Following the anniversary if the tragic murder of George Floyd I updated constituents on the BLM movement and what I am doing in parliament:
As you have previously contacted me about the Black Lives Matter movement and racism in the UK, I am writing to provide you with an update.
As I am sure you are aware, recently, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities issued a report and there was a statement in the House of Commons yesterday about this matter, which I would encourage you to watch here https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/b586787a-eb7f-409b-b20e-9cb31d21ddd0?in=13:38:42
This report was an opportunity to seriously respond to structural racial inequalities in the UK following the powerful Black Lives Matter movement. It was a chance to set the record straight on disproportionalities in the criminal justice system, maternal mortality, school exclusions and unemployment. Instead, I am deeply disappointed that it disregarded the commonly held view on what institutional racism is, and downplayed structural issues that need to be addressed.
Racism is real, and it is the lived experience of so many people in this country. According to the Race and Disparity Unit, Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Additionally, it is deeply concerning that MBRRACE-UK has said that Black mothers are more than four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women. The Timpson review of school exclusions also found that Black children are more likely to be excluded than white children. Though we have made progress in reducing disparities, evidence shows that we still have a long way to go to achieve equality.
It is deeply concerning to see institutional racism being downplayed during a pandemic where Black, Asian and minority ethnic people have died disproportionately, and are now twice as likely to be unemployed according to the Office for National Statistics. The Government must take greater action to protect these groups from the effects of COVID-19.
Recovering from the pandemic, we cannot return to business as usual – rooted in insecurity and inequality. We must resist divisiveness and stand together to build a brighter future.
The Government is now considering the Commission’s recommendations and will set out its full response this summer.
I firmly believe this report must be rejected. The Government should instead focus on implementing the recommendations in the Timpson review of school exclusion, the McGregor-Smith review into racism in the workplace, Wendy Williams’ review into the Windrush scandal, the Angiolini review into deaths in police custody, and the Lammy Review into the treatment of Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system.
Policy areas where ethnic disparities exist, such as health, education, justice and policing, are devolved matters in Scotland. Therefore, I would encourage you to also contact your MSP about this matter. The Scottish Government needs to take target and immediate action to tackle the stain on our society that is racial discrimination and inequality.
We know beyond doubt that everyday racism exists and the focus now must be on overcoming hatred and prejudice. Rather than a debate about whether it is structural or not, we need to focus on action. In Scotland, Scottish Labour’s leader Anas Sarwar has called for politicians to come together on a cross-party basis, because the fight against hate is a fight for all of us.
I am committed to listening to people’s lived experiences and tackling racism in all its forms. I believe a Race Equality Act needs to be introduced to end structural inequalities in our society.
We will keep up the pressure on the government about this subject and will continue to lobby the Prime Minister and others, including Nicola Sturgeon, to make sure that this issue is seriously addressed.
Belly Mujinga Investigation
My thoughts remain with Belly Mujinga’s family and the awful circumstances of her death.
I believe the compensation scheme for NHS and care workers who die of COVID-19 should be extended to Belly Mujinga’s family and to other transport workers who die from coronavirus. No amount of money can bring back a lost life, but compensation may still be able to provide some help to a family.
Belly Mujinga’s family also deserve answers and justice. As you know, in May last year, the British Transport Police investigated the case and concluded that there was “no evidence to substantiate any criminal offences having taken place”. It was later considered by the Crown Prosecution Service, who said there were no grounds to alter the original police decision.
I am aware that in October, the BBC reported that footage of the incident was of “poor quality, but it clearly shows that something occurred”. There have subsequently been calls for an investigation and for an inquest into her death, including from the union that Belly Mujinga was a member of, and I understand an inquest is now being considered.
I recently wrote to the Minister of State for Transport about the investigation into the tragic death of Mrs Belly Mujinga that took place last year. I have attached the full response for your information. It is disappointing that the Minister said the British Transport Police have found insufficient evidence to substantiate any criminal offences. Despite this statement from the Minister, Senior Coroner, Andrew Walker announced an inquest into her death. He stated that there was reason to suspect her death was ‘unnatural’ and may have involved ‘human error’. I will follow this case closely and keep you updated on any major developments.
We need justice for the Black people whose deaths could have been avoided during this pandemic, and action to address the hugely disproportionate impact that coronavirus is still having on our Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
Derek Chauvin Trial
The guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial is a great step forward for racial justice, but it does not bring George Floyd back to life and it does not mean an end to racial violence and institutional racism. As London Mayor, Sadiq Khan said, “the guilty verdict must be the beginning of real change – not the end.”
The global health pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement have shone a light on the structural racism and inequalities experienced by Black people here in the UK and around the world. The tragic murder of George Floyd by white police officers in the United States ignited a global show of solidarity through the Black Lives Matter protests. Thousands of people from different backgrounds came together to demand fundamental change and challenge the racial injustices in Britain today. Racism is a systemic problem and requires systemic solutions.
Black Maternal Healthcare and Mortality Disparities
Action is needed to eradicate maternal inequalities. After a petition surrounding the topic garnered a sufficient number of signatures, a debate was held on the subject, which you can watch here.
Evidence from ‘Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK’ (MMBRACE-UK) shows that the maternal mortality rate is more than four times higher for Black women compared to white women. The maternal mortality rate for Asian Women is also almost twice as high compared to white women.
Over half of the pregnant women who turned up in hospital with Covid 19 were from either Black, Asian or another minority ethnic group. They were 8 times more likely to be black women.
These inequalities are an injustice, and I am concerned by the lack of action to address them.
I recognise that many Black, Asian and minority ethnic women do not feel they are listened to during childbirth. A lack of cultural competency in medical training means that complications experienced by Black women are not spotted early enough. For example, Black women have shared experiences of how their anaemia has not been picked up soon enough because of their skin colour.
I believe it is essential that additional training in cultural competency and unconscious bias is introduced in the health service and in medical schools.
The UK Government said it has hosted several roundtables with experts and commissioned more research to better understand this issue. However, it believes that a target to address maternal mortality disparities would have limitations in improving the quality of care.
I disagree. I believe a plan is needed to address the unacceptable disparities in maternal mortality rates. When a target is set, work can begin to address this injustice.
More widely, I remain concerned that structural racism is a driver of disparities in treatment. The Joint Committee on Human Rights found that over 60% of Black people did not believe their health was as equally protected by the NHS compared to white people. COVID-19 has also disproportionately impacted Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.
I believe a national strategy is needed to tackle health inequalities in Scotland and the rUK. This must include a target and commitment to urgently end the mortality gap between Black, Asian and ethnic minority women and white women, and to tackle structural racism.
I firmly believe we must eradicate the maternal health inequalities that exist. As health is a devolved matter, I will continue to work with my MSP colleagues to scrutinise the Scottish Government on this matter.
The Impact of Covid-19
The impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, has been immense. The pandemic has exasperated longstanding inequalities within these communities. A report in September 2020, found that Black men and women were 2 to 3 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than a white person.
I am determined to make sure that the government does all it can to ensure that BAME communities receive the support they need to make it through this crisis.
There have been encouraging signs that vaccine uptake is improving in BAME communities where it had been lagging but the gap still persists. We are only going to get through this crisis together and it is vital that BAME communities are not left behind in both the vaccinations or the recovery. We need to make sure that all communities in the UK feel confident to take the vaccine when offered.
This pandemic has exposed deep structural inequalities which need addressing urgently. I believe the Government must acknowledge and act on the racial injustices and deliver a race equality strategy that sets out plans to reduce the structural inequalities and institutional racism faced by BAME groups across the UK.
More widely, I believe the Scottish and UK Governments should risk assess staff from BAME backgrounds as well as ensure routine weekly testing programmes for all NHS and social care staff.
Black Curriculum in Schools
Black British history needs to be taught in schools all year round as part of a diverse curriculum that includes and inspires all young people from all backgrounds. As the Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Research published by the education charity Teach First in 2020 found that pupils in England could complete their GCSEs and leave secondary school without studying a single literary work by a non-white author. Further, 2,200 racist incidents were reported in Scottish schools in the previous three years. Racism is a systemic problem that will require systemic solutions, and the time has come for lasting change. Learning Black histories is a vital part of ensuring that young people have a balanced understanding of Britain’s past and how it has shaped society today.
An awareness of the history of British colonialism and migration to this country will build an important understanding of the forces that shape contemporary racial inequalities. It is crucial to ensure that young people have the tools to challenge present-day racism and discrimination. Teaching Black history is essential to producing lasting change.
I believe we need to know, and to be able to talk about, Britain’s colonial past and its legacy today. For the UK and Scottish Governments to act responsibly, they would need to ensure that young people learn about Black British history, colonialism, and Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.
The UK Government has said it welcomes the profile given to the importance of teaching Black history by bodies such as Fill in the Blanks and it will continue to explore what more it can do to support the teaching of Black history. I support calls for the Government to work with anti-racist organisations and other key stakeholders to conduct a review of the curriculum to diversify it, so that it fully reflects modern British society.
As education is devolved to the Scottish government, I worked with Daniel Johnson MSP when he wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Education, John Swinney, about the inclusion of black history in the curriculum.
The Race Equality Framework for Scotland aims to progress racial equity over a 15-year period from 2016 to 2030. I am supporting my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament calling for much more immediate action. On 17 July 2020, the Scottish Government responded to a question on whether Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence should cover slavery and colonialism. The Minister said: “Scotland’s curriculum is not prescriptive. It provides teachers with a flexible framework through the experiences and outcomes. Education Scotland have developed a quick reference guide to existing key resources for practitioners about black history and BAME heritage, including colonialism and slavery. We plan to make use of existing groups, including the Ethnic Minorities Resilience Network and members of the Diversity in the Teaching Profession working group, to identify any additional resources and inform whether any further action is needed.”
The Scottish Government need to follow through with their rhetoric around improving racial equality in Scotland and ensure the school curriculum and cultural institutions address Scotland’s role in colonialism and slavery. I look forward to MSPs pressing the Scottish government to do this.
Black history is British history, and I can assure you that I will continue to urge the Government to ensure that children are taught about the British Empire in the national curriculum.