Labour commits to new Race Equality Act to tackle structural racism

Jon Stone
·2-min read
Doreen Lawrence and Sir Keir Starmer  (Getty Images)
Doreen Lawrence and Sir Keir Starmer (Getty Images)

The next Labour government will introduce a new Race Equality Act to "tackle structural racial inequality at source", Keir Starmer has announced

The rare policy commitment comes in response to a review by Baroness Doreen Lawrence into why Black, Asian and other ethic minority communities (BAME) are being so disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The peer found that the virus has "thrived on" a situation created by decades of structural discrimination by the British state and society.

She said BAME people had been disproportionately exposed to the virus because they were overrepresented in public-facing industries where they could not protect themselves by working from home.

Overcrowded housing, which flowed from existing income and wealth inequalities, has also exacerbated the situation, the report found.

The investigation warned that workers had been put at risk by the Government's failure to enforce Covid-secure workplaces.

The Home Office's "no recourse to public funds" rule for certain people born abroad had also disproportionately affected people from BAME communities.

These factors, the Baroness said, had been compounded by "disgraceful racism", fuelled in part by global leaders such as Donald Trump calling Covid-19 a "Chinese virus".

Party leader Sir Keir said the report should be a "turning point" and said the next Labour government "will introduce a new Race Equality Act to tackle the structural inequalities that led to the disproportionate impact of this crisis".

In the foreword to the report, Baroness Lawrence said: “We are in the middle of an avoidable crisis and the Government cannot ignore the facts.

“If no immediate action is taken to protect those most at risk as we enter the second wave more people will unnecessarily die.

“If no long-term action is taken to tackle structural inequalities we will keep seeing this pattern of injustice occur beyond the pandemic.

“We have heard enough talk from the Government. It is now time to act.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, said the crisis had "laid bare the racial inequalities which have long existed in our society".

An earlier report by Public Health England said racism may have contributed to the unequal death toll of the pandemic, though one scientist advising the government last week said "structural racism is not a reasonable explanation" for the difference.

The Government last week launched an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement, with equalities minister Kemi Badenoch telling MPs: "We do not want to see teachers teaching their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt".

Some Conservative MPs have blamed black and minority ethnic people for a spread in coronavirus cases. In July Craig Whittaker said without evidence that the "vast majority" of those breaking lockdown rules were from BAME communities. His comments were branded "disgraceful and overt racism".

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