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Tue, 4 August 2020

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Has immigration policy contributed to excess BAME deaths from coronavirus?

Has immigration policy contributed to excess BAME deaths from coronavirus?

For ‘key worker’ occupations, where there was likely to be more frequent contact with others – including health and transport – there was a much higher chance of contracting and dying from the virus. One in five of such workers have been from BAME groups, says Alexandra Ming | Credit: PA Images

Alexandra Ming | Dods Monitoring

5 min read

Windrush, the impact of Covid-19, and the Black Lives Matters movement all speak to a pervasive institutional racism that has had, and continues to have, far-reaching and fatal consequences in our society.

Monday 22 June marked the 72nd anniversary of Windrush Day, an occasion which recognises the contributions of Commonwealth citizens who travelled to Great Britain following WWII. 

The event is as much a celebration of the men, women, and their descendants, who helped rebuild Britain after the war as it is a time for somber reflection of how discriminatory immigration policies led to the 2018 Windrush scandal

Home Secretary, Priti Patel marked the anniversary this year by announcing a new cross-governmental working group, whose aim it will be to “address the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and their descendants”.

Comprised of leaders from affected communities, and co-chaired by the Home Secretary and Bishop Derek Webley, the Group will have its first meeting today (Thursday 25 June). 

On Tuesday, Patel confirmed in a statement to the House that she would be implementing all 30 of the recommendations made in Wendy Williams’ ‘Windrush, Lessons Learned Review’

The review was commissioned by Sajid Javid during his tenure as Home Secretary, following mounting evidence that swathes of the Windrush generation had been unfairly targeted due to a ‘hostile’ immigration environment, resulting in individuals losing their homes, being made destitute, and in some cases even facing deportation. 

The Wendy Williams Review was a damning examination of how serious failings in the Home Office led to the Windrush scandal. 

This year, the anniversary of Windrush has fallen at a particularly poignant moment.

These failings included elements of institutional racism; a lack of understanding of the impacts of immigration policy; and decades of poor leadership in the Department. The 30 recommendations made by Williams are extensive and include the full admission of harm done by the Home Office. 

Black Lives Matter 

This year, the anniversary of Windrush has fallen at a particularly poignant moment. It was only last Thursday, on 18 June that MPs had been debating the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.

Windrush, the impact of Covid-19, and the Black Lives Matters movement all speak to a pervasive institutional racism that has had, and continues to have, far-reaching and fatal consequences in our society.

And it was only last Saturday, on 21 June that Black Lives Matter protests continued across the country, in solidarity with the global outrage following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, by police brutality in America. 

Windrush, the impact of Covid-19, and the Black Lives Matters movement all speak to a pervasive institutional racism that has had, and continues to have, far-reaching and fatal consequences in our society.

For many, overlap between these events indicates the inescapable frequency of discrimination, that has all too often been dismissed by mainstream political discourse. 

From Windrush to excess BAME deaths 

One of the major findings of Williams’ Review had been that the Home Office’s failed to monitor the racial impact of immigration policies, resulting in unplanned and complex outcomes. With this in mind, and in the spirit of reflection owed to Windrush day, it is worth considering how policies beginning in the 1940s could in part have contributed to excess BAME deaths caused by the coronavirus.  

Following WWII, the Labour Government committed themselves to rebuilding a British health and transport system worthy of a new and prosperous age. With the country already facing workforce shortages, the Government engaged in recruitment campaigns with Commonwealth countries, during which time they solicited hundreds of workers to join the NHS and Transport for London.  

Although successive immigration policies have changed since then, Governments of all stripes have repeatedly looked to international recruitment as way of resolving workforce crisis, particularly in the NHS. Even the new Immigration Bill is set to make special provisions for the health sector, with the Government stating that medical professionals will be fast-tracked for entry via a new NHS visa route. 

Heightening this occupational hazard across various settings, are reports that BAME workers have felt less able to demand safer working conditions.

The Public Health England Report which examined the risks and outcomes of BAME communities in relation to the virus, found that a major factor contributing to excess BAME deaths had been occupational hazards.

For ‘key worker’ occupations, where there was likely to be more frequent contact with others – including health and transport – there was a much higher chance of contracting and dying from the virus. One in five of such workers have been from BAME groups.  

Heightening this occupational hazard across various settings, are reports that BAME workers have felt less able to demand safer working conditions.

Although this cannot be concretely linked to immigration policies as discussed in Wendy Williams’ review, the hostile environment cultivated in the Home Office’s 2013 “Go home or face arrest” campaign, may speak to some of this sentiment.  

Successive policies such as this were found to foster a culture of fear and discrimination against migrants and non-migrant BAME individuals. 

When combining this rhetoric with exclusory immigration policies that permit only the “best and brightest” workers from across the globe entering the UK, a good/bad immigrant dictum is created. The end result of which may be that BAME workers feel less able to demand more from their employers. 

Current Government Bills 

With the Government’s new Immigration Bill nearing its Report Stage in the House of Commons, it will be interesting to see how Williams’ recommendations are actively implemented in discussions moving forward.

In the stages to have just passed the Public Bill Committee, debate around topics such as migrant surcharges have been frequent, as too has the messaging behind an Australian-based point system. 

The Home Secretary promised the House on Tuesday that she would present a plan for implementing the 30 Windrush recommendations before Parliament breaks for Summer recess.

Until then, our best indications of lessons learned from Windrush might lay in the legislation of the day. 

 

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