Boris Johnson’s Government must get its “knee off the neck” of the black, Asian and minority ethnic community, the Commons has heard.
Labour former minister Dawn Butler recalled the final words of George Floyd, saying his “I can’t breathe” plea could be applied to the disproportionate number of BAME people dying with coronavirus in the UK.
She said the Government must stop with the “games” and “platitudes” and instead provide support to the BAME community.
Conservative former minister Nusrat Ghani later questioned if the BAME community “could take a second wave” of Covid-19 and accused NHS England and Public Health England (PHE) of “negligence” towards health workers.
Labour’s Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) spoke of family members who have died of Covid-19 after calling for an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, with the effects of Covid-19 on BAME people requiring specific focus.
Party colleague Naz Shah also claimed the Government appeared more interested in spending money on rebranding the Prime Minister’s official plane than contributing to anti-racism projects.
Their remarks came during a backbench debate focused on the impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, with a recent PHE report finding racism and social inequality have contributed to the increased risk they face of contracting and dying from the virus.
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Butler said: “Black lives have more in common with white working class people, with LGBT plus community, with people who are under-represented, than this cruel Government.
“In the words of the late, amazing (Labour MP) Jo Cox, ‘we have more that unites us than divides us’.
“So I stand to tell the Government that we are done with the games, we are done with the platitudes and we are done with kicking this issue into the long grass – enough is enough.
“Now is 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.”
She earlier referred to the “public lynching” of Mr Floyd while in police custody in the United States, adding: “Racism doesn’t just manifest itself in the brutal ways that can be caught on camera and shared on social media.
“‘I can’t breathe’ – the last words of George Floyd. Those words could apply to the disproportionate number of black, African Caribbean and Asian people dying from coronavirus in this country.
“Every time the Government gets dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing, I can’t breathe.
“I can’t breathe every time the Government hides a report or kicks an issue into the long grass by announcing another commission or another report, I can’t breathe.
“My breath is taken away by the lack of care, empathy and emotional intelligence shown by this Government time and time again.”
Mr Dhesi questioned why ministers have “ignored the evidence, dragged their feet and almost certainly contributed to a situation where people from BAME communities have been disproportionately ravaged” by Covid-19.
He said he was not able to carry his grandmother’s coffin, he had to “endure the indignity of watching his funeral online via Zoom” for his uncle, and his brother-in-law’s father died after contracting the virus in a Slough care home.
He also highlighted figures showing a decrease in the number of ethnic minority chairs and executive directors of NHS trusts in England, telling MPs: “If BAME doctors and nurses are good enough to die on the front line, surely they are good enough to lead.”
Tory Ms Ghani, who said she has lost loved ones to Covid-19, told the Commons: “The BAME community has already been severely hit and I’m not sure it could take a second wave.
“For BAME health workers to die at such a rate quite frankly amounts to negligence on the part of NHS England and Public Health England.”
£900,000 on a plane
Labour’s Ms Shah (Bradford West) highlighted figures showing the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spent £219,000 on projects to specifically target racism in 2019/20, telling the Commons: “This Prime Minister is willing to spend £900,000 rebranding his plane.
“Can somebody tell me what kind of message this sends to our country?
“A message that this Government cares more about the colours of a plane than it does fighting racism, bigotry and discrimination for the people of colour.”
For the Government, health minister Jo Churchill said: “Inequalities are stubborn, persistent and difficult to change but it’s no reason to accept them.
“As honourable members have said in this House, this is a shared problem and the response to this must be a shared problem too.”