Britain is “one of the best countries in the world to be a black person”, an equalities minister has claimed, as MPs demanded action over Covid-19.
Conservative frontbencher Kemi Badenoch was told one placard at the Black Lives Matter protest in London read “Being black should not be a death sentence” and was urged to develop a detailed response to coronavirus involving all diverse communities.
Ms Badenoch agreed with Labour’s Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) that the Government should not be seen to produce anything which looks like a “box-ticking exercise”.
But she criticised the repetition of the placard slogan, insisting the right approach is to examine how to deal with disparities.
She added in the Commons: “But let us not in this House use statements like ‘being black is a death sentence’, which young people out there hear, don’t understand the context and then continue to believe that they live in a society that is against them when actually this is one of the best countries in the world to be a black person.”
Not taking “any lessons on race”
Ms Badenoch later told Labour’s Zarah Sultana she would not be taking “any lessons on race” as she defended the Government’s record.
The SNP’s Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) also warned people from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are being “forced” to work as they have no recourse to public funds, something she described as a “racist policy” and said should be abolished.
The minister replied: “I am a black woman who is out to work and this House has done everything to make sure I’m following the guidelines, and that all of us are.
“So it is absolutely wrong to try and conflate lots of different issues and merge them into one just so that it can get traction in the press.”
Ms Badenoch added: “We need to be courageous in order to calm down racial tensions and not inflame them just so we can have something to put on social media.”
Asking an urgent question in the Commons, shadow equalities minister Gill Furniss earlier called on the Government to “take action” on the disproportionate effect Covid-19 has on people from BAME backgrounds.
Public Health England (PHE) published a Government-commissioned review this week on disparities in risks and outcomes, with Ms Furniss saying: “The review confirms what we already know, that racial and health inequalities amplify the risk of Covid-19.
“The review found that those from BAME backgrounds were more than twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than white people and that BAME health care workers are at particular risk of infection.
“These lives matter and it is time for the Government to take action on the devastating impact this virus has had on BAME communities.”
Key drivers of disparities
Ms Badenoch said she is working with the Cabinet Office-based race disparity unit to make recommendations based on the report.
She told MPs: “It’s absolutely imperative that we understand the key drivers of these disparities.
“The relationships between the different risk factors and what we can do to close the gap, that way we will ensure we are not taking action which is not warranted by the evidence.
“I’m going to be taking work forwards to fill the gaps in our understanding and review existing policies, develop new ones where needed off the back of this.”
Ms Badenoch said PHE “did not have all the data that it needed”, including population density and housing conditions, adding she is taking the issues forward.
Ms Sultana (Coventry South) said Covid-19 does not discriminate but the “system in which it is spreading does”, before adding: “Higher rates of poverty, overcrowded housing, precarious work and jobs on the front line mean that if you’re black or Asian you’re more likely to catch the virus and to be hit worse if you do.
“Black Lives Matter is not just a slogan and we are owed more than confirmation that our communities are suffering – we’re owed justice.”