Labour Councillor Tele Lawal today writes in the Havering Daily.
Throughout the world, communities are affected by the global health pandemic which has disrupted all parts of citizens’ day-to-day lives. Coronavirus does not discriminate. It sees no race, age, class, sex, or religion.
As we mourn those who have sadly been taken by the silent killer, emerging figures highlight that coronavirus appears to be disproportionately affecting black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities – while this might be an uncomfortable truth for many, this revelation is no surprise to me, and to many who identify as BAME.
While the government recently announced an inquiry into why people from a similar background like me are disproportionately affected by coronavirus (led by the NHS and Public Health England) – I fear this is merely a token gesture, somewhat a tick box exercise.
Many of us already know the underlying cause of the disparity, and what the conclusions of the review will reveal. If we discuss the robust correlation between socioeconomic status and health, it is widely known that individuals of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to suffer from poorer health, than those in the higher social hierarchy.
Those individuals in the UK are usually BAME people who are overrepresented in overcrowded/poor accommodation and insecure, low-paid employment. All of which contributes to why BAME people have a lower life expectancy and serious underlying health issues in the UK. It is already confirmed that coronavirus preys on those with underlying health conditions.
BAME people are more likely to be employed in frontline roles, like the NHS. Such keyworker roles will put them at greater risk of contracting coronavirus. The first ten doctors in the UK to die from coronavirus were from BAME backgrounds.
This health pandemic has removed the plaster once again and has shown these deaths are the consequence of inequalities deep in our society, that the government has not addressed, review after review. Clearly, we have not learned from the Grenfell Tower inquiry or the Windrush report.
We do not need another report catching dust on the government’s website and used as mere references in academic research papers or political speeches. We need life-changing action. While these underlying causes cannot be addressed in the short term to save lives, the government can start capturing the ethnicity on the number of people who have died as a result of coronavirus – at the moment age and sex are only recorded. This will enable us to explore how best to protect communities.
Havering Council should not hesitate to join the conversation and take action. Coronavirus Equality Impact Assessments (EIA) should be carried out to assess the impact on different communities protected under the Equality Act 2010. Labour Councillors have already suggested that a temporary overview and scrutiny committee should be formed to look at COVID-19 related issues, such as this, thus allowing Councillors to put forward life-saving policies and recommendations, based on information from the EIA and other sources.
I believe that communication is a powerful tool. Havering Council should produce a coronavirus information sheet, electronic or otherwise, targeted to BAME communities. This will help reaffirm the facts about how the virus is and isn’t spread – and tackle myths too. Havering Council should work with charities, organisations, and local groups to ensure those who are not known to them are receiving the relevant support during this period.
Once this crisis is over, we do not need another roundtable discussion or committee formed to analyse the report. I hope for my future and those from similar communities, we will see real legislative changes, backed with proper central government funding. But, I won’t hold my breath.
Councillor Tele Lawal| Heaton Ward Committees : Crime & Disorder | Children Services