Cllr Winifred speaking at the virtual full council meeting
Cllr Winifred speaking at the virtual full council meeting

Cllr Sonia Winifred is the Cabinet Member for Equalities and Culture, and a councillor in Knight’s Hill ward. This is her speech from full council on Wednesday 3 June 2020. 

I am addressing you this evening about a paradox.

On the one hand with Covid-19, we are all confronted with an epidemic unlike anything we have experienced before, one whose impact on our health and mortality, our social and our economic lives is quite beyond our grasp and previous experience. We are rightly adhering to government guidelines on how we need to conduct ourselves and we are all conscious of the government’ message that essentially we are in this together.

And yet… It is simply not possible for me to stand before you as a Black woman fail to point out the cruel fact that the epidemic that confronts us all, is nevertheless frighteningly inequitable in the way that if affects different part of the community of peoples in Lambeth.

We all carry our own personal burdens and losses from this epidemic, and if I quickly mention mine now, it is not as part of some particularly grim competitive game: my aunt Mary, my uncle Hugh, my friend Marlene and my friend Rita. Rather I list these people here because – and here I return to my paradox – despite the universal tone of the government’s public health rhetoric, there are profound and frightening inequalities emerging in the way that different communities and ethnicities in Lambeth and the UK as a whole are experiencing this crisis.

At a time in which we have been deluged with statistics – daily, hourly, up-to-the-minute – statistics that are often political and therefore either deliberately incomplete or else willfully misleading, I almost hesitate to subject you to yet more. But these statistics are frightening and need to be acknowledged. They are taken from the 7th May Office for National Statistics’ published data on Coronavirus

  • When adjusted for age, Black males are 4.2 times more likely to die from COVID-19 and Black females are 4.3 times more likely than White ethnicity males and females.
  • When also adjusted for socio-demographic characteristics and health issues, Black males and females of Black are 1.9 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than those of White ethnicity.
  • South Asians are 1.6 times more likely.
  • The ONS concludes that while the difference between ethnic groups in COVID-19 mortality is partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage, a remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained.

So, why is it that BAME people are not dying at this rate in their own countries? In Africa, India and the Caribbean black people are not dying at anything like the rate they seem fated to do in England and the United States.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dis-proportionality of BAME deaths to COVID-19 seems to reflect the dis-proportionality of the inequalities experienced by black people in UK society.

Despite making up only 14% of the population, these groups are most likely to be on the front-line whether in the NHS as care workers, shelf-stackers in supermarkets, bus and cab drivers. In the NHS around 40% of Doctors and 20% of Nurses are from BAME backgrounds, while a staggering 60% of the adult care workforce are from BAME backgrounds. This employment demographic alone places their communities at much greater risk.

Yet additionally, there is evidence too that families who live in cramped accommodation, who are without access to outdoor spaces and who comprise large multi-generational units are also at far greater risk of transmission; and again, we know that these are the housing characteristics of many BAME people living in Lambeth

If we were to drill down behind the headline statistics, we would also find that these are the same generations of BAME people who have been subjected to inadequate education, unemployment, little or no representation in the workplace and exacerbated health and mental health issues. Would you not feel depressed if you were living in this environment day in day out, generation after generation? Is Covid-19 to be these people’s cruel and discriminating harvest?

I would argue that on top of all the other horrors and hardships that Coronavirus has subjected our country to, and in the way that it is has singled out our BAME communities, this virus is sending us a message about the profound inequalities that still persist in our society, affecting our families, our mums and dads, our brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandads. All of us.

But the fact that Black people face shorter lives and greater disadvantage is not new or news, it is a well-established fact. So I speak on behalf of our communities in saying that we are very disappointed that in 2020 our national leaders have failed to act, or shown any genuine inclination to meaningfully find solutions.

That is why, finally, I ask for your support for the motion asking the government for an independent inquiry into the dis-proportionality of BAME casualties to COVID-19.  It really is the very least that we can do for our communities.

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