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Covid-19: Ethnic Minority Disparities

Volume 690: debated on Monday 1 March 2021

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Equalities if she will make a statement on her second quarterly report to the Prime Minister and Health Secretary on progress to understand and tackle covid-19 disparities experienced by individuals from an ethnic minority background.

On Friday, I published my second quarterly report summarising the progress the Government have made in understanding and tackling covid-19 disparities experienced by ethnic minority groups. In my first report of 22 October, I concluded that ethnicity in its own right did not appear to be a factor in the disproportionately higher infection and mortality rates among ethnic minority groups. Rather, the evidence showed that a range of socioeconomic and geographical factors were responsible. The evidence base continues to grow.

The early second-wave data shows very different outcomes for different ethnic groups. In the first wave, for instance, black African men were four and a half times more likely to die from covid-19 than white British men of the same age, but in the early part of the second wave the risk of death was the same for both groups. The second wave has, however, had a much greater impact on some south Asian groups, driven primarily by differences in exposure and infection. This strengthens the argument that ethnic minorities should not be viewed as a single group in relation to covid-19 and means that our response to the pandemic and to the disproportionate impact that it has had on certain groups will continue to be shaped by the latest evidence.

The other major development since my first report is the approval of three covid-19 vaccines and the subsequent roll-out of the vaccination programme, with more than 20 million of those most at risk vaccinated so far. Confidence in the vaccine among ethnic minority groups is key, and my latest report summarises our efforts over the last quarter to tackle misinformation and promote uptake.

The report also sets out the extensive measures taken across central and local government to tackle covid-19 disparities, including the release in January of £23.75 million in funding to local authorities under the community champions scheme and a further £4.5 million in funding for four new research projects looking at the health, social, cultural and economic impacts of covid-19 on ethnic minority groups.

To conclude, my report outlines a number of next steps with this work and I will update the Prime Minister on progress at the end of the next quarter.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. We know that covid-19 has had a devastating and disproportionate impact on our black, Asian and ethnic minority communities. In the second wave, Bangladeshi and Pakistani people have been three times more likely to die, so my first question is to ask the Minister what steps the Government are taking to protect these groups.

I agree with the Minister that the term “BAME” has been unhelpful in assessing the impact of the virus. However, I do not agree with her conclusion that ethnicity is not a risk factor for covid-19, as in reality ethnicity risk factors cannot be separated from the socioeconomic risk factors. For example, ethnic minorities are more likely to live in overcrowded and intergenerational homes where they are unable to self-isolate effectively. What action is being taken to address this issue, especially as schools are set to return next week?

The vaccine roll-out offers hope, but take-up remains low among our ethnic minorities. The Minister’s report rightly lists misinformation and disinformation as contributing factors, but fails to address the mistrust and long-standing health inequalities faced by some ethnic minority communities. What actions are being taken to tackle issues of historical mistrust? We need localised data from those who choose not to take the vaccine so that we can effectively target those people, so when will that data finally be published?

Funding for community champions is welcome, but why have only two of the five most diverse local authorities in the UK received funding? Will she work with her Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the most diverse areas receive funding to increase take-up? The Minister rightly states that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be used. What changes can we expect to see from this Government? Will she publish equality impact assessments on pandemic responses, including vaccine uptake? Finally, when can we expect to see the delayed report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities so that we can help to create the more equal society that we all desire?

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions, and I will try to address each of them. She mentioned what the Government are doing to assist south Asian groups, where the numbers and the impact appear to be increasing. We have taken a number of steps to mitigate the impact of covid-19 on these groups, including targeting those occupations with larger Pakistani and Bangladeshi workforces. For example, we issued new guidance to private hire vehicle and taxi drivers in November—updated in January—about how to protect themselves from covid-19. Working with religious leaders and others, we have taken steps to promote vaccine uptake among these groups, including housing vaccination centres in mosques and other places of worship. The race disparity unit and No. 10 recently held roundtables with representatives from south Asian groups on how to promote vaccine uptake.

The data is changing every day, so we try to make sure that we have a clearer picture before we base any actions and recommendations on what is coming out. This is likely to be a dynamic situation, but I will continue to update the House as we know more.

I can tell the hon. Lady that the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities is due to report imminently. It is an independent commission, so I cannot control exactly when it submits its findings, but I have had regular updates from the chair, and I know it is finalising recommendations and I expect the report shortly.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the recording of ethnicity. I am pleased to tell her that data on ethnicity is now being published. It was first published on 28 January, based on the availability and quality of data. On the point of equality impact assessments, she does know that they are based on the information provided to Departments, and it is up to them to decide what they do, but we do not routinely publish equality impact assessments.

The hon. Lady asked specifically about vaccine uptake, and I can tell her that I wrote to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which is determining the prioritisation with the findings from our report. I know that this issue is being taken into account, along with the covid prioritisation tool, so the information is in the public domain and does not require an equality impact assessment to know.

My hon. Friend is right to point out that we need to have trusted voices and community champions promoting the roll-out of the vaccine and vaccine uptake. We know that there is a higher excess mortality risk for south Asian women, so can I ask my hon. Friend whether she is making sure that we also reach out to female voices in communities, including organisations such as the Muslim Women’s Network UK, to make sure that they are playing a part in increasing the uptake of vaccines?

My right hon. Friend is right to point out that we should not assume that community organisations, which might be male-dominated, are reaching female members of ethnic minority groups, and I will ensure that we continue to work on that. I will check with officials to ensure that the groups she has mentioned are included in the ones we are providing advice and guidance to and are liaising with.

There is clear evidence of both higher covid-19 infection and higher mortality rates among people from ethnic minority backgrounds, as well as greater pandemic-related economic damage affecting these diverse groups. I also know from my own constituency that the no recourse to public funds policy locks many people, including children, out of vital support. Will the Minister urge her colleagues in the UK Government to review this damaging and discriminatory policy, which has such a disproportionate impact on BAME families?

Debate on economic inequality is often undermined by a lack of reliable data. Will the Minister follow the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee and publish proposals for the introduction of ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting? Will she also back calls for equality impact assessments to be published for the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, as well as the introduction of redundancy pay gap reporting by protected characteristics?

With regard to the support that the Government are providing to those who have no recourse to public funds, many of the wide-ranging covid-19 measures that the Government have put in place are available to migrants with no recourse to public funds, such as the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employment income support scheme and support allowances that are not classed as public funds. In addition, we temporarily extended free school meals to include some groups who have no recourse to public funds. As I have said to the hon. Lady’s Scottish National party colleagues, and probably to her as well, it is really important that we do not conflate ethnic minorities with recent migrants; they are two completely distinct groups and it is wrong to mix them up in this way. We are ensuring that we are providing support to those who are most vulnerable and who need it most.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s recent report and all that she is doing. Will she join me in recognising the role of local community leadership in addressing these differences in vaccine take-up? For instance, in my own community, Grace Powell from Basingstoke Caribbean Society, Kishor Patel from Basingstoke Hindu Society and Poonam Gurung from Basingstoke Nepalese Community are all publicly advocating vaccination as the best way to keep the whole community safe.

My right hon. Friend raises a very good point. I congratulate all of her constituents who are doing important work in the community by raising awareness of what is happening with covid-19, and ensuring that people have access to the best advice and guidance. It is critical that we continue to support those community champions. That is one of the reasons that we are funding the community champions scheme, which ensures that we improve the reach of official public health guidance and other messaging or communications about the virus into those hard-to-reach areas.

In the year to September 2020, the drop in employment for people from ethnic minorities was 26 times higher than for white workers. Unless the Government take meaningful action to address workforce inequalities, including the ethnicity pay gap, the fall-out from covid will make these glaring inequalities even worse. May I ask again: will the Government finally commit to bringing forward the long-awaited ethnicity pay gap reporting?

I believe that we have answered this question before; if memory serves me correctly, I think I have written to the hon. Lady on this subject. It is something that the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities is looking at. The commission will be reporting shortly and will be able to give a statement on ethnicity pay reporting. I would like the hon. Lady to send me her statistics about workforce inequality; they are not statistics with which I am familiar, and it would be very interesting to look at the evidence base on that.

The vaccine roll-out is the best tool in our fight against covid-19, and we must do all we can to ensure that there are no racial disparities in its uptake. This Saturday, I was lucky enough to visit Keighley central mosque, where 525 vaccinations were delivered on that day alone. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating all those involved, particularly Mohammed Nazam from Keighley Muslim Association, and the Modality Partnership, for all their efforts to ensure that everyone is protected against covid-19?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and add my congratulations to Keighley Muslim Association on its success, and particularly to Mohammed Nazam. Working with religious leaders and others to promote vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities, including housing vaccination centres in mosques and other places of worship, is important to ensure that we achieve good vaccine coverage within these groups. The NHS has now opened 47 vaccination sites in places of worship and community centres, as this boosts perceptions of vaccine safety and improves access. High-profile visits to these sites have a huge impact on the faith community being visited.

Polling by HOPE not hate found that black people were more likely than any other group to blame a previous bad experience with the health system as justification for not wanting the vaccine. What steps will the Minister take to build trust in black communities who have experienced structural racism in the health system?

The Government are doing everything they can to improve vaccine confidence and reduce vaccine hesitancy. Vaccines are the best way to protect people from coronavirus and save thousands of lives, and we want every eligible person to benefit from the offer of a free vaccine, no matter their ethnicity or religious beliefs.

The Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS are working closely with black, Asian and minority ethnic communities to support those receiving a vaccine. As part of that, we are working with faith and community leaders to give them advice and information about the universal benefits of vaccination and how their communities can get a vaccine. That has incorporated many activities. Most recently, as the hon. Gentleman will probably be aware, the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment requested a cross-party video for black MPs, so that we can show that we as parliamentarians believe that this is important, and I have promoted that in my role as Minister for Equalities.

Does the Minister agree that vaccines are the best way for people from ethnic minority backgrounds to protect themselves from the harmful effects of covid? Can she update us on the latest work that her Department is doing to support that?

I can. We must stress that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and as the vaccine roll-out continues, I urge everyone who is offered one to take the opportunity to protect themselves, their family and their community. It is important that we tackle misinformation in particular. Across Government, we are spending tens of millions of pounds on public health communications, and my hon. Friend will have seen a significant increase in public vaccine communications. The NHS website remains the most trusted health website, and the counter-disinformation unit is rebutting false information, especially where the intent is malicious or dangerous to public health. I thank him for raising this issue.

The Minister is insistent that the wildly disproportionate rate of infection and death among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has nothing to do with the fact that they are black, Asian or from a minority ethnic group. Has it occurred to her that the fact that they are more likely to be in overcrowded, poor housing conditions and in the types of job that leave them liable to infection is not random, but is to do with race and ethnicity?

Will the Minister do more in the area of data? First, will she speak to colleagues about having ethnicity routinely put on death certificates? Can we have more information on the Haredi and ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, who have had disproportionate levels of deaths from covid in America? Will she speak to Public Health England to make sure that local directors of public health make constituency-level data, particularly on ethnicity, available to constituency stakeholders, including Members of Parliament?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. I wish that she had actually read my reports, because she would have seen that I addressed that not just in the October report, but in the one that came out last week. Recording ethnicity data on death certificates was one of the recommendations in my previous report. It is not something that can be done overnight—it will probably require legislation—but we are on our way to getting it, so that is some good news.

The right hon. Lady also mentioned the orthodox Jewish community—finally someone from the Labour Benches has talked about this community, and I am very pleased that she has. Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated that 64% of the orthodox Jewish community may have had covid-19 in 2020. The researchers said that the reasons behind this high rate of infection are not yet known.

Strictly orthodox families have significantly larger households than the UK average. They also live in areas of increased population density and, in pre-pandemic times, had regular attendance at communal events and gatherings. I use them as an example because this is why it is wrong for us to mix together lots of different groups. The orthodox Jewish community has been more impacted than many of the ethnic minority groups that get a lot of attention in the press, but we do not say that that is due to structural antisemitism. We look at the underlying factors. Where there are multi-generational households, for instance, that is not due to racism, but is often due to cultural factors. We are not going to take grandparents away from their families because of covid. We are going to provide them with guidance to ensure that they can look after themselves safely; that is this Government’s priority.

I commend my hon. Friend on the outstanding job that she is doing in encouraging the whole population take the vaccine when they are offered it, because that is so important. In an article on LabourList on 19 February reflecting on covid-19, Labour’s shadow Equalities Minister, the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), claimed that Government Ministers continue to dismiss and deny “the realities of racism”, and went on to state that “structural racism” was the cause of those disparities. What is the Government’s view on this question?

I thank my hon. Friend for the question, and for the opportunity to reiterate what I said to the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova). Of course racism exists; no one in this Government has ever denied the existence of racism. In fact, I have spoken about my personal experience, as did the Home Secretary at this very Dispatch Box—and 30 Labour MPs, including the hon. Lady, dismissed the Home Secretary’s experiences as gaslighting. However, we will not assume that every issue experienced by ethnic minorities is caused by racism without looking at the evidence. We develop solutions based on where the evidence leads, unlike Labour, whose report in October recommended that we decolonise the curriculum to address covid-19.

There is a legitimate debate to be had on how we tackle racism and address ethnic disparities, but although our means of achieving these goals may differ, that should in no way undermine our shared commitment to building a fairer and more cohesive society. Let me be clear to those who have either misunderstood or deliberately choose to misrepresent what the Government have said: this Government condemn racism, an evil which has no place in a civilised society.

Aylesbury mosque is working extremely hard to spread accurate messages and dispel fake news about the vaccine, both at Friday prayers and on its Facebook page. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking the Aylesbury mosque committee for these efforts and for showing this leadership, and does she agree that faith groups have a crucial role to play in telling the truth and encouraging take-up of the vaccine across all parts of our community?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I add my thanks to the Aylesbury mosque for its vital work in promoting vaccine uptake. Working with religious leaders and other respected local voices to promote vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities is key to ensuring that we reach all parts of the community. As I mentioned, the NHS has now opened 47 vaccination sites in places of worship and community centres across the country, and it is fantastic to get feedback from local MPs on how this is going.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has heard evidence that BAME communities, as well as being under-protected from covid, have been over-policed. This is evidenced by a considerable disparity in the number of fixed-penalty notices issued to BAME people over white people in England and Wales. Will the Minister consider including inequality of policing outcomes as well as health outcomes in her quarterly reports?

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question. Inequality of policing outcomes, I am afraid, is outside the remit of this report. We are looking purely from a health perspective at the disproportionate impact of covid-19, but I take the point that she made, and I think she will find that we will talk about this shortly, when the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities reports, because it has been looking at these specific issues.

Unlike some detractors, I have read the latest covid disparities report, which has been endorsed by clinicians and epidemiologists and is testament to my hon. Friend’s efforts in leading and driving the agenda forward, but naturally there is still more to do. Will she ensure that, as we unlock with our road map, we retain a focus on the groups who have been most disproportionately impacted by the second wave?

Yes, I can confirm that to my hon. Friend. The Government are looking at the most vulnerable and those who need our protection, not just in the context of covid-19, but more widely. To tackle unfairness in our society, we are looking at how we can open up opportunities to everyone, no matter their class, ethnicity or background. It is not a case of choosing one group over another. We want equality for everyone, everywhere. The work that we will do in the Government Equalities Office following the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities will continue to address the structural issues that I know many Members are concerned about.

Given the greater risk factors that mean that black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, what accountability mechanisms has the Minister put in place to monitor and evaluate the success of the pilot schemes to address the inequalities mentioned in the report? How will she guarantee that these pilots can be rolled out across the country, so that maternal mortality does not become a postcode lottery for black women?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that Health Ministers are taking this issue seriously; it is something that cuts across our briefs. I have taken a particular interest because of my own experience of having three children within the maternal health sector. Following a joint ministerial roundtable in September 2020, the race disparity unit, which reports to me, has been supporting the Department of Health and Social Care in driving positive actions in maternity services to improve outcomes for ethnic minority women. That includes the recently launched NHS campaign “Help us help you”, which informs pregnant women about the importance of attending check-ups, and provides reassurance that the NHS is there to see them safely, because covid has affected the way that maternity works in the NHS. We are hoping that as we continue to unlock and come out of this, things will go back to normal.

We all know that vaccination is imperative for protecting lives and for economic recovery. I am therefore concerned about the low vaccination take-up among the BAME community. In Burton, there is a campaign targeted at reaching anyone from the BAME community who should have been vaccinated but has not, and a pop-up vaccination clinic has been arranged for this Friday at a local mosque. May I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that resources are available for further work to reach out to those communities and ensure more clinics in communities where take-up is low?

We are ensuring that public health messages are accessible, and are published in a large number of media that ethnic minorities read, watch and listen to. That will be critical in ensuring that the message gets to all communities, especially those that are harder to reach. I am pleased to hear about the vaccination efforts in Burton, and that local mosques are being used. This is a good time to re-emphasise that local efforts will be key in driving vaccine uptake. It cannot all be done from Whitehall and Westminster. We are delivering communication on the channels that we believe people from ethnic minorities use, and are communicating through individuals such as religious and community leaders, as I have mentioned. The DHSC has also set up regular interviews with clinicians for more than 20 ethnic minority newspapers and programmes, including The Voice, BBC Asian Network, Al Jazeera, British Muslim TV, Zee TV, Hamodia and the Jewish Chronicle.

The Minister in her report highlights that there is £4.5 million of Government money to invest in research, including on the economic impacts on ethnic minority groups. With so many frontline workers having been removed from their posts for their own protection—that is the right move—is any of that money being spent on looking at the impact on their career paths of their having lost out on opportunities?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. I recall having this discussion just before October, in relation to my previous report. I specifically raised with DHSC colleagues the point that people who are being removed from the frontline because of their risk should not have any career impacts. I can write to her with the full details. I cannot recollect off the top of my head where we ended up, but I know that I have an answer for her.

I recently held a virtual vaccine roundtable in Carshalton and Wallington with NHS leaders such as Dr Anu Jacob, Arlene Wellman and Nadine Wyatt, and community leaders such as Councillor Lily Bande, Councillor Param Nandha and Mukesh Rao, to encourage everyone, including ethnic minority groups, to get the vaccine, and it was a great success. I welcome the Government’s work to communicate the benefits of getting a covid vaccine to hard-to-reach groups, but could my hon. Friend assure me that we will continue to support community leaders to ensure that the message gets through to every single part of our communities?

Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend of that. It is what I responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Kate Griffiths), and I can reiterate it again now. What I would also say is that we want to assess the effectiveness of the scheme, so it is not just about letting people know that it has happened, but about checking that what we are doing and what we think is happening is working. Participating local authorities will provide regular progress reports over the course of the community champions programme, for example, so that we can evaluate exactly what is going on. One of the next steps in my report is to share the learning from the programme and to maximise the benefits from the funding we have given so that everyone, including those who have not participated in the scheme, can benefit.

When I challenged the Minister on the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on black and minority ethnic groups after the first wave of the virus, the Minister denied that systemic injustice was to blame. This new report shows that, in the second wave, Bangladeshi and Pakistani people were three times more likely to die from covid, and that black and minority ethnic communities as a whole are still significantly disproportionately in critical care with it. Does the Minister now acknowledge that it is systemic injustice that black and minority ethnic communities face from higher rates of poverty and overcrowded housing to higher rates of frontline work and barriers to accessing healthcare?

I think it is a really interesting question that the hon. Lady has asked. She says that I dismissed the claim that systemic injustice was to blame, but the fact is that we did not know what was to blame at that time. That was in June, three months before my report.

What we need to understand is what exactly we mean by systemic and structural. We have seen that the data show that, at some point, ethnic minority gaps in terms of disproportionate impact completely disappeared. If these were structural issues, that is not what we would expect to see. For example, at the beginning of the second wave, we saw the disparity between black groups completely close. It is not credible to say that people were being structurally racist and stopped being so during the summer, and then over Christmas these structural issues re-emerged. That does not explain what is happening.

We need to look at what the data tells us. We cannot start from the conclusion that we want this to be systemic injustice so that we can continue to move from a political ideological perspective. We are using a scientific perspective —what does the data tell us?—and the data is telling us that this is a very complex situation. There are multiple factors, and that is why the recommendations, which the Government have, are addressing those underlying factors. It is not a genetic disease, and being an ethnic minority is not the risk factor specifically.

Does my hon. Friend share my regret that some Members opposite have unfortunately promoted some disinformation about the effectiveness of covid-19 vaccines, which may have contributed to lower take-up in some communities, and does she agree that elected members, whether in local or national Government, all have a responsibility to not undermine the vaccine roll-out, which has already protected over 20 million of our most vulnerable people?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We in this House must recognise that we have positions of responsibility. I think I have said before at this Dispatch Box that while it might be fun to get lots of retweets for promoting messages targeting the confidence that people have in the vaccine, it is definitely not something that we should see elected parliamentarians doing. We have seen Members in this House make comments either disparaging the vaccine or claiming that the Government are using ethnic minorities as cannon fodder. It is really irresponsible, and it does directly contribute to vaccine hesitancy. If we are going to get out of this pandemic and if we are going to continue down the road map and unlock our economy, we need everyone to be responsible and to stick to the public health messaging that is approved by the NHS.

Thirty thousand black, Asian and minority ethnic people live across the northern and western counties of Wales. Dispersed rural communities such as these are harder for health authorities to reach and may not have the same density of support networks as communities in urban areas. What discussions has the Department had with colleagues and the Welsh Government to ensure that in particular black, Asian and minority ethnic people in rural Wales and indeed across rural UK have access to the information and support they need to get their vaccination?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. It is important. A lot of what we do is focused on NHS England, but I can assure him that we work with partners across all the devolved Administrations. For example, I have been at Covid-O meetings at which we spoke to representatives of the Welsh Government who were aware of these issues. We share our information widely, but if there is anything specific that he would like to know he should write to me and I will make sure that I obtain the answer that may be most appropriate for his constituency.

I warmly commend and support my hon. Friend for the work that she has done on covid disparities. She is right to say that we must go where the data tells us. Can she confirm that across all age groups and all ethnicities men are far more likely to be hospitalised and killed by the virus than women? In the 40 to 49 age group, men are twice as likely to suffer critical illness. Why is that, and what are the implications for the Government response to the pandemic?

My hon. Friend asks a very important question, and he is absolutely right. We know that the virus targets different groups differently, but we do not necessarily have all the answers. Some of the issues around the disproportionate impact on men are to do with occupational risk, which is not something we can control for very easily. That is why we are making sure that we address the pandemic holistically. We do not stigmatise any specific groups, but we make sure that we target information and assistance on those who are most vulnerable, particularly the elderly, who are 70 to 80 times more likely to contract the disease and die from it than other age groups.

We know that one of the drivers of the spread of covid-19 is people being unable to self-isolate, because they cannot afford to miss work. That is a particular problem for people in insecure or zero-hours contract jobs. Black, Asian and minority-ethnic people are more likely to be on those contracts, so are less likely to qualify for sick pay. If we want to drive down covid-19 rates everyone needs to be able to self-isolate, so will the Minister work with her colleagues to expand eligibility for the self-isolation support payment to everyone who needs it?

What I can tell the hon. Lady is that, certainly in the Treasury, we look at how different groups are being impacted to make sure that we target help on those who are most vulnerable. All the various schemes—not just the ones that I have mentioned such as the self-employment income support scheme or the CJRS but others such as kickstarter—are targeted at the groups that are most vulnerable, which includes ethnic minority people in particular.

I thank my hon. Friend for all that she is doing to help the message to reach our ethnic minorities. While the Government follow the science the Opposition have called for 10 different employment groups to move up the priority list, which the JCVI has said would slow vaccine roll-out. Does she agree that that would risk needlessly exposing vulnerable people to harm for longer, and that it shows that the Labour party is more interested in chasing headlines than following the science?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to prioritise those who are most vulnerable, and if every single group believes that it deserves priority, that means we are not carrying out any prioritisation at all. The JCVI is independent, and we feed information into it. I wrote to it in December with the findings of my work, and it takes all of that into account. It looks at all the various factors, but we need to trust that that independent committee is doing the right thing, and I believe that it is.

In a speech last year, I pointed out that, despite being at higher risk from covid-19, people from black African and Caribbean backgrounds made up only 0.5% of those taking part in vaccine trials. I warned that that trend might be seen in a vaccine roll-out without a proper plan to tackle disinformation and boost confidence. The data and my own experience of volunteering at my local vaccination centre suggest that my worst fears have been realised. Bearing that in mind, can the Minister explain why it was only last month that a vaccine take-up plan was published and MPs were contacted to help?

I am afraid the hon. Lady is confusing one initiative for helping to improve vaccine take-up with the vaccine take-up plan. I wrote to her in October, asking her to take part in the vaccine trials. I sent that message to the Opposition Whips Office as well as to the Government Whips Office. I took part in vaccine trials in October, and there is a big difference between taking part in vaccine trials, and being vaccine-confident. One key thing about disinformation is that people believe the Government are testing vaccines on ethnic minorities, and the messaging we need to use for vaccine trials, which the hon. Lady mentioned earlier, is completely different from that needed for a vaccine-confidence campaign. She can rest assured that those of us in government know what we are doing, even if she does not.

I recently visited the vaccination centre at St Charles’ Hospital in North Kensington, and while I was there I was delighted to see that the majority of patients getting the jabs were from ethnic minorities. We have also seen a pop-up centre at the mosque, Al-Minaar, in North Kensington. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to focus on discrete individual communities to ensure that vaccine take-up is as high as possible?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is one of the reasons we are discouraging the use of the term “BAME” when talking about these issues, as this conflates lots of different communities. We must be very specific about who we are talking about, and what their individual needs are. Various different initiatives will be tackled, based on the specific needs of community groups, and I am pleased that it looks as if there is successful vaccine take-up in her constituency.

Will the Minister outline the application process for, and the distribution of, community champion funding? How will highly diverse boroughs like Hounslow which did not receive funding benefit from that investment in the future?

Our methodology drew on a wide range of data sources, including long-term data from the DHSC and Public Health England on covid-19 incidence, data on social integration, and evidence on the prevalence and specific support needs of, for example, disabled people in an area. The methodology was tested across the Government, and with many colleagues in the local government sector, before the funding was announced. To reach disproportionately impacted communities beyond those 60 areas, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has funded two voluntary community and social enterprises to carry out national communication and engagement activities, including health promotion and encouraging vaccine uptake.

We are trying to ensure that best practice is shared across local community areas. It is not just the presence of ethnic minority communities that means they are at risk—indeed, I spoke earlier about what places a specific individual at risk. We consider multiple factors, and those are what end up determining which communities get the funding. I assure the hon. Lady that her community will benefit, even if it does not get specific money under this scheme.

I commend the Minister and her Department for their efforts in encouraging the vaccine take-up for all. For my constituents in Redcar and Cleveland, one of the biggest hurdles is the distance to the local mass vaccine centre, which in some cases is more than 25 miles. Will she join me in calling on the Government to roll out a mass vaccine centre in Teesside, so that we can encourage take-up for all?

I am sorry to hear that some people are finding the distance difficult when it comes to getting their vaccine, and I will take up that issue on my hon. Friend’s behalf to find out what is going on.

The Minister will know that the key to protecting all communities from this virus is an effective test, trace and—especially—isolate system, which is difficult for someone in an overcrowded household where others rely on them. The all-party group on coronavirus, which I chair, has heard compelling evidence that countries that have best protected their most vulnerable communities tend to offer a menu of support services to help them quarantine, which often includes free hotel accommodation should they need it. Given the worry that the virus may now be persistently stubborn, and in fact endemic in some communities, why have we not introduced free hotel accommodation for those who need it, as standard here in the UK?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am sure that Department of Health and Social Care Ministers will be able to provide a more extensive answer specifically on free hotels. From my perspective, the vaccine is the route out of the pandemic, which is why we are making sure that those who are most vulnerable are getting the vaccine and that any hesitancy is reduced. We are also making sure that there are isolation payments for those who are unable to work to ensure they are not financially impacted.

I welcome the Government’s decision to ensure that all adults on the learning and disability register are to be prioritised for a covid-19 vaccine, after the efforts of broadcaster Jo Whiley and disabilities charities. Can my hon. Friend confirm that everyone who is on their GP’s learning and disability register will now be invited for their jab, providing protection to a group who we know are at a higher risk from the virus?

Yes. The Government are following the recommendations of the independent experts at the JCVI on which groups to prioritise for covid-19 vaccines. Following its updated advice, to make the process simpler and faster we will be inviting everyone for vaccination who is on their GP’s learning and disability register. This will mean that those who are at a higher risk from the virus can get the protection they need. It is not a change in the priority list from the JCVI, but an operational clarification to ensure that those with a severe and profound learning disability receive their offer as part of cohort 6. Adults with Down’s syndrome face an evidenced high risk of severe outcomes and have therefore already been added to the list of clinically extremely vulnerable conditions. People with Down’s syndrome were prioritised for the vaccine in group 4 accordingly. As my hon. Friend can see, and I thank him for his question, this is something we are very much alive to. We continue to look at the data to make the best recommendations for vulnerable disabled people.

The no recourse to public funds policy is locking thousands of people out of vital support and has a disproportionate impact on black and minority ethnic families, evidenced by the fact that 82% of Citizens Advice clients looking for advice about NRPF and non-EU migrant access to benefits were people of colour. Does the Minister intend to urge the UK Government to review their NRPF policy?

Madam Deputy Speaker, I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), who asked an identical question.

That concludes the urgent question proceedings. I will now suspend the House for three minutes in order to allow arrangements to be made for the next item of business.

Sitting suspended.