On the 4 June 2020, I wrote to Matt Hancock and Elizabeth Truss, the Health Secretary and the Minister for Women and Equalities, to express my concerns about the weakness of the Public Health England’s recently released report ‘Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19.’ I urged them to establish an independent inquiry to support policy change, to adopt emergency changes to policies to save BAME lives over the coming months, and to develop a comprehensive race equalities strategy to ensure that all our communities are kept safe. You can see the full text of my letter below:
Dear Secretaries of State,
I write to you following the publication of Public Health England’s report ‘Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19′.
I was alarmed by press reports that the publication of the Government’s review on the evident disproportionalities in mortality for BAME communities had been delayed. These reports suggested that the report would not be published while there is such rightful and righteous focus on racial inequality and injustice following the murder of George Floyd in the United States of America. It would have been entirely wrong to delay the process of learning lessons and promoting understanding of what has happened with regards to the impact on minority ethnic communities. I was relieved to see that the report has now been published. The events in the United States only highlight how important this work is to make our communities truly safe and fair for all.
Current evidence suggests that Newham has had the highest age-adjusted mortality rate in the country. I am desperately worried that there will be a resurgence in infection. Without lessons being learned and action taken very quickly, that second wave will have exactly the same disproportionate impact on BAME people and on communities like mine that benefit from so much diversity.
I wrote to you on the 5th May asking for further information about this inquiry, including its terms of reference, leadership, membership, and timescale. I argued that any inquiry should fully include outside experts, especially in relation to the social determinants of health and on wider ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities, and asked for a commitment to implement all of the recommendations in full. I am yet to receive a reply.
I am pleased to see that the initial report has been published. I am however very disappointed by its content. It contains no recommendations for health authorities or the Government, and will be of no comfort to my constituents who are desperately worried that they will continue to face a disproportionate risk over the coming months.
The report establishes very few conclusions about the causes of unjust disparities along the lines of race, deprivation, and occupation. These disparities were already well-documented, therefore the added value of this report appears disappointingly, but predictably low. Frankly, it is hard not to suspect that the inquiry addresses issues of discrimination and other social determinants of health in such a fragmentary way because the truth about these issues would force the Government to recognise its past failings and implement policy changes that it does not favour.
An immediate commitment is necessary to begin broader and longer-term work, including an independent public inquiry. This work should establish and shape two streams of policy change. Firstly, emergency changes to policies to save BAME lives over the coming months. Secondly, a comprehensive race equality strategy to end the social determinants of these unjust disparities. I believe these commitments are what justice demands and what my community needs and expects to see.
Actions need to be taken and lessons learned without further delay. I believe lives of my constituents depend on it. I would therefore be grateful for a prompt response to this letter.
Member of Parliament for West Ham