In this week’s blog, our CEO discusses the impact of COVID on BAME communities
Brent Poverty Commission (established this year) released the results of its 6 month review into poverty in the Borough in August. The report shows that, after housing costs are taking into account, 33% of households live in poverty (17% excluding housing costs) and 43% of children live in poverty (22% excluding housing costs). There is severe overcrowding (with many individuals living in shared housing), poor quality of housing and the 2nd highest eviction rate in London.
Brent has also experienced the highest COVID ‘excess death’ rate in England and it has been established that individuals from BAME communities have been disproportionately impacted. These factors are intricately linked – living in a shared home, working in a public facing role and having insufficient money to create any distance has created the climate for COVID to spread so quickly. In light of the impending end to the temporary stop on evictions due to rent arrears Brent is also expecting a wave of evictions, creating an even more acute housing situation.
Oldham Council is another Council that has been disproportionately impacted by COVID. Currently part of the Greater Manchester lockdown area, it is the Borough with the highest cases in Greater Manchester and has the most stringent measures in place. This has come with a host of additional issues being raised around racism and hate crime, forcing Sean Fielding (Leader of the Council) to issue a statement on the 20th August confirming that no major outbreaks were linked to places of worship. It is incontestable that recent infections in Oldham have predominantly impacted on Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. This has fuelled offensive criticism at supposed ‘flouting’ of the rules. At one point the Council was obliged to turn off its social media sites due to the extent of offensive and racist postings.
Research from Essex University and the London School of Economics has found that individuals of Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Black Caribbean background have reduced their social interactions more than white individuals. Social interactions aren’t the factors that have been sustaining this wave, but rather fulfilling the public facing roles (health & social care, retail, public transport etc.) that have been so essential during lockdown. So again, the factors that impacted on Brent are the biggest influences – overcrowded housing, working in public facing roles and high levels of poverty (Oldham has the highest rate of child poverty in the North West, 38%).
In Bolton a Councillor has been suspended from the local Conservative group and removed from the board of Bolton at Home for his targeting of BAME communities during COVID. At the beginning of the Greater Manchester lockdown he said people should ‘blame the 48,000 illegal immigrants, the BAME community and the morons that never obey the rules’, asserting we were ‘being led by donkeys’. Despite ONS findings that 19% of Health & Social Care Workers are from BAME backgrounds, (a significant over-representation against overall demographics) it is attitudes like this which have led to this targeting of BAME key workers who have been so essential to our lives during this pandemic.
Tackling the underlying issues raised by COVID is going to be the biggest challenge facing Local Authorities in the years to come and responses will need to be decisive. For example, Hakeem Osinaike, the Brent Council Director of Housing, has plans to address the housing challenges in his area by creating 1,000 new Council Homes in the next 5 years (an almost 10% increase) recognising that even a significant portion of the social housing in the area is unaffordable and that there are insufficient family-sized homes. Moving forward our communities must also try to repair the damage done through the targeting of BAME citizens and to assert our values of respect and inclusion.