Labour pledges ‘Race Equality Act’ as party releases Lawrence Review

Sienna Rodgers
© Southbank Centre / CC BY 2.0

Keir Starmer has committed to implementing a ‘Race Equality Act’ as the Labour Party launches a new report on the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus crisis on minority ethnic communities.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence was tasked by Labour in April with investigating how Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have been affected by Covid-19 and government policies during the pandemic.

The Labour leader has taken the opportunity as the review is unveiled to announce that if he leads the party into government it will introduce a Race Equality Act to “tackle structural racial inequality at source”.

Lawrence has used her report to put forward both immediate and long-term recommendations, with the overriding objectives being to protect those most at risk from Covid-19 and to address inequalities.

Noting that the UK government “has not done enough to protect people ahead of the second wave” of the virus, the paper urges ministers to set out an urgent plan that will benefit BAME communities during Covid.

The Labour peer has identified that coronavirus has “exposed the devastating impact of structural racism” and also has itself “fuelled racism”, which has been “feeding into the enforcement of restrictions”.

The report, which is based on submissions and conversations over Zoom featuring “heart-wrenching stories” as well as quantitative data, issues the following 20 recommendations:

  • Set out an urgent plan for tackling the disproportionate impact of Covid on ethnic minorities
  • Implement a national strategy to tackle health inequalities
  • Suspend ‘no recourse to public funds’ during Covid
  • Conduct a review of the impact of NRPF on public health and health inequalities
  • Ensure Covid-19 cases from the workplace are properly recorded
  • Strengthen Covid-19 risk assessments
  • Improve access to PPE in all high-risk workplaces
  • Give targeted support to people who are struggling to self-isolate
  • Ensure protection and an end to discrimination for renters
  • Raise the local housing allowance and address the root causes of homelessness
  • Urgently conduct equality impact assessments on the government’s Covid support schemes
  • Plan to prevent the stigmatisation of communities during Covid-19
  • Urgently legislate to tackle online harms
  • Collect and publish better ethnicity data
  • Implement a race equality strategy
  • Ensure all policies and programmes help tackle structural inequality
  • Introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting
  • End the ‘hostile environment’
  • Reform the curriculum
  • Take action to close the attainment gap

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.”

For the first time, Labour has not only called for ‘no recourse to public funds’ to be scrapped during the crisis – which Jonathan Reynolds had already done – but also for the policy to be reviewed overall.

The ‘NRPF’ immigration condition applies to almost all migrants granted limited leave to remain in the UK, especially those on student or spousal visas and those with limited leave granted under family or private life rules.

It means not being eligible to access to benefits such as income support, housing benefit, council tax benefit or personal independence payments, and it can leave migrants at risk of destitution in the UK.

The Lawrence Review also encourages the government to press on with its renters’ reform bill, which would have scrapped Section 21 no-fault evictions but appears to have been kicked into the long grass.

The report also observes that minority ethnic workers are over-represented in sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic, such as hospitality, while Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers are more likely to be self-employed.

Lawrence puts pressure on Chancellor Rishi Sunak by recommending that the government conducts and publishes equality impact assessments on the support schemes being provided to workers during the crisis.

Although Sunak has revised his winter economic plan twice to make it more generous, calls for 80% wage support have been refused and the self-employed will only be able to get 40% of their average monthly trading profits.

Due to the overexposure of ethnic minority workers to the virus, the review backs the TUC’s demand that employers should publish their coronavirus risk assessments and specifies that this should be on a central government portal.

The report urges the government to ensure that employers report Covid cases from workplaces and that they are recorded. This is in line with health and safety law, but bosses have been told not to register occupational cases.

Commenting on the launch of the report and Labour’s new Race Equality Act pledge, Starmer said: “I welcome this report and thank Doreen for her tireless work, as well as those who have responded to the review.

“Government ministers should absorb this report and act immediately. Failure to do so will leave many of our fellow citizens badly exposed over the winter.

“This must be a turning point. That’s why 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.”

Lawrence has been appointed as Labour’s race relations adviser. She worked with Starmer before he entered politics as he helped bring the prosecution against the killers of her son Stephen Lawrence.

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