Black Lives Matter: My great friend Dawn Butler (the hon’ Member for Brent Central), secured a debate on Covid-19: BAME and she has done incredible work in this area and I was pleased to speak in her debate.I began by suggesting 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.
This crisis will have a huge effect on people’s lives and mental wellbeing for a long time to come. I hope that the government gives us some indication soon that they do take seriously the health inequalities that have been exposed by the Coronavirus crisis.
Some 40% of our doctors and 20% of nurses come from BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) 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 together absolutely, 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 outside 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 tries to suppress the levels of knowledge of inequality that exist in our society. It is low wages, overcrowded private rented accommodation and unsafe working conditions that lead to underachievement in schools and to those children having great difficulty in completing their studies.
I was recently talking to a headteacher of a primary school in Islington North. 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 perhaps just one laptop 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 offer a special thank you to the Whittington Hospital and its staff for their work. Last week they reported no new Covid-19 cases at all; well done them.
Covid-19 has exposed inequality in our health service and society, and the injustice throughout. Post-Covid, let us invest for the future and not cut services 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 (WHO) 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 must be the lesson from this Covid crisis; universal healthcare is very important.
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 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.
This month I have been as busy as ever attending various local, national, and international meetings online. I cannot wait for lockdown to be lifted in order to resume my visits, however, it is clear we have never had a greater ability to communicate with each other and we have technology to thank for that. I was invited to give ‘A Call to The Arts’ speech at the Writing on the Wall Art Festival in Liverpool. While I would have preferred to deliver my speech in person in Liverpool, hosting the event online allowed people from across the country and even the world to connect.
My speech focused on celebrating people everywhere, artists, creators, local communities and arguing for the value of arts and culture now and in the future. The arts have been a vital lifeline during the lockdown and a new appreciation for how they entertain and give us the tools to express and create responses to the times we are living through. Many people have sent me poems and I have seen many chalk drawings on pavements, revealing that sense of creativity within each of us.
When we come out of lockdown, we cannot make the same mistakes of 2010 when after the financial crisis we poured lots of money into banks so they could survive. We paid for this by cutting pubic services, local authority spending, arts spending and everything else. We paid for that through austerity. This time, we must invest in the future, a growing economy, and a whole range of services, including the arts.
Stop the War organised a Zoom meeting with Arundhati Roy and Tariq Ali, whereby we discussed the current state of the word. The Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated many things to the whole world in a way that years of campaigning could not. It has shown that our planet is interdependent on each other and we must work together to tackle poverty, human rights abuses, environmental destruction and disease, which all pose security threats.
We must do all that we can to support WHO as it is there to ensure access to health services for all around the world. This principle is of such importance as we are only as healthy as the safety of our neighbour.
I was pleased to take part in another conference call at the end of May with local stakeholders, Islington Council and local police to agree on a series of concrete steps to address the anti-social behaviour on Blackstock Road. While there are deep rooted economic issues underlying a lot of the negative activity in the area, made worse under a decade of austerity, it is important to remember the positive role a strong connection between the local community, the Council and partners can play in alleviating some of these stresses. It is right and essential that these meetings include local residents and business owners as well as community leaders, whose lived experiences are invaluable in identifying the causes of disruption, the needs of the area as well as the practical and effective ways to proceed. I continue to be proud of the local community’s prominent voice in the Council and police’s approach in tackling this issue.
This month I helped at several food banks including Sobell Leisure Centre and Brickworks Community Centre. I continue to express my deep gratitude for all the ongoing work Islington Council, ward councillors, mutual aid groups and volunteers have been doing to support the food banks and ensure that people have food on their tables.
The government’s recent u-turn on extending free school meals in the summer holidays is very welcome. However, any responsible government would have made this decision immediately when faced with the shameful statistics of 1.3 million children at risk of going hungry this summer. I commend Marcus Rushford for the extraordinary campaign he started against an injustice, and which ultimately embarrassed the government into changing their decision. The country, as the rest of the world, is facing an unprecedented crisis that has thrown many families into financial ruin. It is only right that the social safety net is extended to those who are suffering, and a commitment to do “whatever it takes” truly does mean whatever it takes.
The Free school meals issue was a big concern in my recent conversation with Helen Ryan, Headteacher of Duncombe Primary School. During the crisis, schools have continued to be a lifeline for many families and have stepped up their support in extraordinary ways, despite the litany of cuts they are facing. I am very proud of all stuff at Duncombe and extend my deepest thanks and admiration to all schools in the constituency and across the country for all they do.
Unfortunately, social distancing guidelines means I will not be handing out dictionaries to Year 6 students at Duncombe, a tradition I thoroughly enjoy, and which has become a marker of the summer season for me. I am however looking forward to joining their end of year event virtually!
The Light Project continue to do a fantastic job supporting children and families in Islington, focusing on education to promote social inclusion and opportunities. As a trustee, I am very pleased they have introduced a food support scheme and I look forward to receiving positive feedback on the reach and effect it will have in our community.
I had the honour of speaking at the commemoration of Walter Wolfgang last month. Walter was a very close friend of mine and an invaluable ally of the Labour Party. He was a Jewish refugee who survived World War I and the Nazis. He spent his lifetime campaigning for peace and a nuclear free world.
CONTACTING JEREMY CORBYN MP
My contact details remain unchanged and Advice Sessions are being held over the telephone with my staff.
Constituency Office Tel: 0207 561 7488 (Mon, Tues, Thurs 10am – 12pm)
Postal address: The Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0A