A Labour MP has said structural and systemic racism is “literally killing” black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dawn Butler said the virus has “magnified” the scale of inequality.
It comes after a Public Health England (PHE) report found BAME people are more likely to have jobs which have a higher risk of exposure to the virus, and that “historic racism and poorer experiences of healthcare” means BAME people are less likely to seek help when needed.
According to the BBC, BAME people accounted for 15.5% of COVID-19 deaths in England up to 9 June. The 2011 census said 14.5% of England’s population was from BAME backgrounds, though this proportion is certain to have grown in the nine years since.
Butler, leading a House of Commons debate about COVID-19’s effect on BAME people on Thursday, said: “COVID-19 doesn’t prefer one person’s lungs to those of other ethnicities. It’s not the pandemic that discriminates, it is society.”
She cited factors such as:
Black people being more than four times more as to die from COVID-19 than white people; Pakistanis and Bangladeshis more than three times as likely; and Indians more than twice as likely
The higher BAME death rate across all grades of the NHS, even in the highest socio-economic groups
The PHE report finding requests for risk assessments or additional personal protective equipment (PPE) by BAME workers are more likely to be refused, or requests less likely to be made because of fear of adverse treatment
Butler said: “It [racism] has become more structural and systemic. It’s 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.
“Just like the killing of George Floyd, we can all see it. If anyone doesn’t believe that structural racism exists, believe the body count.”
Butler called for the government to start implementing recommendations from previous reports on inequality, rather than focus on its latest commission announced on Monday.
Referencing the killing of black man Floyd by a white police officer – who knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes – in the US last month, Butler concluded: “We are done with the games, with the platitudes, 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.”
Read more: Tory MP says many divorced people now regret splitting up after being left alone during lockdown
Speaking about the new review into racial inequality, Boris Johnson said on Monday: “The whole point of having a review is to look at the areas where people feel there’s more that needs to be done.”
He added: “I think what we want to do is learn now very fast what fresh changes we need to make.
“What I feel most strongly is that there are so many positive stories that are not being heard.
“Things really are changing.
“You’re seeing young black kids now doing better in some of the most difficult subjects in school than they were ever before, more going to top universities.
“We need to start telling that story and building up a culture of high expectations, a narrative about success, as well as stamping out the racism and the discrimination that unquestionably exists.”
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