Ursla Hawthorne, co-chair of Waltham Forest Stand Up To Racism, on how the pandemic is taking a toll on ethnic minorities
We need action to stop racial scapegoating during this pandemic.
Covid-19 has brought into sharp relief all that is unjust and unequal here and in the wider world. Images of frontline workers who have died tell a story of Britain that many in power have consistently denied. The truth is that the functioning of our society is dependent on the skills, commitment and hard work of migrants.
Decades of racism has meant that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities face discrimination in employment, education and housing, leading to lower pay and poorer health for these groups. These are also factors which contribute to people dying from Covid-19.
While the government expresses gratitude and regret, it fails to implement concrete changes which
could make a difference. These include providing all frontline workers with the required personal protective equipment (PPE) and coronavirus testing; paying wages which reflect the value of their work; removing the immigration health charge; offering the right to remain to all overseas staff working in essential services, as well as their families. The racist ‘hostile environment’ policy is leading to more deaths because those people who are unclear about their rights or fearful of exorbitant bills are delaying medical treatment in hospital.
Britain’s poor record on refugees means many people live here without official refugee status, often in poor conditions where self-isolating, social distancing and regular hand washing may not be possible. These factors will contribute to the continued spread of the disease and further preventable deaths.
Meanwhile, for those in refugee camps, the spread of Covid-19 will be catastrophic. Many have family in Britain and should already be here, while many more have valid claims for refugee status. It is negligent to not be doing more. Refugees, many of whom have the qualifications and skills we need, should be allowed to work.
The initial reporting of Covid-19, focusing on China and neighbouring Asian countries, has led to an increase in racist attacks towards people of Asian descent. There has also been false information about mosques remaining open and areas with high levels of immigration being portrayed as flouting government guidelines on self-distancing, leading to BAME groups feeling targeted and vulnerable.
That said, the pandemic has also brought out the best in many of us. The level of community support offered to neighbours, hospitals and foodbanks is unprecedented. We have glimpsed a different, more caring world, and we can’t allow the future to simply return to how things were. Sadly, there is little evidence those at the top of our society agree with us.
At Stand Up To Racism we believe that the task of creating a more just, equal and compassionate society begins now, through acts of solidarity, unity and resistance. We have launched a national statement in order to bring together all of us who oppose racism and its deadly consequences. We call on you to join with us in demanding action to save lives.
Sign the Stand Up To Racism statement: