Protests in the US and UK
I totally understand and feel the anger and grief felt not just in America, but here in the UK in response to the killing of George Floyd. Like you, I was incredibly distressed by the footage of what happened to him in the lead up to his death in police-custody. I was pleased to see the police officer, Derek Chauvin, has now been charged with 2nd degree murder charges, whilst his 3 colleagues have also been charged as accomplices in Mr Floyd’s murder.
While, in the wake of this killing, racial divisions in the US are plain to see, it is also incumbent on us to use this moment to look with renewed vigour at how black people are treated here in the UK. Racism is abhorrent. It has no place in our communities and we all have a part to play in tackling it. The wealth of diversity across our country should be something to be celebrated.
I entirely understand the strength of feeling over this situation and of course fully support the right to peacefully protest but it should have taken place in accordance with the rules on social distancing. I do, however, object to the riotous acts we saw, with members of the police, as well as police horses, being attacked and badly injured by a small minority who chose to shame the thousands of peaceful protestors who conducted themselves admirably. I have written to the Home Secretary to pass on my constituents’ thoughts on this.
We all need to do better to end racism, to step up and sometimes that means fully confronting our own racial biases and sometimes that means confronting others in our friendship groups, families and communities.
Parliament and Exports
In the spring of 2019, when I was Minister for Sport and Civil Society, I made a key statement in the House of Commons on vital action needed to tackle growing racism in football, in which I said this country needs to ensure we are all making every effort we can to fight and stop discriminatory behaviour in all forms. Sadly, these words are as prevalent today as they were last year: racism in any form or anywhere must end. We all need to do better to further educate ourselves on what we can do, both in our own lives and through our jobs, to end this disease. I have copied in the link to my statement last year: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/sports-minister-mims-davies-oral-statement-on-racism-in-football
Following the shocking images of police brutality in the USA, I know the issue of exports to the country is one several constituents have highlighted to me and I have urgently raised these concerns regarding the exportation of security equipment, including riot gear, to the USA with my colleagues in the Department for International Trade. I am sure there will be further developments on this matter, which I know is currently being monitored.
I want to assure you the Government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously. Indeed, the UK operates one of the world’s most robust and transparent export control regimes. Each export licence application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The Consolidated Criteria provide a thorough risk assessment framework, requiring the Government to think very carefully about the possible impact of providing equipment and its capabilities. My understanding is the Government will not grant an export licence if doing so would be inconsistent with the criteria.
Representatives from the UK’s Police organisations issued a joint statement following events in the US. They state that they “stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified by the way George Floyd lost his life. Justice and accountability should follow.” They go in say “In the UK we have a long-established tradition of policing by consent, working in communities to prevent crime and solve problems. Officers are trained to use force proportionately, lawfully and only when absolutely necessary. We strive to continuously learn and improve. We will tackle bias, racism or discrimination wherever we find it.”
I believe it is vital for young people in this country to learn about Black history. My two girls are both currently at primary and secondary school and I completely understand and agree with the need to improve and broaden education and tolerance for all children, from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4, around these subjects, as it is crucial to helping us dismantle systemic racism in our society. I am encouraged that the national curriculum does provide a number of opportunities for pupils to be taught about different societies and cultures, including Black British history, and it is vital to ensure children are educated on these. However, I have raised this matter with my colleague, the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP and I am sure we will also hear further news on this issue in the coming weeks and months ahead.
To spit and cough at anyone is disgraceful. Belly Mujinga was simply doing her job at Victoria station, helping those who needed to travel during the pandemic. I am absolutely appalled the man in question its reported could have done this to a key worker. Mrs Mujinga was not only a key worker working in a railway ticket office helping to keep our country going during this public health crisis, she was also a loving wife and mother to an 11-year-old daughter. Particularly as a mother of two girls, both around that age, it is absolutely heart-breaking to know another daughter has lost a mother to this unforgiving virus, especially in these circumstances.
In recognition of the wider public interest, I understand British Transport Police have now invited the Crown Prosecution Service to conduct an independent review of the available evidence. I will closely follow any developments and welcome the fact the CPS will now have the opportunity to review this case. I am passing on your thoughts and concerns on this to my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport on your behalf, who have already assured me that they stand ready to do everything they can to support the safety of all frontline transport workers.
I know there can be no consolation for the families who have lost loved ones who work in the public sector, like Mrs Mujinga, due to this virus, but I am pleased it has raised justified awareness of the need to further protect our public staff. Further guidance has been issued to transport operators to help them identify and address risks to their staff as the lockdown eases. For example, the updated guidance encourages operators to carry out risk assessments, set out clear rules on interacting with passengers, re-deploy clinically vulnerable people into roles where the risk is lower and use screens to create a physical barrier at places such as ticket offices. I have been reassured the Government are working with transport operators to ensure staff are provided with and wear face coverings where appropriate for their role, I have seen this myself having travelled from Haywards Heath to Victoria over the last two weeks.
In addition, operators have put in place protocols to ensure both public and private areas and vehicles/carriages are kept clean to stop transmission of coronavirus through people touching contaminated surfaces. Buttons, handrails, vehicle keys and other touch points should be subject to increased cleaning.
BAME and Covid
The Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, stated in June work was under way on why risks were higher for some ethnic groups, including factors like jobs and housing, as well as outlining her plans to work with the Government’s Race Disparity Unit to come up with recommendations for what steps can be taken on the impact of Covid-19 on those from BAME backgrounds.
The Health Secretary commissioned Public Health England (PHE) to complete an urgent review on the disparities in risk and outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic and has now published its findings. These figures suggesting people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 are extremely concerning and trouble me greatly. The report confirms being black or from a minority ethnic background is a major risk factor, both in contracting the disease and, sadly, dying from it. Importantly, this racial disparity holds even after accounting for the effects of other factors such as age, deprivation, region and sex. I would add the PHE ethnicity analysis did not adjust for factors such as comorbidities, so there is much more work to be done to understand the key drivers of these disparities, the relationships between the different risk factors and what must be done to close the gap. Things like this may explain statistical differences between the PHE report and other findings; it is vital we build on this initial work. PHE has been engaging with a significant number of individuals and organisations within the BAME community over the past couple of months to hear their views. I am told this engagement will be built on.
In the wake of this report, Equalities Ministers have reassured me PHE has been commissioned to carry out further work to better understand the key drivers of the disparities identified in the initial report and the relationships between the different risk factors. The Race Disparity Unit will be closely involved in this work, but if we are to get to the heart of this racial inequality, a number of government departments will need to be involved. This report is a welcomed first step, but it has not gone far enough. I will continue to follow this issue extremely closely and to press ministerial colleagues to keep up the fight against health inequalities.
During the last 8 months, as a society we have seen true kindness and generosity to those in need from strangers as well as neighbours, regardless of creed or colour. We have huge challenges ahead, but we can overcome if we work together in friendship to make the United Kingdom the best country it can be.
There are some fantastic national and local initiatives out there with great people involved in them. There are also well-established mechanisms in place in Whitehall and the police to address racially motivated discrimination, improve policing and stamping out racist bullying in schools, some of these flowing from a Hate Crime Action Plan (which you can read more about here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/hate-crime-action-plan-2016).
There is also this excellent audit undertaken by the previous Prime Minister and its very welcome to shine a light on this matter https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/race-disparity-audit. I met with Ministers from the Government Equalities Office earlier this week to raise this matter: levelling up opportunities and wider youth opportunities for all.
At this time, we must not only draw on these resources, but also examine whether they are enough. I am assured ministers are aware of the strength of feeling on this issue across all areas of our society, including education, sport, employment opportunities, policing and much, much more. I am appalled by the racism experienced by those in the BAME community and I will continue to support efforts made to end racism.