Boris Johnson MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
16 June 2020
Dear Prime Minister
With the urgency of the current debate on the inequalities present in British Society the Trustees of EMF, a social justice foundation, thought it fit to raise the following issues with you especially as you are embarking on a positive action to set up a commission to look at these and other inequalities. There have been too many reports on inequalities in the recent past but they have been assigned to the shelves, without taking action for real outcomes.
EMF Narrative on the Current Debate on Equality and Diversity during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Ethnic Minority Foundation (EMF) is a social justice foundation and registered charity that was founded in 1999 and has been working henceforth towards highlighting and redressing social inequalities, with a focus on the plight of black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities in the UK.
The disproportionate deaths among the BAME communities from the COVID-19 epidemic and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has led us to re-evaluate the ‘values’ we want to live by and promote.
First of all, we look at Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19 – Public Health England (EHS)’s 89 page report[i], which is saturated with statistics and little scope for the public to actually understand its purpose. There are no recommendations and it simply seems like an attempt to show that some time was spent collating all the statistics together in one report.
The Report states on page 44:
“The highest age standardised deaths rates in confirmed cases per 100,000 population were among people of Other ethnic groups (234 in females and 427 in males) followed by people of Black ethnic groups (119 in females and 257 in males), Asian ethnic groups (78 in females and 163 in males), Mixed ethnic groups (58 in females and 116 in males) and White ethnic groups (36 in females and 70 in males) (Figure 4.5). The rates in the Other ethnic group are likely to be an overestimate due to the difference in the method of allocating ethnicity codes to the cases/mortality data and the population data used to calculate the rates.’’
This statement is perplexing as it speaks of Asian, Black and Other ethnic groups. The groups mentioned are wide ranging, i.e., Black groups including African Caribbean and people of African heritage. Appendix B of the report attempts to define the ethnic terms where the mismatch of definition by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and HES are apparent.
Regarding this report we believe:
- It does not add much more than what was already known.
- It is largely a statistical analysis and does not go into the causes and hence no recommendations.
- Further work is needed to identify the causes. This requires:
- A representative sample within the working party from all ethnic and main religious groups. This is so that cultural practices can be factored in.
- The jobs and professions with the high death groups should be looked at to see their exposure to the virus.
- Education, living conditions and hygiene factors should be looked at.
EMF believes that the report could add value if it were to be extended to incorporate more scientific explanations when available, resulting in recommendations. The Disparities report had no recommendations at all, even on basics such as additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements. COVID-19 susceptible factors are more predominant in populations with conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and environmental factors such as housing, education, and employment which are widely known. Lack of PPE or health care staff also contributed to increased risks, which the report is silent on. EMF views lack of PPE as a critical issue in the reduction of risks. Prevention and mitigation of these factors in an emerging risk assessment action plan would have been more beneficial in the short term. EMF supports a more substantive judicial inquiry after the pandemic which would be more relevant to prepare for any future emergencies.
On a broader level, in relation to opportunities within the NHS we draw attention to the widespread lack of progression by minorities in the principal decision-making grades.
There have been a number of research papers on discrimination in the NHS. We draw the government’s attention to the London School of Economics’ (LSE) website
“Research by Roger Kline finds that black and minority ethnic (BME) staffs are grossly under-represented at senior levels of the NHS and their presence has declined despite the increasing number of BME nurses and doctors. Urgent discussion and action is needed to prevent further damage to staff wellbeing and to patient care.’’[ii]
Middlesex University report on ‘The Depressing State of Bullying in NHS’ by Roger Kline published in February 2020 states:
“Like all employers, the NHS has a significant sprinkling of corporate psychopaths who enjoy bullying and use it to drive their career ascendancy. However, where research has established links between bullying and those with such personality traits, it is context that seems crucial. A wider toxic workplace environment gives permission for such behaviours, colludes in it and leaders may even role-model bullying. A different context can prevent such behaviours or move such individuals on…NHS leaders are aware of the impact of bullying. We know it affects the mental and physical health and wellbeing of staff. This in turn has an impact on job satisfaction absenteeism and productivity all of which cost the NHS at least £2.28 billion annually.”[iii]
EMF believes that there is a correlation between bullying and discrimination which results in exclusion of BAME individuals from attaining key senior decision maker positions within the NHS. The NHS will never reflect the population it serves until the senior management team reflects the diversity of the patients it serves. It also appears that the NHS supply chain is flawed as ethnic businesses find it difficult to be an approved supplier. In order to expedite inclusion on this, the NHS could implement a policy of preferred supplier with contracts of less than £250,000 to be assessed more favourably to be awarded to BAME businesses.
EMF on the wider debate on current concerns regarding discrimination we make the following points:
- Over the years various governments have been full of policy richness and delivery poor syndrome. Every government department staff survey recognises exclusion and discrimination but has taken scant steps in overcoming these issues. Senior civil servants have not and continue to not reflect the 13% BAME population of the UK. We cannot find any evidence of any senior civil servant who did not receive their bonus or were subject to a reduction in their high salary due to the lack of diversity in their department.
- Unconscious bias is fashionable in appointments and certainly in the public appointments. Repeat appointments and the same faces from establishment do a round robin of well-paid Non-Executive Directors (NED) posts. Chairs of Quangos are overwhelmingly white and there is a complete lack of diversity. The political patronage of appointments is so apparent that minorities do not even consider applying. For example, the recent appointment of Baroness Dido Harding as chair of the track and trace authority for COVID-19 is of interest in that whilst not questioning her ability was a BAME candidate considered at all, given especially the higher proportion of BAME deaths? This question is particularly pertinent given the recent demonstrations against racial injustice. The public has no awareness of the recruitment process as candidates or applicants are not disclosed.
- Out of 418 local authorities in the UK there are very few CEOs from Ethnic backgrounds. This again illustrates that demographics are not reflected in the vertical management structure of the organisations.
- As for law making, the House of Lords is a clear example of a failure to properly reflect the various communities in the UK. The overwhelming majority of members are appointed for life by patronage and buying seats by making donations to political parties. EMF produced a report on the underlying inequalities at this establishment in 2017 but our voice is never heard, only we are patronised that the BAME communities contribute well to the British Exchequer, thank you very much. In that report we had recommended a maximum of 3 terms of 5 years with an appraisal at the end of each term. It is a damning indictment that those who were convicted of fiddling expenses are still serving as if nothing ever happened. No democracy anywhere has this system of patronage and it is an embarrassment for citizens to comprehend how they can legislate on our behalf.
- The provision of government grants for community cohesion initiatives is not transparent. Our own experience with government quangos has been a huge disappointment with a feeling of discrimination and again no responsibility or accountability from civil servants. For instance, the Arts Council England has consistently rejected our funding applications for the last 10 years for our British Asian Arts development at our Peepul Centre Theatre in Leicester. Then on top, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, perhaps due to its underfunding, puts impediments for us to make a complaint even. So it is almost like a law of the jungle, with no checks and balances. Our community is thanked to contribute well to the Exchequer but on our development public purse is directed to look after the non-BAME arts and their staff development only. The 10 Executive Directors running ACE are all white, including the director for the Midlands region who personally dismissed my plea.
- We also have concerns about the encouragement of separating communities. Any policy that does not gear towards integration will lead to ghettos and polarisation by faith, colour, and country of origin. Crime, deprivation, and lack of employment opportunities in deprived areas leads to alienation of youth. Whilst the Faith Unit at Communities Ministry does engage with faiths the model lacks a collective mix of faiths for a more interfaith integrative policy, a point we highlighted in our 2017 Integration report, but again no real change in policy is affected.
- Grass-root community organisations are not respected to, even be replied to, as we ourselves found from the DCMS over a prolonged period in 2018/19. Indeed, I nominated Paul Stephenson OBE for a knighthood for his ‘blanc-canvass’ work on the Race Relations 1965 ACT after his Bristol Bus boycott of 1964 but your eminent Honours Committee seemed to have disagreed with my underlying vision of creating our own British History for integration by acknowledging our much deserving leaders like him.
- Mental health is a huge issue in BAME communities. Careif founded by Professor Kamaldeep Bhui and Dr Albert Persaud state that, “people with mental and psychosocial disabilities are among the most marginalized groups and the most vulnerable in a community, yet despite numerous pledges and pronouncements, many programmes continue to ignore and exclude this vulnerable group.’’[iv] EMF endorses this statement and have concerns that in this climate of lockdown and social restrictions, the vulnerability of those with mental health issues seems to be overlooked.
- Regarding the removal of statues and the BLM movement we believe that democracy over the last 20 years failed us by not removing the Edward Colston statue and it was right for the protestors to take matters in their own hands; and the Police decision not to intervene can be only described as admirable. However, the statues at Parliament Square represent the British Values we aspire to, specifically in Winston Churchill for fighting Nazism – albeit his abhorrent colonial contempt for the non-whites that led to famines in India killing 3 million people, in the light of what he did to protect the values we now enjoy we believe it right to overlook his racial demeanors, indeed the statues of Gandhi and Mandela represent the values they protected for the entire world which we remain beholden to and aspire to.
- The Race Inequalities Commission – The EHRC has not worked, leaving a massive gap to hear race discrimination cases, and we would recommend bringing back Trevor Philips or such a leader like person, not an administrator please, to head such a commission on a more permanent level.
In Conclusion, COVID-19 in the UK has highlighted the anomalies and discrimination that is prevalent in our society, as stakeholders we wish to work with government in overcoming discriminatory practices. We have chosen to appeal to you because of your commendable work at City Hall and I believe you do care with compassion for all, regardless. But that compassion has to filter down, otherwise in a democracy where the minority vote is low without proportional representation at policy level the frustrations seep through movements the likes of which we are witnessing today. We will look to challenges where we can be a positive driver for change that will make our society more at ease with itself.
Finally we would like to ask you to permit us to make this letter public on our website due to this current public debate and indeed your anticipated reply.
Anil Bhanot OBE
Cc. Dilip Joshi MBE – EMF Trustee for Equality and Diversity
[i] Public Health England, (2020), Disparities in the risks and outcomes of COVID-19, PHE Publications: London
[ii] Klein, R., (2014), Discrimination against black and minority ethnic staff within the NHS is widespread, deep-rooted, systemic and widely unchanging. Found at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/nhs-discrim/
[iii] Klein, R., (2020), The Depressing State of Bullying in the NHS. Found at https://mdxminds.com/2020/02/19/the-depressing-state-of-bullying-in-the-nhs/
[iv] Careif, (2020), Case for Careif. Found at https://www.careif.org/about-us/case-for-careif/