorities, thereby enhancing and improving the overall performance for all of us, so perhaps the Minister can comment on how she intends to tackle the racial discrimination within the NHS. It took until 16 June for Public Health England to publish its seven-point plan, but surely this should have been done from the very start. We do not just want to carry on collating data.
Of course I pay tribute to the frontline NHS staff across my Slough constituency, including at Wexham Park Hospital, who undoubtedly face incredible challenges and risks, but the British Medical Association reports that 90% of doctors and 60% of NHS staff who have died are from BAME backgrounds. Those absolutely staggering statistics should make us realise that something is very wrong.
We are lacking time, so in conclusion I want to ask the Minister to reflect on the plans to commemorate all those who have lost their lives, with a focal point of remembrance, and assure us that we will learn the lessons. More than anything, I hope she can allay my concerns. Black lives matter, and we demand deeds, not words.
It is a pleasure to follow the passionate speech of the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi). I first want to thank all NHS workers, who have done a tremendous job during this covid period. My speech will not be so friendly, so I want to start by thanking the Minister, who has been tremendous in supporting me in Wealden, where we have a particularly large care home system—I have a lot of older constituents. Regardless of the day of the week and the time of day, she has been incredibly responsive. Unfortunately, the rest of my speech will not be so flattering, so I will just crack on.
Like so many people in this country, I have lost loved ones to covid. I also have loved ones working on the frontline dealing with covid. We had the experience and network to highlight quite early on that we saw a pattern forming, but we were met with, “We don’t have the data”—it is 2020, and we do not have the data. I understand the argument that this is an unusual situation, and that we did not have the statistics to deal with this particular pandemic, but we do have data about how viruses spread. We also understand the long-standing institutional biases of NHS England and Public Health England, which have failed in their leadership, are unaccountable, and hide behind the catch-all, “We just don’t have the data.” It is shameful.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. That goes back to my earlier point: Public Health England needs far more functioning leadership.
Public Health England’s report says:
“It is clear from discussions with stakeholders the pandemic exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequalities affecting BAME communities in the UK.”
That is nothing new. Moreover, it confirms to me the wilful blindness of Public Health England and NHS England in addressing racial inequalities and their inability to put in place measures to address workplace risk and make sure that so many BAME staff were not exposed. In the time it took for Public Health England to review the disproportionate number of BAME deaths, another 17 doctors passed away. Sixteen of those were BAME.
What else do we know? We know that there is a significantly higher proportion of BAME healthcare workers in England across our health system; without BAME workers, there would not be a health system. We know that BAME workers are in lower-paid jobs and that they cannot work remotely. We know that BAME workers tend to work in high-risk areas, and that the families they go home to are high-risk individuals. It was a high-risk strategy, yet Public Health England and NHS England continued to expose high-risk staff to high-risk shifts.
We know that 94% of doctors who died were of a BAME background. In the biggest survey of its kind, ITV News asked the UK’s BAME healthcare community why they thought more of their BAME colleagues were dying than their white counterparts, and 50% felt that discriminatory behaviour played a role in the high death toll. One respondent described the treatment as “very unfair”, adding that “all BAME nurses” have been
“allocated to red wards and my white colleagues”
are “constantly in green wards.” Perhaps more worryingly, ITV found that 53% of BAME respondents said that they felt they could not comfortably raise concerns about deployment, so they risked their health as against their employment.
To me, that suggests that the problem is related not to covid but to long-standing institutional inequalities. I want to hear from the Minister a resolute commitment to hold Public Health England and NHS England to account, and to ensure that the recommendations are acted on, reviewed and assessed by the real workers on the frontline who are most at risk—by that I mean BAME workers—and that all the data, good and bad, is shared in good time. I hope that the Minister understands that I have very little confidence in particular in Public Health England.
As we champion our frontline key workers, we also need to give them confidence that we have their backs. Like all public workers, they want to do their jobs, but many are concerned that if there is a second wave of covid they will be risking their lives or their families’. The BAME community has already been severely hit. I am not sure that it could take a second wave. For BAME health workers to die at such a rate frankly amounts to negligence on the part of NHS England and Public Health England, but perhaps it is not that surprising. Their leadership boasts 46 individuals; yet only four of them are from BAME backgrounds.
The country was united in tackling covid, but Public Health England and NHS England let down BAME health workers. They have time to put the record straight. Either we are in this together or we are not. I hope that the Minister can confirm that the Department is committed to ensuring that Public Health England and NHS England will treat, manage and support all their staff equally, so that we do not see a second wave of disproportionate BAME health worker deaths.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing the debate and on her powerful and moving speech. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for ensuring that the debate was allocated time this afternoon.
I will not speak for too long, but the impact of covid-19 on black and minority ethnic communities has been so shocking that I feel I must put on record my concerns, and add my voice to those calling for urgent and decisive action. We have known for months, as the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) has just said, that BAME people are being hit very hard by this pandemic. Last month, the Office for National Statistics found that black men and women are four times more likely to die from covid-19 than white men and women, and that people from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and mixed ethnic groups also had a raised risk.
The Health Service Journal reported that more than 90% of doctors who have died during the pandemic have been BAME—more than double the proportion in the medical workforce as a whole—and that, although BAME groups count for 21% of all NHS staff, they account for 63% of those dying from covid-19. Similar inequalities have been exposed by our universities, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and many others, and of course they have been confirmed by Public Health England’s review. However, this is not just about numbers; it is about people. It is about the families and communities that have lost loved ones, including hon. Members present this afternoon.
That is why dozens of my constituents have written to me about Belly Mujinga. They did not know Belly, but they understand that failing to protect black and minority ethnic people from covid-19 leaves behind devastated families. They are appalled by the story of her death and they are demanding action. They want to know what the Government will do to ensure that things change. They want to know that the inequalities that have produced this disproportionate impact will be tackled, and they want to know that it will be done quickly. The virus has not gone away, and we all know that the risks of a second wave are very real.
Why are we seeing the disproportionate impact? We know that poverty matters. Both ethnicity and income inequality are independently associated with covid-19 mortality. People from the most deprived communities are almost twice as likely to be admitted to intensive care as the least deprived.
We know that housing matters. The Marmot report found that BAME people are more likely to live in overcrowded housing, making self-isolation more difficult. Some 30% of Bangladeshi households and 15% of African households were overcrowded, compared with just 2% of white British households. Where that over- crowding coincides with multi-generational households, it can make shielding impossible.
We know that where you live matters, with links between poor air quality and increased susceptibility to covid-19. The places most affected by pollution are also more likely to have higher BAME populations and are home to more deprived communities.
We know that where you work matters. People from BAME backgrounds are more likely to work in jobs that cannot be done from home, in frontline roles where they are dealing with the public—as taxi, private hire and public transport drivers; security workers; retail workers; and especially health and social care staff, where there is a higher risk of exposure to covid-19. If people do not get sick pay, or if it is so low that they cannot live on it, they might be forced to choose between risking their health and that of others and managing to put food on the table.
We know that racism and race discrimination really matter. If someone has experienced racism at work or already feels isolated, of course it is harder for them to speak up or raise concerns about safety. The British Medical Association found in 2018 that BAME doctors were twice as likely as white doctors to say that they would not feel confident raising safety concerns. More recently, BAME doctors told the BMA that they were more likely to feel pressured to see patients without adequate PPE. If people have had bad experiences of using health services in the past, they are less likely to seek treatment. If someone is worried that they might be challenged about their right to be here, they might not seek hospital help and care. That is a real impact of the hostile environment.
Tackling these inequalities is urgent. It requires efforts across Government and by employers and other organisations, and it must be done in collaboration with BAME people themselves. When the Minister responds to the debate, she must tell us that the Government will act now to implement all seven recommendations in the Public Health England report as soon as possible. More than that, we need to hear that there is a detailed plan setting out how they intend to do so. Perhaps most of all, we need to hear that the Government understand that systemic racism is real and that we do not need another review. We need Government to act on the recommendations of not just this report but all the others that are sitting gathering dust—as my hon. Friend said, deeds, not words.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for securing this debate. “Unprecedented” is a word we have heard bandied around a lot in the last few months. The new ways of working and interacting with our communities may be unprecedented, but sadly, the effect of covid-19 on black and minority ethnic communities does have precedent. If the Government had taken the findings of previous reports seriously, not only is it possible that many of these black and minority ethnic deaths could have been avoided, but we would not once again have to be asking the Government to ensure that more people do not lose their lives to this horrible disease.
In 2017, the Lammy review and the race disparity audit were published. Both highlighted the structural inequalities experienced by black and minority ethnic communities. Asian and black households and those in other ethnic minority groups were more likely to be poorer and most likely to be in persistent poverty. The ethnic minority population is more likely to live in areas of deprivation—especially black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people. Around one in 10 adults from black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or mixed backgrounds were unemployed, compared with one in 25 white British people. Overcrowding affects ethnic minority households disproportionately. London has one of the highest rates of overcrowding of all regions in England. There has been an increase in the number of ethnic minority households accepted by local authorities as statutorily homeless over the last decade.
The Government will tell us that tackling racism is at the core of their efforts. Last week, I asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government how much it spends on tackling racism. The response said that the Department
“paid approximately £219,00 to projects specifically to target racism in the financial year 19/20.”
People across this nation are watching. Black and minority ethnic communities have faced structural racism for decades, and we are having to have the same conversations 20 years on. People are concerned and, rightly, angry. Although I support both Show Racism the Red Card and the Anne Frank Trust, which the Government fund, is this the message that the Government want to give—just £219,000 of the Department’s annual budget is spent on racism, yet the Prime Minister is willing to spend £900,000 on rebranding his plane? Can somebody tell me what kind of message that sends to our country? The message is that this Government care more about the colour of a plane than fighting racism, bigotry and discrimination for people of colour. Is this the message the Government are sending? Is that the Government’s priority? And they wonder why people are so angry.
Morally, the Government’s priorities are not in the right place and nor are they economically. The McGregor-Smith review found that black and minority ethnic career progression could add £24 billion a year to the UK’s economy. If we could tackle racial inequality, we would be billions better-off. Yet I ask the Government how much they are spending specifically on tackling this type of race inequality. If the Minister wants to tell the House how much is spent on trying to retrieve up to £24 billion lost to the economy, I am happy to give way.
On 9 April, I also wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Over the past few months, the Government have published significant material on covid-19 restrictions and guidelines on the Government website, and Ministers have been briefing the nation on air every single day. Yet I have still not received a response, despite me reaching out to the Government to support them in their efforts to reach minority communities. On a community level in Bradford West, the Al Markaz Medics, the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Bradford Council for Mosques all put out their own communication. It did not come from the Government. Nationally, lot of organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain did what they needed to do for their own communities, but the Government did not. We have had to take it upon ourselves. The Government failed to acknowledge the significant language barriers that exist in communities, despite this being a pandemic where everyone has needed to receive clear messaging.
I am a former commissioner. From my commissioning days, I remember the Rocky Bennett inquiry. In 1998, Rocky Bennett was held down by five nurses. He could not breathe either and he died. The report, published over 20 years ago, made recommendations to the Department of Health to
“cure this festering abscess”—
“which is a blot upon the good name of the NHS.”
Rocky Bennett was a 38-year-old black man with huge ambitions who had been offered a traineeship with Chelsea.
Structural inequalities are what this comes down to. Even in this place last year, a young man who had grown his Afro for years had to cut it to even be considered for an interview. Structural racism exists in this place. The Government need to listen and stop papering over with more reviews. We know what the issues are. Now is the time for action.
It has been deeply disturbing to watch and witness the impact of covid-19 on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. It has been equally moving to hear the speeches so passionately made this afternoon.
It has been truly heartbreaking to see the photos of the health and care workers who have lost their lives, so many of them from BAME backgrounds. Like others, I want to take this opportunity today to pay tribute to all BAME workers on the frontline in the NHS, in social care, in transport, in council services, in retail and in the police, especially those in my Chipping Barnet constituency. For their sake, and to ensure that we do all we can to protect BAME communities from harm, it is vital that we have intensive research into why covid has had this disproportionate impact.
We also need to get much better at delivering public health messages effectively in a way that works for all communities. As a civilised society, we can no longer tolerate the health inequalities that the covid epidemic has exposed and intensified. The NHS long-term plan has a strong focus on the prevention of ill health. That needs to be turned into results which see people of all backgrounds and ethnicity living longer and healthier lives.
I believe this country has come a long way in recent decades towards tackling discrimination, combating racism and building a more cohesive society that is proud of its ethnic and cultural diversity. I feel that particularly strongly about my constituency and the borough of Barnet, which is one of the most diverse in Britain, but the covid emergency and the cry of pain that has arisen after the appalling killing of George Floyd are wake-up calls—both of them. They are a stark reminder that while we have come a long way, there is still a long road to travel before we can say that everyone in this nation is being given the chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will take them, whatever their faith, ethnicity or cultural background.
As everyone has pointed out, we have had a long list of reports on this. Now is the time to press on with measures that tackle the problems that those reports have identified and which are holding people of colour back from realising their potential. That includes tackling not just health inequalities but educational under- achievement and the worrying prevalence of young black men in the criminal justice system, and of course it must include doing more to combat racism and prejudice, both conscious and unconscious, structural and individual.
I want to conclude by quoting from a British Tamil intensive care nurse. British Tamils are one of many minority communities represented in my constituency, and I have always been hugely impressed by the immense contribution they make to our national health service. Nurse Thibyaa Mahasivam told the Tamil Guardian:
“Not one of us hesitated to step forward… Yes many of us complained, we had every right to—this was how we were able to unload our stress and worries. But when given the choice to relocate elsewhere the vast majority of us chose to put our lives on the line.”
We owe our BAME doctors, nurses and frontline workers so much. We now need to ensure that gratitude delivers lasting social change that backs aspiration, hope and fairness and gives everyone in this great country, with all its diverse communities, a fair chance to get on and make a success of their lives.
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lefarydd. I thank the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for her trenchant speech in opening this debate.
Members have risen to speak in the House on matters relating to inequality and BAME communities with depressing regularity over the years. I thank the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) for saying we have come a long way. I will refer a little to my own history. I am very aware that I am a white woman speaking on this matter, but before moving to Wales I was raised in Eltham, in south-east London. Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993 compelled that community—my old home community—to deeply question its values. The Macpherson report in 1999 made 70 recommendations aimed at tackling institutional racism, primarily within the criminal justice system, yet 20 years later and black people in Wales are five times over-represented in the prison population, Asian people are 1.7 times over-represented, and people from a mixed ethnic group are 2.7 times over-represented. This is a significant indicator of the structural racism and inequality in our society.
This is the hard reality of criminal justice and inequality. Our police forces are indeed very different from those of 1993, but disproportionately too many young men and women have blighted lives and spend much of their lives in the criminal justice system. Those figures reveal that all the good intentions of report after review after commission in no way reflect the lived experience of too many black people, and this is the background of today’s debate.
Many hon. Members have spoken already today about the pernicious effect of institutional racism within healthcare and the wider community. Many have questioned why it has taken the covid-19 crisis to make heroes of health and care staff and to show us clearly exactly how many of those frontline workers are from BAME communities. Representing a constituency now in north-west Wales, I hope that one of the messages we can get from this is: look at how dependent we are on people and look at what the outcomes have been for these people. Are we content for our society to ignore this?
Members have pointed out the obvious: there have been enough reviews, enough commissions and enough descriptions of how racism oozes from private attitudes into public experience. Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter campaign together are reforging our values and forcing us to question our cultural heritage. Thinking again of Stephen Lawrence and all the battles that his brave parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, have fought in the intervening years, the people my family knew in Eltham back then did not think of themselves as racists and we did not think of ourselves as racists, but look what happened in Well Hall Road.
People like us would have been horrified to be called racists and people like us are still horrified to be called racists, but that is not enough, is it? It is not enough to be not racist. Our social media feeds tonight will almost certainly include comments that “all lives matter”. Of course all lives matter, but it is not an indictment of anybody for us to be calling for this particular attention. One person’s gain is not another person’s loss. If we are not racists, we must be anti-racist. Do not commission; act on what we already know.
This debate is very important to me and to my constituency of Kensington. As hon. Members may be aware, Kensington has some of the most extreme health inequalities in the country. The difference in average male life expectancy between my richest ward and my poorest ward is a massive 16 years. Clearly, we need to work on levelling up.
I have a very significant BAME community, and I want to start by paying tribute to my BAME community. Many of them are frontline workers—in the health service, in the police, in education—and many are at the forefront of their communities in providing charity and aid.
I welcome the report from Public Health England and the fact that the Equalities Minister will bring this forward, but I cannot stress enough that this cannot be some academic exercise. There need to be practical plans, and they need to be implemented with a sense of urgency.
One of the key tenets of my general election campaign was equality of opportunity throughout the constituency in health, in education and in housing. I want to stress that this is in all our interests. It is in all our interests that we harness the maximum talent of all our citizens. I am proud to be part of a party that values diversity, and which has a BAME Chancellor of the Exchequer, a BAME Home Secretary and a BAME Attorney General.
I take the hon. Lady’s comments in good part, and she is right to highlight the rise of people of all backgrounds in government. However, it still disturbs me and many—most—of my constituents that the Prime Minister under whom she serves has described people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. That is completely against the tone of this debate so far. Does she agree with the Prime Minister, or does she call him out, as we do?
I would agree with the hon. Lady that language is incredibly important in these sensitive times, and it is not language I personally would have used.
I want to talk about levelling up. We talk a lot about levelling up, and normally it is exclusively in the context of the north versus the south, but clearly there are huge disparities in our inner cities. We have already heard that our cities have been worse affected by covid, often due to overcrowding and deprivation. I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that, when we focus on levelling up, we focus on our cities just as much as our regions. I also want to talk about prevention and screening, which are critical, not necessarily in the context of coronavirus but in the context of mitigating health inequalities. Only if we have proper prevention and screening can we extend people’s lives. I am glad that the NHS has a diabetes prevention programme, for instance; clearly, that has a comorbidity with coronavirus.
In summary, I thank the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for securing the debate, and I urge the Minister, on behalf of my constituents, to proceed with pace with this review and to ensure that its recommendations are implemented with a sense of urgency.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing this important debate.
My constituency is one of the most diverse in the country, with a large Bangladeshi population, and it is one of the most deprived, with the highest rate of child poverty in the country—and now we have suffered a high percentage of excess deaths due to covid-19. That is no coincidence. In particular, it is not random that British Bangladeshis are one of the groups most vulnerable to the virus.
Discrimination and structural racism continue to dictate who gets dumped and who gets resources—who suffers events worse. BAME individuals are more likely to work in jobs that cannot be done remotely, obviously increasing their risk of contracting covid-19. Not only are we yet to have justice for workers such as Belly Mujinga, but many are still being forced to work in unsafe conditions. Shockingly, a study by the Royal College of Nursing even revealed that BAME nursing staff experience the greatest PPE shortages.
Data from the annual population survey in 2018 revealed that Bangladeshi workers are disproportionately employed in distribution, hotels and restaurants, and transport and communication, which includes road transport drivers as well as key workers such as sales assistants and retail cashiers. That is one of the many reasons why it is incomprehensible that a full regulatory impact assessment had not been prepared for the statutory instrument relating to health regulations that we considered this week.
Likewise, BAME individuals continue to face an unfair pay gap, on average having lower incomes than their white counterparts. Workers of Bangladeshi heritage have the lowest median hourly pay of any ethnic group and are over-represented in the most deprived neighbour- hoods in England—the very areas where deaths from covid-19 occur at double the rate in more affluent areas. Households with a low income are more likely than higher-income households to be overcrowded and have damp problems, because they cannot afford to move to a larger house or fix damp problems. That is highly relevant as covid-19 attacks the respiratory system, which can be compromised by chronic exposure to damp conditions.
I raised the issue of overcrowding when I spoke in the House all the way back on 18 March. Since then, it has become clear that the probability of being infected by covid-19 is likely to be higher in close-contact settings, and that social distancing and self-isolation rules are much more difficult to uphold in overcrowded households. Moreover, the evidence points towards an increase in the mortality rate among ethnic minority people living in more densely populated, more polluted and more deprived areas, including among key workers.
According to campaigners, more than 40% of the population in my borough, Tower Hamlets, lives in areas with unacceptable air quality, with the situation predicted to get worse. Our children are growing up with reduced lung capacity due to nitrogen dioxide exposure, and they are at greater risk of developing lifelong breathing disorders—the exact symptoms that affect an individual’s vulnerability to covid-19. It is not just that BAME people are held back by economic and health inequalities; research suggests that they also experience poorer access to services and poorer quality of services. Privatisation and underfunding continue to undermine the daily efforts of our health workers. We have demanded urgent measures to safeguard the health and wellbeing of migrants, including an amnesty for undocumented migrants, an immediate suspension of the NHS charging for migrants and the scrapping of the no recourse to public funds policy, yet undocumented migrants, in particular, in my constituency, are still contacting me on a daily basis in despair.
I have been moved and inspired by Black Lives Matters protesters all around the world and I truly hope that the Government are listening. However, last week, as people were calling out the state regarding racism, Islamophobia and discrimination, the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill received its Second Reading. That Bill delays the long-awaited review of Prevent, which fosters discrimination against Muslim people and introduces significant curtailments of civil liberties, which will disadvantage BAME communities. It is time for some joined-up thinking and plain speaking: from now on, every decision by government or other public authorities needs to consider and act on addressing the needs of BAME communities. Lockdown restrictions should not be eased further unless it is safe for everyone. I continue to repeat over and over again: urgent and immediate action must be taken; the lives of people in my constituency and all over the UK matter.
I thank the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for securing this debate and the Members who have made such powerful and thoughtful speeches throughout the debate. I wish to focus on the PHE report and, as it is a theme that has emerged from this debate, a call for action.
The recent PHE report on the disparities in risk and outcomes of covid found that being from a black and minority ethnic background is associated with a significantly increased risk of death from covid. That is a deeply concerning and worrying finding. The researchers were able to control for the effects of age, sex, socioeconomic deprivation and, to a limited extent, occupation, as all those things are increasingly understood as risk factors for death from covid. However, it remains unclear whether the effect of ethnicity is in part mitigated by obesity or other health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, which are known to be more prevalent in the BME community. That is a health inequality in and of itself, but the study was unable to control for it. It was also unable to provide a detailed and granular understanding of the effect of occupation, especially for those working in public-facing or care roles. The report further concludes that research needs to be done in this area. It is absolutely right that the Government are urgently looking into this. By getting detailed scientific data, we can understand better the complicated relationships between these factors and not only shape our respond to covid, but continue to inform future health policy to address the needs of those who are currently being left behind. We have to do that very quickly.
The PHE stakeholder report makes several recommendations for change, which Members have mentioned. The one I wish to highlight in this debate is the need to accelerate efforts to target culturally competent health promotion and disease prevention programmes, as the importance of that cannot be overstated. Broad-brush approaches to interventions may work for the majority, but they can miss out some of the people most in need, and we need to ensure that our public health programme has the right message, at the right time, delivered in the right way, for the individual to exert change.
Many people still face health inequalities in the UK. I have already mentioned socioeconomic deprivation, an important driver of those inequalities that I wish to discuss a little further. Socioeconomic deprivation is a factor in almost all acquired health conditions. I am sure that that is on our minds at this moment, given the possible long-term impacts of the lockdown. We must ensure that everyone has the same opportunities in life, which means tackling inequalities, socioeconomic deprivation and all the factors that drive it, with access to quality education being key.
The coronavirus pandemic is a pandemic of inequalities that hits those who are already worst off the hardest. This Government, and the one before it, have worked hard to tackle health inequalities in the black and minority ethnic communities. For example, one aim of the independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983 was to examine and change the increased likelihood of people from a black and minority ethnic background being detained under that Act. As a mental health doctor, I took part in that review and sat on one of the working groups. That work was to help shape a White Paper and reform our mental health laws for the future. It is now time for us to publish that White Paper and drive forward those much-needed reforms.
This pandemic is likely to have a grave impact on those struggling with mental illness in society, and while I do not know this, I worry that that will disproportionately impact the black and minority ethnic community. Now more than ever is the time for definitive action. We need a public health revolution to tackle the burning injustice of health inequalities in the black and minority ethnic community. We must ensure that the pandemic does not end up entrenching inequality, and the way to do that is to move public health from the margins to the centre of our national health strategy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on successfully securing the debate, and I share the concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement about the stark inequalities and injustices that are faced by black people and other ethnic minorities. Covid-19 has been devastating in our communities, care homes and hospitals. So many hearts have been broken by loss, and today we have heard powerful statements from the heart.
This debate is rightly focused on the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities—a point extremely pertinent to my constituency. In her maiden speech, my predecessor, Jo Cox, said of Batley and Spen:
“Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency, or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 674.]
I quote Jo Cox in the week of the fourth anniversary of her murder, and she is still desperately missed in this place and in Batley and Spen. That quote perfectly describes the diversity of my constituency. That community is already exposed to underlying health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, and we now know that there is also a raised risk of death involving covid-19, when compared with people of white ethnicity.
As a proud GMB MP, I know that GMB supports many thousands of ancillary staff, from hospital porters to cleaners, ambulance workers and admin staff, and it has pressed for risk assessments. Sadly, those risk assessments came too late for many staff, and when they did come, they focused on access to PPE and social distancing challenges.
I think my hon. Friend and I might have been on the EveryDoctor briefing together, which highlighted that although BAME staff make up 17% of the NHS workforce, only 11% of them are in senior management, and that figure then drops to 6.4%. A BMA survey stated that 64% of BAME staff felt pressured into working without PPE, compared with 33% of non- BAME staff.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful comment, and I will get to that point later in my remarks. We must not allow pressure on people to do their job to affect health outcomes for them and their family, and I thank her for that brilliant intervention.
With all that in mind, plus the fact that Pakistani deaths are 2.9 times as high as deaths among white British people, it sadly seems as though my diverse constituency is at a greater risk of being disproportionately affected by covid-19. It is therefore with some optimism and relief that I note the most recent statistics, which show that the Kirklees local authority area remains one of the lowest affected by covid per size of population, with 179.6 cases per 100,000 people. On Tuesday this week, no new deaths were recorded at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust over the previous 24 hours. These low figures clearly reflect the sacrifices of the people of Kirklees and of Batley and Spen, who listened to Government advice and followed the guidance to protect our NHS. I would like to thank the leadership of Kirklees Council and of Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, who have worked tirelessly to keep the public and stakeholders informed so that we can all work together to keep people safe.
One serious worry is that the results of the covid testing regime are being held centrally and not shared with the trust, which could make the most of the data in an increasingly fluid situation. That does seem extremely odd. Our NHS trust is the local expert and the institution that people look to to keep them safe, so if it could factor in testing—how many tests are done and in what geographical location—and build a response based on the breakdown and composition of positive results, we would all be better served.
The impact on my community goes further than falling ill. The economic impact also affects my BAME community more deeply than others as we are a large manufacturing region and manufacturing is particularly exposed in an economic downturn. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies data showed only this week, workers in shut-down sectors are more likely than average to be BAME women and part-time workers, with 15% from BAME backgrounds in comparison with the workforce average of 12%. Let us not forget that these are a group of workers already disadvantaged in the labour market, with the ONS showing pre-covid BAME unemployment at 6.3% in January to March 2020, compared with 3.9% of the whole population. Anxiety about money and job prospects will also have a profound impact on their mental health.
As we know, according to the report from Public Health England, racism can make people from BAME backgrounds less likely to ask for help or insist on PPE. Some 90% of the doctors who died during the pandemic were from BAME backgrounds. Doctors from these communities were three times more likely to say that they had felt pressured to work without protective equipment. We must do more to tackle institutionalised racism in the care sector and the NHS. For that to happen, we need to have better data reporting, to support those in low-paid jobs to speak up, to develop a risk assessment for BAME staff members exposed to large numbers of the general public, to deliver culturally sensitive messaging across the community and to intensify health messages around the conditions that can lead to vulnerability.
Before I finish, let me say that each and every one of the statistics has family and friends mourning their loss. I would like to pay tribute to the wonderful, thoughtful and very well liked Dr Nasir Khan, who worked on one of the medical wards at Dewsbury and District Hospital in my constituency. He fell ill with the virus last month and, as a resident of Bolton, was admitted to Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, where he sadly died. His son made a moving tribute to his father. He ended with the words:
“We strive to achieve the greatness that was my dad and fulfil the dreams he has left behind.”
Let us hope that Dr Khan’s sacrifice was not in vain, and that Government will now implement the changes needed to ensure that black, Asian and minority ethnic workers are not allowed to be collateral damage in this fight.
May I start by thanking the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for securing this debate, while also apologising to her for missing the initial stages of her speech?
Last week in this Chamber, I spoke of forgotten people, particularly in my constituency of Dudley North. Sometimes, it takes an extraordinary event to bring to light weaknesses and underlying problems that perhaps would otherwise simmer below the surface, unseen, leaving people to suffer in silence. So many have lost family, friends and colleagues to this disease, and nearly all are experiencing the impact that this disease is having on their communities, with all the significant social, physical and mental health impacts and complications that come as collateral to the disease.
I want to reiterate today the need to level up support and to listen to and help our forgotten communities—communities that are impacted disproportionately socially and economically and that might have poor experiences of healthcare or at work that mean they are less likely to seek care when they need it or to speak up when they have concerns about their safety and welfare at work.
My election in December gave me an opportunity to make new friends. I think of Haji Malik, who has lived in Dudley for many, many decades, a pillar of the community there. Meeting him and getting to know him and his family, and many others, has been a very real learning experience for me, which I want to continue with as far as lockdown measures allow it.
What is clear to me, having visited Russells Hall Hospital in my constituency on several occasions, is the very noticeable proportion of staff who are from BAME communities, so the very people we are identifying as being at the greatest risk from covid-19 are the ones fighting this disease on the frontline in our health service. I very much welcome the suggestions in a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which highlights structural inequalities such as difficulty in accessing leadership teams and being heard, fewer opportunities for non-mandatory training, and higher risks of being bullied. In the longer term, steps towards improving organisational culture and capability will also enhance risk management. This is a leadership question that starts in this place, and it should then be delivered in every trust board in the country and, indeed, in every other institution in the country.
While not comprehensive, there is a lot of data in the recently published Public Health England report, which hon. Friends have already mentioned, that I hope will help our scientific community to better understand and fight this awful disease, to protect the most vulnerable, and to help our hospitals cope with potential future pandemics. I am encouraged that PHE has made a series of recommendations that could make a significant difference in improving the lives and experiences of BAME communities specifically. The Government’s commitment to deliver £33.9 billion of investment in the NHS—the largest cash boost in its history—can make reducing health inequalities possible by delivering opportunity for change. But change needs to be large-scale and transformative, and action is needed to change structural and societal environments such as homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces, not solely focusing on individuals.
We have a legal duty and a moral responsibility to our constituents to reduce inequalities. There are real, practical measures we can take to help tackle these inequalities and help the victims. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has suggested that every trust carry out a risk assessment on the impacts that covid-19 has on its BAME staff. It has warned of the potential for long-term psychological impacts on healthcare staff, and specifically BAME staff. I would be keen to hear my Government colleagues’ plans to support this suggestion and to support the long-term mental health and wellbeing of our healthcare workers, particularly BAME staff, once this initial pandemic is over.
First, I declare that I am a member of the Backbench Business Committee. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for bringing this debate to the House today.
As the representative of Leicester East, one of the most diverse constituencies in the country, it has been extremely concerning to see the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on African, Asian and minority ethnic communities. This was proven by the Government’s own report, which they shamefully published only after repeated pressure, and which does not outline any protective measures to deal with the disproportionate impact of covid-19. In a constituency like mine, which has a significant number of people from the affected communities, I worry about the processes of tracking, testing and so on, and whether that will be put right, because we can imagine what impact a second outbreak would have on such constituencies.
The Office for National Statistics has found that black people are 1.9 times more likely to die of covid-19 than white people, people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani descent are 1.8 times more likely to die, and people of Indian descent are about 1.5 times more likely to die. Those figures reflect the severe racial disparities in our economy.
We already know from a Resolution Foundation think-tank estimate that black, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi employees experience an annual pay penalty of £3.2 billion. Analysis from Public Health England shows that once in hospital, people from African, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are also more likely to require intensive care. Those communities accounted for 11% of those hospitalised with covid-19, but 36% of those admitted to critical care.
Many have tried to dismiss the imbalance in deaths as being explained by cultural or even genetic factors. I have been dismayed by some of the information that has come through my inbox about what people need to do to tackle these genetic problems. Yet discrimination is not about that; it is deeply ingrained in the social, political and economic structures of our economic system. The scourge of institutional racism results in unequal access to quality education, unequal access to healthy food and unequal access to liveable wages and affordable housing, which are the foundations of health and wellbeing. That is the context in which the coronavirus crisis is operating. The virus itself may not discriminate, but our economic and social system certainly does.
Existing racial and class inequalities coupled with inadequate Government support mean that working-class communities, migrants and African, Asian and minority ethnic communities are at greater risk from exposure to covid-19. The severe racial disparities in our economy mean that those communities are more likely to fall through the cracks in the Government’s financial support and therefore more likely to be forced to work in unsafe conditions. A decade of cruel austerity has deepened the racial and class inequalities that exist in our society. Last year, a UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur reported on discrimination in the UK. We know that one of the grim findings was:
“Austerity measures in the United Kingdom are reinforcing racial subordination.”
NHS staff are at considerable risk from the virus, as we know. It is vital that we repay the extraordinary contribution of frontline workers with a permanent extension of migrant rights. That means an end to the hostile environment. That means shutting detention centres and ending them, and it means granting indefinite leave to remain to all NHS workers, to carers and to their dependent families. Recent reports indicate that migrant NHS workers and carers are still being charged for using the health service that they work in. That is despite the Government saying that they would end that.
As the inspiring crowds of protesters across the country have shown in recent weeks, it is crucial that we in the UK do not assume that we are immune from the disease of institutional racism. The failure of the Government to outline any protective measures, despite being evidentially aware of the disproportionate impact of covid-19, is yet another instance of the institutionalised neglect of African, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), who is my great friend, on securing this debate and on the incredible work that she has done—not just today, but over many years—to expose racism, inequality and injustice in our society, and to persuade us that we should all learn and teach history much better in this country in order to conquer the inequalities and injustices faced by so many people.
There have been many absolutely brilliant speeches this afternoon, for which I commend colleagues. I particularly want to express my sympathy to another great friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi); to not be able to attend the funerals of close family friends, and not be there to carry the coffin, is something that will live with him for the rest of his life and live with the family forever more. This crisis will have a huge effect on people’s lives and mental wellbeing for a long time to come.
The motion that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central so excellently crafted requires the Government to respond to this debate. I hope that when the Minister replies, the Government will give us some indication that they do take seriously the health inequalities that have been exposed by the covid crisis.
Some 40% of our doctors and 20% of nurses come from BAME communities, as well as a very large number of people working in social care and a group of people who were decried as unskilled migrants by previous Home Secretaries: the cleaners who clean our care homes, hospitals and schools. They are the heroes in all this because they are the ones who are helping to keep us safe. This virus has exposed the necessity of communities working absolutely together, but it also shows a disproportionate number of deaths among people from the BAME community, who are 50% more likely to die from covid-19 than those who are not from the BAME community. The same figures apply for admissions to emergency care and intensive treatment units in hospitals.
The health inequalities exposed by the pandemic are not actually new. Professor Douglas Black’s report was published in 1980—40 years ago—and exposed health inequalities in Britain. The Tory Government then tried to suppress that report. I hope that no Government ever try to suppress the levels of knowledge of inequality that exist in our society. As colleagues have pointed out, it is low wages, overcrowded private rented accommodation and unsafe working conditions that lead to under- achievement in schools and to those children having great difficulty getting through.
A couple of days ago, I was talking to a headteacher of a primary school in my constituency. More than three quarters of the children in her school are entitled to free school meals. The school has done its best to deliver food to those children during the crisis. Teachers also want them to learn online, but many of the children do not have access to computers or laptops. If they do, there is one for a very large family and the children end up squabbling over who gets to access it. The school is therefore spending money posting lessons out to children. That is the effect of inequality and injustice in our society.
Life expectancy is shorter for people from BAME communities, and there is a lack of community facilities in so many areas. I want to say thank you to all our public service workers for what they have achieved and for the way in which they have come together. I also thank the volunteers who have come together in the food banks and food hubs, such as the one that I have been working on in my constituency over the last few weeks. I also say a special thank you to the Whittington Hospital in my constituency for its work. Last week, the staff there reported no new covid cases at all; well done them.
Covid has exposed inequality in our health service and society, and the injustice in our society. Post covid, let us invest for the future and not cut with yet another new regime of austerity. The virus has also exposed global health inequalities on a massive scale, with the poorest in the poorest countries suffering the most, as the lack of access to any health facilities makes life very difficult and the quality of life that many have makes social distancing absolutely impossible. When the World Health Organisation calls for universal access to healthcare, the response of the west is too often to say, “Introduce a payments scheme or an insurance-based health service” or something like that. No—we are all at risk. If anyone is at risk anywhere in the world, surely that has to be the lesson from this covid crisis; universal healthcare is very important.
In the last few seconds, let me say this: there are 65 million people on this planet who have no home to call their own, and no country to call their home. They are refugees or internally displaced people. By and large, they have no access to healthcare. They are at a greater risk than absolutely anybody else. Let us ensure that our approach to the coronavirus crisis is fair and just in this country, and that we have international trade and development policies that tackle health inequalities and injustices across the world to give us all a better and safer future.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) who, as we all know, has campaigned so passionately on many of these issues for a very long time.
This is a deeply troubling moment for many minority communities, not least in my constituency of Ilford South, where minority communities—black communities, Asian communities, people representing nearly every corner of the globe—represent over 53% of the population, and growing every year. Ilford South has a tapestry of communities that coexist, that work together. Through the recent covid crisis, I have had heartening moments with local people, such as when the local gurdwara has provided over 4,000 meals a week to help the vulnerable and those in need. People have been working together—churches alongside mosques alongside synagogues. And yet it is our local community that has suffered so badly. On my Facebook page, I see people from the Bangladeshi community putting up posts asking us to make prayers for their friends and family members who have lost loved ones. The impact has been difficult and dark for many people in my community.
So many people have taken the time to reach out to me, to write in to me—I have had hundreds of emails and letters on this issue. Not just about the death of Belly Mujinga, who was a member of my former union, the TSSA, and rightly took the time, a few weeks ago, to challenge Govia Thameslink directly over the lack of protective equipment and the way that she was forced to go and work on the platform, rather than safely in the ticket office where she normally worked. So many people have lost loved ones during this pandemic and in some cases, I am afraid to say, it appears to be avoidable. Many more have been terrified to leave their home for fear of contracting this deadly disease.
Actually, in many BAME communities, the proportion of people who work in frontline services, whether it be bus drivers or people working in the NHS, is incredibly high and people are fearful, and they are angry that they and their communities have not been prioritised by the Government in the way that they should have been. These are rational fears. In my Bangladeshi community —my own friends—the risk of death has been double that of people of white British ethnicity. In other communities—Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean, black communities—the risks have been 10% to 50% higher than for white British people, and yet many of those people were the first to be put on furlough, the first to lose their jobs, and have had the greatest burden in terms of how many they have seen die from their own community.
There are many factors behind these deaths. One would appear to be a lack of support, in that they often feel too scared to speak out. But I have been working on it, and this week we are having another Zoom meeting—something that has seemed ubiquitous recently—and I am expecting hundreds of people to join up from local black communities, to talk about these issues. There will be a moment of self-reflection for those of us who have real privilege, about what we can do to be genuine allies to communities facing oppression and always finding themselves at the bottom of the pile. I look forward to that, and I thank the hon. Members who will be joining me for that call later this week.
I would like to talk a little bit about one of the cases that I have had about frontline health care staff. You know, we were quite proactive in Redbridge. When we realised that many of our care homes did not have the PPE that they needed, we sought out what in old-fashioned parlance might be described as a local rag trade company —a manufacturer of garments—and begged them to turn their machinery to producing the garments needed for our care homes, so that people working there could have the protection that they needed. Yet we found too often, time and again, that frontline workers were sent into the firing line, despite being ill-equipped and despite being in vulnerable categories. That is still so unacceptable.
I think that many of us will look back on this period and ask what more we could have done, and our Government could have done, to protect these communities, which have borne such a heavy toll.
Over the past few months, one thing that I have found particularly difficult has been the increase in not just fear but racism—that some communities have almost been targeted, perhaps because of online rumours that their community is more likely to be bringing in this awful disease. That is totally unacceptable. From the Bangladeshi community to the Chinese community, so many communities have faced racism. It has been really tough for my own family. My son happens to be mixed-race Chinese, and some of the comments that his mother has had have been pretty appalling.
We as a nation need to put those who too often find themselves at the very bottom to the very top of our priorities. Comments from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and decisions by people such as Dominic Cummings have meant that the trust that even some of my constituents had in the Government has been utterly eroded. We can never have a situation—
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry). I add my voice to those paying tribute and thanks to the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for introducing the debate.
I have to say I am disappointed and ashamed that we have got to this stage in our country. Here we are in 2020, and it has taken a pandemic like covid-19 and the protests from BLM to make us recognise something that was in front of us all along. Covid-19 has certainly shone a very stark spotlight on our society, and shown quite clearly that there are cracks that we may have thought we had mended, and inequalities that we hoped we had addressed. There are still gaping holes, and inequalities that have gone not just unaddressed but largely unacknowledged.
Our society’s acute emotional response to the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on BAME communities has been perhaps the one saving grace in this shocking failure to protect our communities, so many of whom were at the forefront of tackling the virus and have paid the ultimate price. The impact of covid-19 is only part of that unacceptable picture. Another is the economic crisis, which may grow and which is also hitting our BAME communities particularly hard. They are disproportionately likely to be on zero-hours contracts. Only 31% of BAME workers have been furloughed; 20% have already lost their jobs.
If the Government are serious about tackling the systemic racial inequality that is now absolutely and undeniably clear in this country, what we need is not just another review setting out specific points. There are immediate steps that they could take. They could scrap the hostile environment. They could stop suspicionless stop-and-search. They could amend the Domestic Abuse Bill. There are so many steps that they could take now. The review is a first step, and I hope that it will make recommendations, but we already have 35 recommendations in the Lammy report, 110 in the Angiolini review, 30 in the Windrush lessons learned review, and 26 in Baroness McGregor-Smith’s review. We have reports, reviews and recommendations on the shelves in Whitehall, which are weighed down with them. What we need now is action.
More than that, I believe we need a race equality strategy for the whole of the UK. If this Government are serious about tackling racial injustice, that is what they need. The commission may be a first step, and it shows that the BLM protests are having an impact, but it must not be a way of avoiding tackling the issues that they have brought to light. We need that racial equality strategy. In truth, we needed it decades ago. So often I have believed that we were turning a corner. So many of us hoped—indeed, believed—that the Macpherson report after the murder of Stephen Lawrence would prove a turning point. We now realise that despite all the work that has been done by so many people, there is so much—too much—still to do. We cannot afford another false dawn in this country.
I am disappointed that I cannot pay tribute to the BAME community in my constituency or anywhere in Scotland and talk about the impact on them, because National Records of Scotland does not record deaths by ethnicity—it is voluntary—so the impact could be anywhere between 1% and 10%. I find it unacceptable that the Scottish Government do not have the figures to recognise that and address the issue in the way that we are at least attempting to in Westminster. I ask them to do that now. In fact, I ask our Ministers here at Westminster to impress on the Government in Scotland the need to act now, so that we can have a cross-government race equality strategy like the one recommended by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, effective across the United Kingdom.
This has been a difficult time for all of us. Standing here as a white woman, I acknowledge that, while I might sympathise, I cannot fully feel the injustice that so many of our communities are feeling today. But I do know that we all feel that this must be our moment for change. We have to change our society, and we have to change it now.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for giving us the opportunity to speak about this today. It is a pleasure to follow the sage, sad and passionate contribution from the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine).
In Newham, we have statistically the second highest mortality rate from covid in the country. We have lost Ramesh Gunamal, who worked on the front desk at Forest Gate police station. We have lost Dr Louisa Rajakumari, who taught English at Kingsford Community School. We have lost Dr Yusuf Patel, a much missed GP from Forest Gate, and Abdul Karim Sheikh—sometimes a political opponent, mostly a friend, and a man always dedicated to the best for our communities. Those are just a few of the people who Newham and West Ham mourn deeply.
We know that deprivation doubles the risk from covid, and Newham is deprived—of that, there is no doubt. Like many of my friends’ areas, we have beautifully diverse communities, which means that they have been hurt massively by the pandemic. Those from our Bangladeshi community have twice the risk of death, and that is more than 12% of my constituents. Those from the Pakistani community have a 44% higher risk, which is 10% of us in Newham. Those from the Indian community have a 22% higher risk, which is 15% of us in Newham. Those from the black Caribbean and black African communities have a 10% and 6% higher risk, which is 4% and 11% of us in Newham.
Some 73% of us in Newham are from an ethnic minority, so we need this Government to act before we see a second wave. We need action so desperately that I have broken shielding to be here today so that I can demand it. The fact that I had to do so is wrong, but that is not nearly as wrong as the denial of equal protection for my constituents from this terrible virus.
I have written to the Minister for Women and Equalities, the Health Secretary and others about this twice. The first letter was sent more than six weeks ago. I do not think the urgency of my language could have been misunderstood. I wrote again two weeks ago, expressing, again, a desperate need for action. I have received absolutely no response of value. However, I was pleased to hear yesterday that there is finally going to be an urgent review of evidence and possible action on vitamin D deficiency. I hope we get that very, very soon, because if there is a second wave and we have constituents dying for the simple lack of a vitamin supplement, the Government know there will be a price to pay.
We know that it goes further than vitamin D. Staggeringly, despite the fact that black and minority ethnic communities are at greater risk of death, they are under-represented in clinical trials. Why? What possible excuse is there for that? In my humble opinion, it is incompetence, at the very best.
Let us look at the Government’s approach to covid-19 across this pandemic: it has been about slowing down its spread, which depends on two weeks’ full isolation. But in poor communities where there is no spare cash— there are no savings—excessive living costs have to be met week in, week out. Frankly, we all know that statutory sick pay just is not enough to keep people afloat, so sick people go to work. They put themselves at risk, they put the people on the tube with them at risk, they put the people who are on buses with them at risk, and they put their co-workers at risk, all because they are not paid enough money to enable them to stay at home like the rest of us can do, and recover. The Government have not even suspended the no recourse to public funds policy so that people can isolate. Why? Why do they not understand what these actions mean?
In Newham, many of us live in overcrowded homes—even my home feels a bit overcrowded at the moment with just me and my husband—which means that people at home cannot self-isolate. I accept that the Government are not going to be able to eliminate overcrowding overnight, but it would be great if they made a start. The fact that they cannot means that the other policies, such as track and trace, are really important. If we have a second wave, as I fear, and black and minority ethnic communities die in numbers out of all proportion again, we will be holding the Government to account for those excess deaths.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing this important—indeed, essential—debate. Her opening speech was incredibly powerful. She set out eloquently the relationship between the Black Lives Matter movement and black key workers dying. She showed the connection between George Floyd’s long, slow death and his dying words, and Belly Mujinga dying of covid-19 here.
My hon. Friend said that being black is a pre-existing condition. It is a condition that I celebrate—I am proud to be a black, Geordie, Nigerian, Irish Brit—but it should not be a co-morbidity. My right hon. and hon. Friends have said so much that is so true, so eloquently—one of the joys of being a Labour MP is the support of my brothers and sisters—that I shall focus my remarks on three things: what covid-19 tells us about the reality of racism today; what it tells us about the failure of this Government on racism today; and what it tells us what about what the Government should do.
First, let me address the realities of structural racism today. Like the Home Secretary, I experienced significant racism as a child, including name calling and worse, although I was supported by a strong community, family and school. Over the last few years, name calling, physical abuse and hate crimes have unfortunately risen, but when the name calling stops, that does not mean that racism has gone away. It is instead in the structures and systems that define how we live. That is what we mean by structural racism: crowding BAME people into worse housing; putting up barriers to BAME people going into higher-paid professions; making it more likely for BAME people to live in deprived areas and have to take up precarious jobs; and putting BAME workers in the lower-paid roles in the NHS, while the higher-paid upper echelons remain snowy white. Some 14% of the UK population are black, but 34% of those who work in intensive care are BAME.
The statistics that demonstrate the levels of inequality that still exist in our society are one of the reasons why the Black Lives Matter movement has such resonance here. Some 25% of BAME nursing staff have no confidence that their employer is doing enough to protect them from covid-19. BAME staff networks in the north-east have called for the risk assessments to which they are entitled to ensure they are protected.
That is the reality of racism today, and covid illustrates the Government’s response to it. Whether it is a Foreign Secretary who thinks that taking the knee is from fantasy fiction or a Prime Minister who speaks of “smiling piccaninnies”, the Government have demonstrated a lack of interest in the racism that we face. We do not need another report; we do not need another investigation. We have enough recommendations. This Government need to take action. Covid-19 has shone a light on the discrimination that so many black and minority ethnic people suffer in this country. The Government need to act to change that and ensure that it does not continue, as it has for so many years. We do not need another review.
I am proud that, in Newcastle, our community stands strong together in its different identities and works together. I was deeply saddened by the violence in our city this weekend. Valuing black lives is not about devaluing white lives; it is about asking why black lives are more likely to be lost. The Government have waited far too long to look for an answer to that question. They must now take action to ensure that we are not in the same situation in a year, five years or 10 years.
I am delighted to speak in this debate, and I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for securing it. I am proud to represent the diverse constituency of Vauxhall in Parliament, not least because my constituents have fought on the frontline of this pandemic, including at St Thomas’s Hospital, where our Prime Minister was treated so well. But tragically, we have seen more than 500 deaths in my borough of Lambeth as a result of coronavirus, and 40% of those deaths have been black, Asian and minority ethnic people. Those deaths are not just statistics. They are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. They are sons and daughters and they are grandparents. A number of my constituents were not able to say goodbye to their loved ones.
Public Health England has found that the death rate from covid-19 is much higher for people from BAME backgrounds than for white ethnic groups. It has also found that black males are 3.9 times more likely to die than white males, and that black females are 3.3 times more likely to die. This is not a coincidence. We should not be surprised or devastated by these statistics—shocked, yes; surprised, no. The report shows that BAME communities continue to catch covid-19 and that they are more likely to live in overcrowded housing, more likely to live in deprived areas and more likely to have jobs that expose them to this deadly disease. I might add that it is those crucial jobs that have kept our country going over the last few months: the bus drivers, the nurses, the midwives, the care workers, the taxi drivers and the security guards. They are really crucial jobs.
Nor should we be surprised to read in the report that the pre-existing structural inequalities that BME communities face are a factor in those high death rates. For me, the most damning sentence in the report reads:
“It confirms that the impact of COVID-19 has replicated existing health inequalities and, in some cases, has increased them.”
It is there in black and white. Those deaths cannot and should not be separated from the tragic death of Belly Mujinga here in the UK, or from the shocking death of George Floyd in the USA. Those deaths cannot and should not be separated from the deeply entrenched structural inequality and racism that our BME communities continue to face every single day. We cannot begin to tackle the disproportionate impact of this virus until we acknowledge the deep-rooted cause and the deep-seated racism that still tragically exists in 2020. That is the racism that I and many other colleagues on both sides of this Chamber have faced, and we have spoken about it in this Chamber. We continue to experience that racism.
The report also highlights the direction that we should be taking. It concludes:
“These results improve our understanding of the pandemic and will help in formulating the future public health response to it.”
It goes on to say:
“It seems likely that it will be difficult to control the spread of COVID-19 unless these inequalities can be addressed.”
They have to be addressed. If the Government are really serious about tackling this real issue and making sure that we have concrete action to tackle racial inequality in our society, they must show leadership by acting on the failures that have led us to this debate today.
I would also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for organising this debate this afternoon. As the first black MP for Liverpool, I know only too well the impact of deeply entrenched systemic racism and inequalities, and I welcome the opportunity of speaking in this important debate today on the level of deaths from covid-19 among black communities. The unequal impact is linked to a number of factors, including structural racism, discrimination and health inequalities increasing the risk of serious illness. The Office for National Statistics reports that black men and women are four times more likely to die from covid-19 than white men and women, and it is clear that covid-19 did not create these health inequalities, but rather that the pandemic exposed and exacerbated long-standing inequalities affecting black communities in the UK.
In “Health Equity in England: the Marmot review 10 years on”, Professor Marmot stated that health inequality was
“even worse for minority ethnic population groups”,
and commented that the pandemic will entrench and make worse existing inequalities. Recent analysis suggests that black individuals account for 63% of all NHS staff deaths from covid-19, including 64% of deaths among nursing and support staff and 95% of deaths among medical staff. Black people are more likely to work in occupations with a higher risk of covid-19 exposure, more likely to use public transport to travel to work and less likely to access the necessary PPE to protect themselves.
Race equality has been firmly placed on the agenda in the past couple of weeks, but we all know only too well that countless reports and commissions tell black people what we already know: that we are disadvantaged simply because of the colour of our skin. I say enough is enough. Now is the time for action and change. I do not want my grandsons having the same debate in years to come. Public Health England has published two reports now and the Government are setting up another commission that will report back at the end of the year. They must act now to reverse these long-standing, systemic inequalities and move form rhetoric to reality.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing this debate on how she opened it.
I want to focus on one point. The Public Health England review says:
“People of BAME groups are also more likely than people of white British ethnicity to be born abroad, which means they may face additional barriers in accessing services”.
I want to highlight one barrier in particular, and that is the “no recourse to public funds” restrictions on leave to remain, which has already been touched on this debate. We are talking about families who have leave to remain in the UK, who are law-abiding and hard-working, often with children born in the UK and who may well be British nationals and have British passports. Typically, they are on a 10-year route to securing indefinite leave to remain, and in the meantime they have to apply four times, getting two and a half years to remain each time. Throughout that 10-year period, when they are working here, typically very hard, doing exactly the kinds of jobs we have been talking about, they have no recourse to public funds.
That is a formidable barrier that those people face. It is exactly the kind of barrier that the Public Health England report refers to. I asked the Prime Minister yesterday about this, and I asked him about it at the Liaison Committee three weeks ago. His answer then was that hard-working families in that position should have help of one kind or another. I absolutely agree. Unfortunately, he did not say that when I asked him about it yesterday, but it is what he said to me at the Liaison Committee, and he was right on that occasion. The problem is that those families are not getting that help.
It comes as a shock to a lot of people to learn that the parents of children who have been born in the UK and might well be British nationals cannot claim child benefit for them, because no recourse to public funds excludes that. The families cannot apply for universal credit either, or access the safety net that so many people have had to depend on during this crisis—2 million additional people have been claiming universal credit since the beginning of the crisis. That safety net is not there for people with no recourse to public funds. That has created a very serious problem of destitution, a huge increase in food bank demand in many parts of the country and, in my area, the return of something I never thought we would see again: soup kitchens, where people are handing out free cooked food just to keep others alive.
My right hon. Friend raises a very important point, and a very pertinent point in our London constituencies particularly. No recourse to public funds means no housing benefit, and it is impossible pretty much to rent privately on a low wage, or even quite a good wage, in my constituency. Does he agree that that underlines how this policy is now out of date?
I do agree, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.
How many people are there in this situation? The Home Office does not know to how many people it has given the status and refuses to answer even the most basic questions on this subject.
Last month, I asked the Home Office a written parliamentary question: how many people were given leave to remain with no recourse to public funds in 2019? I received the reply on 20 May:
“The information you have requested is not assured to the standard required by ONS for publication and as it would be too costly to do so, we are unable to provide it”—
in other words, “We’re not going to bother answering the question.” I have asked the UK Statistics Authority what it makes of that answer and the attempt to hide behind the Office for National Statistics. I am looking forward to receiving the chair’s reply, which will arrive, I believe, quite shortly. Fortunately, the Children’s Society has made an estimate, drawing on the work of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. Its estimate is that at least 1 million people in the UK have leave to remain, but no recourse to public funds, including over 100,000 children.
I think most people in this situation are overseas students who have leave to remain, leave to study, but no recourse to public funds. I must raise the question: is it really right that we want to completely abandon those who—in many cases, at great sacrifice to themselves and their families—have come to the UK to study? They have been supporting themselves through working and their work has stopped. They have absolutely nothing, and they are depending on the soup kitchens I have referred to.
There is a form on gov.uk, which appeared on 3 April, allowing people to apply to be exempted from no recourse to public funds. The Home Office refuses to answer questions about how many people have applied, how long it is taking it to answer those applications and what proportion of the applications are successful, but from the experience of my constituents, it seems to be taking between two months and two and a half months to respond to applications to be exempted from no recourse to public funds. If someone is destitute, they cannot be expected to wait for a couple of months until a struggling Government Department gets around to deciding whether they might be able to get some help. I have had one person in touch with me who has been waiting since the middle of February for an answer.
As we have already been reminded by my hon. Friends, some people have had to carry on working during this crisis who should not have done for their own sake and for the sake of wider public health, but they have had no alternative because it has been the only way they have been able to achieve any sort of income. What would any Member of this House have done in that circumstance, with no money at all?
Finally, I want to pay tribute to organisations in my constituency that have been helping, including the Bonny Downs Baptist church and the Bonny Downs Community Association, a long-standing food bank that has had a massive increase in demand; the Masjid Ibrahim mosque; the Malayalee Association of the UK, representing people from south India; the London Tamil Sangam; and my friend and colleague Councillor Lakmini Shah, who has been supporting—single-handedly, I think—several dozen families in this position. The no recourse to public funds restriction must be suspended for the duration of this crisis.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing this very important debate.
I would like to begin by marking two anniversaries that speak to the heart of this debate. The first was on Sunday, which marked three years since 72 lives were cruelly cut short in the Grenfell Tower fire. That night will forever be seared in my mind—the blazing inferno of the tower, the live-streamed videos of victims reciting prayers before they passed away, friends and families desperately searching for loved ones, the firefighters exhausted and shellshocked having done everything they could and the multiracial working-class community coming together to support one another.
What happened at Grenfell was a tragedy, but it was not a natural disaster. It was avoidable and foreseeable. Residents raised concerns, but they were not listened to. They were not listened to because they were working class, because many were migrants and because the community was majority black and brown. That is why the structures of power neglected them, exploited them and discarded them. It shames this Government that, three years on, survivors are still living in temporary accommodation, and 56,000 people are still living in homes wrapped in unsafe, flammable cladding.
The second anniversary, which also speaks to this topic, is on Monday. That day marks 72 years since HMS Windrush arrived in the UK. Black Britons came to the UK and helped to rebuild this country after the war, and we know how they were repaid. A Government determined to stoke division and target migrants created the racist hostile environment and had black and brown people detained, deported and denied their rights. Again, the structures of power neglected black and brown people, exploited them and discarded them. Even now, compensation totalling just £360,000 has been paid to just 60 victims of this scandal, so let us call it what it is: systemic racism, and the disproportionate deaths of black and brown people from coronavirus is a third striking example of this.
The evidence is clear that people with Bangladeshi backgrounds face double the risk of dying from covid-19 compared with white people, while people from Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Caribbean and other black ethnicity backgrounds face a 10% to 50% higher risk of death. This is not some innate vulnerability of black and brown people. It is not something natural—it is social. It is because black and brown people are disproportionately poor and that makes them more likely to have ill health. They are disproportionately in overcrowded housing and are therefore more likely to spread this deadly disease, and disproportionately in jobs exposed to the virus, from being over-represented in the NHS, to being in the low-paid, often precarious, frontline key worker roles. Again, what we see is a system that neglects black and brown people, exploits black and brown people, and all too tragically discards black and brown people.
These are neither discrete incidents nor aberrations from the norm. They are reminders of what is painfully clear to many people outside this Chamber: that race and class are the dividing lines between two very different Britains. The people of Grenfell Tower lived and died in the shadow of immense wealth in Kensington and Chelsea. The Windrush scandal exposed the second-class citizenship for black and brown people in Britain today and the contempt with which migrants are treated. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the fatal inequities that are rife within our society and are truly a matter of life and death.
This systemic racism is not incidental. It has a history, and thanks to the action of Black Lives Matter campaigners, light is being shed on this history. It is a history of colonialism and conquest, empire and enslavement, and inequality and exploitation. It is a history of the rich and powerful using their influence to maintain control and spread hate. Today, their newspapers run stories spreading fear about migrants arriving on our shores. Tomorrow, it might be about Muslims or young black men or Gypsies or Roma, and it is done with the same purpose: to divide the people, deflect blame and protect their rotten system. That is why they target minorities, and we see it with the threat to the trans community at the moment.
Systemic racism is causing black and brown people to disproportionately die from coronavirus. This needs to be urgently addressed, with workplace risk assessments, PPE and tests for everyone who needs them, but it needs deeper change, too. We need to tackle the system that drives these inequalities and empowers people in this Chamber and in Parliament and the billionaire press barons who whip up fear and exploit and discard working-class people, black, brown and white alike. We need to tackle this system, and in its place, build a society that has equality and freedom at its heart. That is the call of socialism and it is more timely than ever.
I speak today not just for my constituents, but to represent my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), which may surprise most people, because in her 33 years in this place, I think everyone would agree that she has never needed anyone to speak for her. She has been perfectly capable, able and talented at speaking up on inequality repeatedly in her 33 years, and she was the first ever black woman to be elected to this place. Sadly, the Government’s refusal to allow remote participation means that she is unable to attend today because she is shielding, but she wanted me to speak for our borough together, because of the concerns we both share about the number of deaths from covid-19 of black, Asian and minority ethnic people. I am proud to stand with her. She has spoken up for the marginalised for many years, and I am proud to have her as a neighbouring MP and a friend.
My right hon. Friend highlights that black deaths from covid-19 have been particularly traumatising for the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, who are very likely to know someone who has died. We have heard that very firmly in the Chamber today. I also want to highlight the very important work of Councillor Carole Williams, a cabinet member on Hackney Council, who highlighted this inequality at an early stage. She was ahead of the curve of many people in this Chamber today, and of the Government. It is because we live and work in the community, and understand its needs and its trauma, that we really wanted to raise these points today.
Hackney is the 22nd most deprived local authority district in England and the third most densely populated. Our housing overcrowding is severe, as I have often mentioned in this House. When we break that down in terms of ethnicity, over 70% of people on our housing waiting lists are from ethnic minority backgrounds. These are inequalities that we are all weary of raising. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), who has done a great job in securing the debate today, highlighted, it is a pattern that we recognise and are weary of having to highlight again and again and again. I echo the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) about the need for action now. We know a lot of these problems. We have raised them repeatedly. We need to see action.
Hackney has the third-highest death rate per 100,000 people, at 183, of all local authority areas. With 40% of our population from BAME backgrounds, it is not surprising that we have had 175 deaths from covid-19, but 70% of those deaths were of people born outside the UK and 60% of the deaths were of people employed in routine and manual occupations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington highlighted when we were discussing this matter today, we also know that it is not just a matter of underlying health conditions. Black people are disproportionately employed, as other colleagues have highlighted, in sectors exposed to covid: transport, social care and the NHS. They are more likely to be agency staff or in roles with zero-hour contracts, so feel less empowered to insist on proper PPE. This goes very much to workplace rights as well and the ability to call out something when it is wrong. If you call it out and lose your job, it is of course harder to do that.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that with more than 200 recommendations from previous reviews already gathering dust, the reason why so many of us are pointing out, again and again, that we need action and not more reviews and investigations is that we have not even implemented a single recommendation from the previous reviews?
I agree with my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington is calling for a public inquiry into black deaths from covid. I support her in that, but, as my hon. Friend highlights, it must not be an excuse to kick this issue down the road. We need action now for the people at the frontline who are still affected by this. If we have the second peak that we all fear is coming, they need to be protected. If people are moved out of frontline jobs to be shielded and protected because of their greater risk of death, they must not see detriment to their career path. We need action now. We need workplace plans to support people. It is a tragic and visible reminder of the inequalities we see.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic households are nearly five times more likely to be overcrowded than white households. I have repeatedly raised in this place the tragedy of families who are living in double households, with one family in the living room and one in the bedroom. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) highlighted how no recourse to public funds also feeds into that, and 43.9%—so nearly 44%—of London NHS staff are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. A staggering 67% of adult social care staff in our capital are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
One interesting and important point is how we communicate public health messages. Sometimes one size does not fit all. If you live in an overcrowded household and are told to self-isolate, it is a different challenge than if you live in a home with spare bedrooms, studies, extra living rooms, large gardens and big kitchens. People need advice about how to manage the public health situation in their own domestic situation and their own workplace. The digital divide is a big concern in my constituency when it comes to getting that message across, with 11% of Hackney residents having no access to the internet.
This is near Shoreditch. Shoreditch is part of my constituency—part of the borough that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and I represent together—yet just over one in 10 residents have no access to the internet and 20% say they are not confident using the internet.
This has been a thoughtful, measured debate, and I do not doubt that every Member here, and many others who would have liked to have spoken, means every word they say about action now. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), is a reasonable and thoughtful woman and I look forward to her response, but I must repeat that the Prime Minister under whom she serves has repeatedly used racist language. Where is the word “piccaninnies” from? I am not going to give a history lesson, but look it up. It is not acceptable for a Prime Minister of this country to have only in recent times described people in those pejorative terms, using the phrase “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and talking about women in burqas with “letterbox” slits.
That does not set the tone or give me confidence that the Government will act. I believe that there are good people in the Government. There are good people in the Prime Minister’s party, but he needs to shape up. Just as Marcus Rashford educated him about the poverty and hunger of children on free school meals, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and I stand ready, with our constituents and with colleagues across the House, to educate the Prime Minister about how badly wrong he is getting the messaging on this. He needs to act now.
Before I move on to the specific topic of the debate, I think it is important to acknowledge, as many others have, that we cannot debate this in isolation; we have to see it in the context of Black Lives Matter and the grievances stretching back not just decades but, in many cases, centuries. Bristol was of course very much in the forefront of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations earlier this month with what our Mayor, Marvin Rees, the first democratically elected black Mayor in Europe, described as an act of “historical poetry”—the hugely symbolic removal by protesters of the statue of Edward Colston.
The Observer headline this Sunday was, “The day Bristol dumped its hated slave trader in the docks and a nation began to search its soul” but in fact the reverberations from the removal of Colston were not just national but global. What is interesting is that the statue of Colston was not erected until 1895, more than 170 years after he died. Professor Madge Dresser says that was part of a bid by the city elite to quell increasingly radical stirrings among the lower classes. They were trying to rally people around a civic identity based, supposedly, on our glory days—our heyday, when the city prospered as a result of slavery—rather than have people rallying around class or an organised labour movement. It is fitting, now that Colston has come down, that we do not just talk about statues and monuments and about place names and road names, although all that discussion is happening, but that we shine a light on structural inequalities, class, poverty, deprivation and health inequalities.
Earlier in the covid crisis, Bristol City Council, under the leadership of Mayor Marvin Rees and our Deputy Mayor Councillor Asher Craig, commissioned a rapid research review from University of Bristol academics. The resulting report on the impact of covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities was published on 20 May. The verdict, as we heard from the Public Health England report and we know from our own experience, was that the risk from covid-19 is generally higher among BAME communities, even after adjusting for risk factors such as age, gender, comorbidities, increased likelihood to live in urban areas, and so on. BAME people are more likely to be admitted to critical care and more likely to die. No one factor alone can explain it, but contributing factors include being poorer, where people live, overcrowded housing, types of jobs, other illnesses and access to the health service.
The recommendations in the Bristol report include ensuring adequate income protection for those in low-paid or precarious employment and reducing occupational risk; what other Members said about the increased vulnerability of BAME healthcare staff and other frontline workers, such as Belly Mujinga, is really important. The report also said that we need to improve public health communications and tailor them to culturally specific challenges, such as preventing transmission in overcrowded households or shielding vulnerable people in multi-generational households. It also called for the removal of all NHS charges so that no migrant or individual from a BAME group delays seeking healthcare or risks death through fear of being charged for their NHS care. It was quite shocking, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) said, that the Prime Minister did not even seem to know what “no recourse to public funds” meant when he appeared in front of the Liaison Committee. The report also recommended that ethnic groups should be included in health inequalities work, that we should collect more data, and that there should be meaningful engagement and involvement of minority ethnic communities in the services. This is now being taken forward by a BAME working group.
In research published in January 2017 looking at ethnic inequalities in education and employment, the Runnymede Trust judged Bristol to be one of the most unequal cities in the UK and one of the worst places when it came to racial equality. We ranked seventh out of the 348 districts of England and Wales on the index of multiple inequality. We are seemingly prosperous; people think of Bristol as a wealthy, thriving city. We are the only city outside London to make a net contribution to GDP. We are consistently voted as one of the coolest cities and one of the best places to visit. All that gloss masks the underlying inequalities. In the same way that the Colston statue presented a false image of wealth and philanthropy masking the true horrors of how many were enslaved, mistreated and died in the pursuit of that wealth, the gloss is masking the real picture in many of the deprived communities in Bristol. We absolutely know that we have a long way to go in Bristol—that taking down the statue is just one historical marker on a long, sometimes difficult and sometimes daunting journey—but we are absolutely committed to doing this.
It is the pride of my life to represent the big, diverse constituency that I was born and brought up in, from those like my parents who came over in the ’40s to the newer communities from west Africa and Sri Lanka. Many of the children in those communities are doing well in our schools and will be the professionals of the future—as long as they manage to get through the circumstances in which they find themselves in overcrowded accommodation and houses in multiple occupation. As soon as we heard the advice about how to avoid getting coronavirus, we knew what would be the likely outcome. For those who do not have their own bathroom or kitchen but instead share them with four or five other families, the advice was impossible to follow.
It is not that I believe that people in positions of authority want to be overtly racist; I sincerely believe that they do not. However, even as we stand here, the health service in my area is ignoring the advice in the Public Health England evidence. There are plans to move the A&E, the maternity unit and all the acute services at St Helier Hospital further away into Sutton, in spite of the evidence that that takes them further away from BAME communities who are more likely to be dependent on them. The evidence is damning. Of the 66 lower output areas in the catchment with the highest proportion of BAME residents, just one is nearest to the proposed site in Belmont. Meanwhile, 64 of the 66 are nearest to St Helier, 32 of which are in the bottom two quintiles of deprivation, increasing their likely reliance on acute services.
The people running the programme know this; it just does not matter enough for them to want to do anything. Their own impact assessment states clearly:
“As higher densities of the BAME community and those with long term health conditions…live within areas in the highest quintile of deprivation, these groups may also be expected to be disproportionately impacted compared with others”.
But the programme carries on. Despite the overwhelming pressures facing the NHS, the programme’s consultation culminated at the peak of the pandemic. Yet the impact assessment states:
“A reduction in the number of hospitals providing…acute services could potentially have a negative impact on the resilience of services, if for example, there is an unplanned event…on the single major acute hospital site which may restrict service delivery. It is recognised that the likelihood of such a situation occurring is unlikely”.
It happened, we saw it, and it may come back again—and perhaps in an area with higher BAME density where the services will then be gone.
On 4 June, those at the programme confirmed that they will not have concluded their analysis of the impact of the pandemic on their proposals and that they have no intention of releasing the analysis they are undertaking. Their runaway train carries on full steam ahead, coronavirus or no coronavirus, no matter who dies or who does not; it is irrelevant, it is their plan and they are going to have it, come what may.
In conclusion, I want to ask the Minister about two cases in my constituency. The first is that of Mr Salih Hasan, a cleaner at St George’s Hospital for the past 18 years. He worked for two outsourced contractors ISS and Mitie, but he was a part of the team at St George’s. Will his family be the beneficiary of the lump-sum payment for those who die of coronavirus in the NHS? The second is that of Mr Antwi, who worked for a private transport company in hospital transport. He died, leaving his family to pay for a funeral they could not be afforded. Surely, his family too should receive some of that fund.
First, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (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.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing this important and timely debate, and on her excellent speech.
Some 16% of the population in my constituency come from a black and minority ethnic background, and even before we knew the hard data about covid-19 deaths, the BAME community could sense that it was disproportionately affected. My local community joined in mourning the tragic death of 26-year-old care worker, Sonya Kaygan. Sonya died from covid-19 in mid-April after being exposed to coronavirus in the care home where she worked. Sonya leaves behind a three-year-old daughter, who is now growing up without a mother.
Sadly, Sonya is one of thousands of people from the BAME community who worked in frontline services and have lost their lives. As we watched the news and heard about the disproportionate number of BAME lives being lost, people rightly asked, “Why is this happening to our community?” Although some of it can be put down to social gatherings between different communities, that is by no means the only explanation.
Two weeks ago Public Health England published its first report on the disparities in the risks and outcomes of covid-19, but although it showed the bare facts it provided no explanations, which led to more questions than answers. Why were BAME Britons who contracted coronavirus twice as likely to die as white Britons? Why do black and Asian groups have the highest death rates from coronavirus? Why was race and ethnicity such a prevalent factor in the death stats?
Last week, we learned of the existence of Public Health England’s second report “Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups”, which had not been released. It made for shocking reading. The report stated that structural racism had significantly impacted the effect of covid-19 on the BAME community, and that historical racism had made BAME NHS staff less likely to speak up about a lack of personal protective equipment or the increased risks they faced. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who chairs the British Medical Association, said in response to the report that more than 90% of doctors who died during the pandemic were from BAME backgrounds, and that BAME staff were three times as likely to say that they felt pressured to work without sufficient PPE.
The PHE report echoed those comments and stated:
“Historic racism and poorer experiences of healthcare or at work mean that BAME individuals are less likely to seek care when they needed it”
and they are also less likely to speak up if they have concerns about risks in the workplace. The report further states:
“The unequal impact of covid-19…may be explained by a number of factors ranging from social and economic inequalities, racism, discrimination and stigma,”
as well as differing risks at work and underlying health conditions.
Data published in the Health Service Journal on BAME deaths from covid-19 highlighted that BAME groups accounted for 21% of NHS staff, but 63% of covid-19 deaths. Among medical staff, those from BAME backgrounds accounted for 44% of the staff, but 95% of the covid-19 deaths. These figures are truly shocking, and we cannot shy away from the fact that underlying racism is a key factor in these covid-19 deaths.
During the course of this debate, other colleagues have made the point that the BAME community is also over-represented in other frontline services, leading to more public interaction and exposure to covid-19. I shall not dwell on that now, but we must also remember those public transport workers, such as Belly Mujinga, who contracted the virus and died.
The Government’s failure to release the second report on time does not inspire confidence that they are serious about taking action. Action is needed to tackle the inequality among health workers. Viewed together with the failure of the Government to implement the recommendations of the Lammy review, the Wendy Williams Windrush review and Baroness McGregor-Smith’s review on race in the workplace, we have to wonder whether they have any intention on tackling structural racism at all. I challenge the Government to prove me wrong. Implementing the recommendations of the reports in full would be a start, but if the Government truly believe that black lives matter then they will be judged on their actions.
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 the hon. Member for Brent Central (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 the hon. Member for Slough (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, the right hon. Member for East Ham (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 the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (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.
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing this very important debate this afternoon.
Coronavirus has laid bare many inequalities in the UK that have been growing and deepening during 10 years of austerity. Racial inequality is central among them. That was clear from the earliest announcements of coronavirus deaths among NHS staff, all of whom were BAME. It was clear from the deaths of comparatively younger people, such as the rapper Ty Chijioke, aged 47, who touched so many lives in Brixton in my constituency and across the music world, that coronavirus was having disproportionate impacts. It is also the case that there are existing long-standing racial inequalities in physical and mental health and high numbers of BAME staff working in frontline occupations in the NHS, social care and transport in particular, where exposure to coronavirus is increased.
That this pandemic would have disproportionate impacts on BAME communities could therefore have been anticipated, yet the Government undertook no equalities-based risk assessments at all to enable increased risk to be mitigated, and it took three months for a Public Health England report to be published. It simply confirmed what so many people already knew, but offered no recommendations or actions to address it.
When tragic deaths have been reported, including that of Belly Mujinga, who died after she was spat at while working at Victoria station, the response has been completely tone-deaf. British Transport police initially chose to close the investigation into Belly Mujinga’s death after the suspect tested negative for coronavirus, ignoring the fact that infected or not, spitting is assault, ignoring evidence that Belly had told her employer about underlying health conditions and had asked for mitigation measures, and ignoring evidence that she had not been provided with adequate PPE.
There was an opportunity to highlight increased risks, to show empathy and understanding of the fear and anxiety that so many BAME workers are suffering, to remind employers of their duty of care and to specify steps that should have been taken, but that was entirely missed. In responding to the Public Health England report, the Government have shown absolutely no urgency. There have been many, many reports, commissions and studies into the health inequalities suffered by BAME communities, and many, many reports on racial inequalities more widely, from Lord Macpherson to Wendy Williams to the Lammy review. We do not need more analysis and prevarication, nor do we need another report that will sit on a shelf. Still less do we need a report written by someone who does not acknowledge the existence of institutional racism.
We need urgent action to protect BAME workers from exposure to coronavirus now. Where are the Government’s instructions to hospitals, social care providers or transport providers on the steps they need to take to keep their BAME frontline staff safe? Where is the guidance on risk assessments, PPE and working protocols for employers? Where are the sanctions for employers who fail to act?
The racial inequalities of coronavirus do not stop at health. As many schools have reopened in recent weeks, headteachers in my constituency tell me that their BAME students are disproportionately staying at home, often because their parents are very fearful of the increased risks they face from coronavirus and are anxious to avoid infection—yet there is no recognition of that increased risk in the resources provided to schools. That risks a health inequality resulting in educational inequality.
For far too long, racial inequality and racism in the UK has been ignored and, in some cases, perpetuated by the Government, including very directly by this Prime Minister. It is evident in education, where our children are still taught a partial, incomplete and dishonest version of British history which bypasses the contribution that people from all over the world have made to our country’s story. It is evident in an immigration system that was unable to recognise as British thousands of Windrush citizens who had built their lives here for decades. It is evident in the over-representation of black men in the criminal justice system and in the disproportionality of stop and search. It is evident in low pay, insecure work and poor housing. It is evident in the pitiful proportion of BAME people in senior leadership roles in so many settings.
The consequences of this Government’s complacency and negligence on racial inequality and racism have ultimately proved to be deadly. I hope that the Minister, in responding to the debate, will announce details of the urgent, immediate actions that will be taken to stop preventable BAME coronavirus deaths. Black lives matter because each life is a loved one with hopes, dreams and aspirations. Put simply, race should never be a factor for increased risk of death. That this is the case at all should be a source of national shame.
I encourage anybody here or watching at home who missed the opening speech by the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) to catch up on it, because that would be very worthwhile. It was a really interesting and informative speech.
I have been self-certifying. The fact that I am here is an indication of how strongly I feel about this subject matter. I speak as the SNP’s women and equalities spokes- person in Westminster, as the MP for Glasgow North East—one of the most ethnically diverse constituencies in Scotland—and as an ally. I have no illusion: I will not and should not be leading a campaign against racism; I should be supporting those who experience racism. That is not me, and it is never going to be me.
This report has brought into sharp focus the institutional racism that exists on these islands, so race and racism are what I want to look at. I will focus on three main things. First, I will say something about Scotland, the SNP and race. Secondly, I want to look back in time and cover a bit of history. The third and final thing I will talk about is what I am going to do about it, how I am going to be an ally and how I am going to support BAME leaders in the fight against racism.
Starting with Scotland and the SNP, here are the good bits. The SNP Government and Parliament clearly stood last week in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The SNP Government have put equality and human rights at the heart of their response to coronavirus, and Nicola Sturgeon today announced further analysis of the impact on people from BAME communities in Scotland. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) is not in her place, but she mentioned the National Records of Scotland figures. So far, the Scottish Government have looked at figures for those who are very sick with covid-19 and in hospital, and an expansion of that was announced today.
The SNP provided the first Muslim Member of the Scottish Parliament, the late, great Bashir Ahmad; I cannot look at my colleagues here, because we will all get emotional. Political leaders in Scotland have long spoken positively and often about migrant communities in Scotland, and that has an impact on the population. They did it when it was not popular to do it, but it does rub off on the population, and this Government might want to take note of that.
I turn now to the not-so-good bits. As a party, we have not built on Bashir Ahmad’s legacy. We have one BAME Member of the Scottish Parliament: Humza Yousaf. He is the Justice Secretary, and he is doing a brilliant job. But even he, speaking in the Black Lives Matter debate in the Scottish Parliament last week, checked his own privilege and noted that there are no BAME women in the Scottish Parliament. That is odd, because I know so many who would do a fantastic job in that Parliament. He did that in a very honest speech, in which he also listed all the areas of public life where white people are at the top—I am struggling to think of one where they were not—and I was absolutely horrified.
Humza Yousaf also recently ordered a public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh, whose family have waited five years to know how he died in police custody, and he instructed the inquiry to look at whether race played a part. Sheku’s family should not have had to wait five years for that inquiry to be announced, so we do have things that we have to face up to in Scotland.
Looking to the future, I feel a little more positive than I once did. A week ago last Monday, the SNP’s black, Asian and minority ethnic convenor organised a Zoom meeting. At two days’ notice, 127 BAME people signed up for it, 22 SNP MPs—we only invited SNP MPs, so do not worry; we are not competing—12 SNP MSPs and 12 councillors. That was at two days’ notice, and our job was to listen. We were not allowed to speak other than to say our names. Our job was to listen to everybody and hear what they had to say, and we will be building on that—or they will be building on that, and we will be supporting.
I wish to look a little at the history, which I talked about. There are a number of petitions and campaigns about teaching black history in schools. I have long supported that—in fact, I have spoken about it in this place—and I will explain why. I am confident that this is one very significant way to eradicate racism. Children are not born racist, and when they first become aware of it they find it very difficult to understand. It is not their instinct to be racist, and then they are taught it. If they go through nursery and school with positive role models from all ethnicities, and if their school books reflect those positive role models, they are far less likely to be able to be taught to be racist.
I have spoken to teachers who care deeply about this matter who told me that schools already teach about racism, as they should, but it others people and it portrays those classmates as victims. That is not to say that people are not victims of racism, but there is so much more that we could be doing to stop it in the first place. One of those things is looking at a positive role models in history and demonstrating that the ethnicity of the people who built these islands and this world is many and varied. One of them, whom I talk about a lot and who now has a statue across the road, is Mary Seacole.
The third and final thing that I want to cover— Oh, I have more time than I thought, so actually I will talk about positive images.
A minute? I was told I had seven minutes. Right, I had better come on to: what am I going to do about it?
First, I have applied to have my constituency office registered and trained as a third-party hate crime reporting centre. I will very briefly say that the first of my colleagues to come back to me and say, “I want to do that too,” was the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). I think all Members will join me in wishing her well as she recovers from what happened last week.
Secondly, I have set up the all-party parliamentary group on unconscious bias. Our inaugural meeting will be on 29 June. Members will decide what happens, but my intention is to have a number of distinct investigations. They could be into a number of things, but the first must be into race. I want the group to take evidence from people not necessarily about overt racism but about undercover racism, where even the person doing it does not know that they are doing it.
It is not just about hearing evidence. I want to make recommendations on what we can do to enable people to recognise their own thinking and to undo it—who should be doing that, and how they should be doing it. I want a UK-wide campaign of awareness, but I should not get carried away and pre-empt the findings. I thank the hon. Member for Brent Central for agreeing to be part of that APPG.
The third thing that I will do is keep listening, and listening more to people who experience racism, which, as I said, is not me. I will end on three very brief messages for the Minister and the Government. The first is that Black Lives Matter is not just about saving those lives, but the lives that people are leading when they are here. Secondly, please stop using the Lammy review as a cover. I am sick of hearing the Government answer every question about what they are doing with: “We’ve got the Lammy review.” They should act upon it, and speak about it only when they have actually done something about it. Finally, we can breathe and until we cannot we should fight racism and call it out wherever we see it, and whoever it is from—and that includes Prime Ministers.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for bringing this important debate to the House.
I also thank my colleagues who have made such vital contributions today: my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) spoke so movingly about the heartbreaking loss of loved ones; and my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) rightly raised the important issue of poor-quality housing.
The need for actions, not words, and an end to pointless reports was raised eloquently by my hon. Friends the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), for West Ham (Ms Brown), for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson); and the importance of acknowledging the negative effects of covid-19 and discrimination on the mental health of BAME people was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry).
The poverty experienced by our BAME communities due to Government policies was perfectly highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana); and my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) reminded us of our reliance on those from our BAME communities in our NHS.
The resounding message is clear: our BAME communities are grieving. The priority from the outset of this pandemic should have been to save lives—all lives—but it pains me to have to stand here and state the most obvious point, which has, regrettably, been missed: that no one life is more important than any other.
The Government have liked to describe the fight against coronavirus as a war; to use their analogy, our BAME communities would have been the cannon fodder. These people’s lives are not, and should not have been, dispensable. It truly amazes me that in 2020 lives are not valued equally here in the UK, and the covid-19 crisis has shone a much needed spotlight on this stark and most harsh of realities.
It is simply an outrage that people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage have a 100% greater risk of dying from covid-19 than white British people. The stats are no better for those of Afro-Caribbean descent. The first 10 doctors to die in the UK from coronavirus were all from BAME backgrounds.
If I may, I wish to take some time to honour just a few of the victims of this virus: Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, a child aged 13; Sudhir Sharma and his daughter Pooja Sharma; Nadir Nur, a London bus driver; Belly Mujinga, a station worker at Victoria station, just down the road; Esther Akinsanya, a nurse who died in the intensive care unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where she had worked for more than 20 years; and Dr Fayez Ayache, who aged 76 was still working as a GP—yesterday I had the true honour of talking to his daughter, Layla, who described how her father loved working for the NHS so much because it brought people together, gave a freedom that some have never experienced before and gave hope and light to those who were wandering a darkened path.
When we found out that elderly people needed support because of covid-19, we shielded them; when we found that people with co-morbidities needed support, we shielded them; but when it came to black communities, all of a sudden we found there had to be a review and a long conversation, and still no measures have been taken to shield them. Does my hon. Friend agree that that amounts to institutional racism and something should be done about it?
I thank my hon. Friend for her articulate and eloquent intervention. I agree that our BAME communities must never be an afterthought and deserve to have everything in place to keep them safe, just as we prioritised other members of our community.
I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder on the frontline of our NHS, where I proudly work alongside doctors, nurses, cleaners, porters and carers from all backgrounds.
Those on the frontline have made huge sacrifices during this pandemic, but far too many have made the ultimate sacrifice and paid for their service with their lives. The health and care workforce in England are significantly over-represented by people from BAME groups. These are jobs that cannot be done from home, and they have been front and centre of the response to covid-19. Can the Minister please outline whether risk assessments will be developed for BAME key workers exposed to a large section of the general public?
It is not just those on the frontline of our NHS paying the price; it is our bus drivers, our posties, our station attendants, our shop workers, our refuse collectors—the very people who have kept our supermarket shelves stocked and cleaned our streets so that we can safely socially distance. They must not be forgotten. We need action from the Government, not simply words. The issue of flagrant inequality cannot be kicked into the long grass by the Government any longer. It would dishonour the memory of those who have sadly lost their lives. Unfortunately, the reality for many of these frontline workers is that they were doing the jobs that nobody else wants to do.
Let us be perfectly clear: there was no option to work from home for these staff and they could not afford not to go to work; they could not risk losing their jobs, for how would they feed their families? So many BAME people are in insecure work and have to carry on with unsafe practices for fear of the repercussions, afraid to speak out—and it has cost them their lives. The bullying of BAME people in the workforce is rife and concerns were so often dismissed that staff felt that they could not raise the issue of inadequate provision of PPE. The BMA has even stated that BAME doctors are twice as likely not to raise concerns for fear of recrimination. Does the Minister agree that it is simply unacceptable that cleaners were being sent to clean the rooms of people who had died of covid-19 without adequate PPE?
When we discuss the disproportionately high number of BAME deaths, it is vital that the discourse does not fall into pseudoscience and biological difference. I am a doctor with a public health master’s degree. To be clear: it is not simply about people from a BAME background having different receptors in their lungs. People from BAME backgrounds are not a homogenous group of people. We are talking about people with vastly different heritage and racial backgrounds. Other countries have got this virus in check. The risk faced by BAME communities here in the UK is down to structural racism and the precarious work that people are placed in as a result.
The UK has been a warm and welcoming country for so many, but for others—for too many—it has not. We cannot ignore the vast number of deaths in our communities and sweep the memories of our loved ones under the rug. In the early days of the crisis, when communication was crucial, why did the Government not reach out to BAME communities? Can the Minister explain that? Why were vital documents not translated so that public health advice could be easily disseminated into some of our most vulnerable communities? How will that change going forward?
The Government’s overlooking of our BAME communities has categorically and catastrophically cost lives. The hurt and pain brought to the fore during the crisis cannot be forgotten. I will never forget standing at the bedside of patients, holding a phone to their ear, as they said their last goodbyes to their loved ones. Those tears, that sound—it never leaves you. It must not be forgotten. We are proudly here today standing shoulder to shoulder with our friends, our families, our communities who have been deeply affected by this pandemic, and it is a scandal that the Government blocked a review that included recommendations that could have helped to save BAME lives during this crisis. What message does that send about how the Government value them?
If, as a country, we truly want to learn from this crisis and treat everyone as equal, we must tackle racism wherever we come across it, and it is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of skin colour, ethnicity or socio-economic status—it is everyone’s problem. Our BAME communities have been failed and need to be able to trust that we here in this Chamber, in Parliament, truly represent them. It is our duty to rebuild the trust that has been lost. The pandemic has so brutally stripped humanity of its ability to breathe. It is time for the Government to inject humanity and true equality into all their policies. The time to act is now.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. To those listed by the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) I want to add my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi), to name but a few more.
I think everybody would agree that this debate has been thoughtful and considered, and the topics and challenges that hon. Members have discussed have certainly been broad. The contributions have highlighted to me, as I have sat here for the past three hours, the sheer complexity of the issue. Health inequalities sit in my portfolio. Before covid, they presented enormous challenges; with covid, they have become even more challenging.
Members have passionately articulated the findings, and I concur that they are deeply concerning. There can be no doubt that covid-19 has upended all our lives. As the hon. Member for Tooting said, everybody knows somebody who has been touched. One of the challenges that the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), whom I failed to mention, articulated is that everybody is somebody’s uncle, brother, wife or mother. Everybody has been touched by the challenge of not being able to say goodbye, to carry a coffin, to say those last goodbyes. That is the human face of this dreadful disease, which has changed the way we live and work.
Throughout it all, many frontline organisations have been no less than heroic for turning up on the frontline—not only the doctors who have turned up every day, but everybody in the team. The one thing I have noticed is how people have become teams. People have referenced the fact that those who help around the hospital, cleaning, portering and so on, are just as integral. It has become to feel like those are words of truth and not just expressions. If anything comes out of this appalling situation, it is that we will carry some of those brighter spots forward.
The hon. Member for Tooting said that the BAME community is not a homogenous group: I agree. That highlights one of the challenges. Early in this crisis, it became very clear that some groups of people were more vulnerable to coronavirus, which is why PHE was commissioned to undertake work on who was most at risk and why.
To hon. Members who raised the PHE report, I want to say that it was not censored or delayed. Professor Kevin Fenton has been engaging with significant numbers of individuals and stakeholders to collect views and ideas. Nothing has been removed from the report that was released on Tuesday. It is still in the process of being thought about, because it raised the challenge of additional areas that were not looked at, such as occupation, co-morbidities and so on. Duncan Selbie, the head of PHE, has clarified the matter in writing, and a written ministerial statement was laid to clarify the point to the House. The research was done at pace and I thank those involved for pulling it together so quickly.
Far from being a great leveller, covid-19 cruelly discriminates, but it discriminates more broadly than we have probably touched on today. People who are old, people who—as was mentioned by several Members—live in cities, people who work in public-facing jobs and people from BAME backgrounds are at a heightened risk.
This early research also revealed gaps in our knowledge. As we have clearly heard, the situation is complex. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke highlighted the importance of how we address the situation. Crucially, we do not know how different risk factors overlap and interact. I know that the calls for action now are heartfelt, but we need to understand different risk factors, including co-morbidities and occupation, so that we can ensure that there is a standardisation in the data and recommendations actually do what we need them to do. For example, we need to understand how much of the increased risk for those from BAME communities is driven by co-morbidities and occupation. This challenge was highlighted by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse and my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North.
We do not have all the answers, as the Welsh Health Minister acknowledged recently. People from BME backgrounds have made enormous contributions to the healthcare system and other key areas including transport, public services and the care sector, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) articulated. We must address the injustice of these ethnic disparities right across the board; so many hon. and right hon. Members have pointed out the breadth. That is precisely why the Prime Minister announced on the weekend the establishment of a commission to examine ethnic disparities in this country. It will have an independent chair, will report by the end of this year—within a very short timeframe—and will play an important role in driving the agenda forward. It will be overseen by the Minister for Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch).
The articulation of the challenge is not simple, and to frame it as if it is does an injustice to all those people who are living with all the various challenges. We have worked to shield people, irrespective. It is important that we act on the evidence. I am really sorry. I am so aware that I have sat and listened, and I will think. Inequalities are stubborn, persistent and difficult to change, but that is no reason to accept them. As hon. Members have said, this is a shared problem and the response must be a shared one too. That is our goal.
In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), I am disappointed but not surprised. The Minister may not have all the answers, but she has some of the answers, which span back to 2010. All the Government need to do is start implementing those answers. If they want to run a review in parallel—fine, do that. But they should implement the nearly 200 recommendations that already exist. There is no excuse for the Government not to act.
We have been in agreement across the House in this debate. I am sure that if this motion were put to a vote, we would win against the Government. The motion states that this House
“calls on the Government to set out in detail the scope and timeframe of the Government’s review”,
which the Minister has not done, and
“urgently to put a plan in place to prevent avoidable deaths.”
The Minister has not done that. The Government will be responsible, because they know what is happening and they have failed to act. The Minister should be ashamed of her Government.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House is concerned about the level of deaths from covid-19 among Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities; notes that structural inequalities and worse health outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people go hand in hand; calls on the Government to review the data published by the Office for National Statistics on 11 May 2020 on Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by occupation, England and Wales: deaths registered up to and including 20 April 2020, the Report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in May 2020 entitled, Are some ethnic groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others? and the full report by Public Health England on Disparities in the risk and outcomes of covid-19; and further calls on the Government to set out in detail the scope and timeframe of the Government’s review and urgently to put a plan in place to prevent avoidable deaths.