2020 has been a year unlike any other in recent memory. Few could have predicted that it would turn out the way it has. It started off with the Coronavirus outbreak – a global health pandemic that has been proven to disproportionately affect Black people. Then in the summer, we saw unprecedented civil rights protests following the killing by law enforcement officers in the U.S. of several unarmed Black people. The death of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd sparked global protests that spread like wildfire. These events and many others laid bare the continued injustices faced by Black people everywhere.

The UK is not innocent

After several marches and rallies in solidarity with African Americans, the focus quickly shifted to the situation at home. In the UK, there is a general sense of indifference amongst the wider population. This is possibly rooted in a misplaced belief that things might not be as bad as they are in the U.S. However, Covid-19 has helped to expose the truth about injustice and racial inequality in the UK. On 11 November 2020, the House of Lords and House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) released a damning report following an inquiry into Black People, Racism and Human Rights. The report outlined the stark and wide-ranging inequalities experienced by Black communities in the UK. It revealed that Black people fare worse across multiple areas in society such as health, criminal justice, employment, and education.

Findings from the inquiry highlighted the profound impact of structural racism in fuelling inequalities, particularly around healthcare and criminal justice. The report builds on countless previous commissions exploring racial disparities in the UK and more recent high-profile reviews into the disproportionate impact of Coronavirus on Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups by Public Health England and by Baroness Doreen Lawrence. It is clear that there have been more than enough consultations and enquiries into racial inequality over the years, it is now time to take the matter more seriously and act. Indeed, Baroness Lawrence asked the Joint Committee, “How many more lessons do we all need to learn? The lessons are there already for us to implement.”

Disparities in healthcare

According to a recent study based on 18 million people, Black people are now twice as likely to become infected with Coronavirus compared to White people. The review by Public Health England notes “[…] the central role of racism must be acknowledged, understood and addressed and there is an urgent need to build the evidence base around effective action and while taking effective action at every level in our society.”. Furthermore, Baroness Lawrence concludes that Coronavirus has “thrived on racial discrimination” and that UK ethnic minority communities are “overexposed, under-protected, stigmatised and overlooked”.

The JCHR rightly points to the astounding lack of progress in addressing concerns raised by earlier reviews such as the MBRRACE UK study which found that Black women are five times more likely to die during childbirth compared to White women. In response to this gross disparity, the JCHR Committee noted that “The NHS acknowledges and regrets this disparity but has no target to end it.” It is therefore unsurprising that the Committee found that a staggering 60% of Black people in the UK do not believe their health is as equally protected by the NHS compared to White people.

Criminal justice and other areas

These disparities and lack of trust can be observed in other parts of our statutory system, for example, Black people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and are 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Again, the JCHR Committee found that the overwhelming majority of Black people (85%) do not believe they would be treated the same way as a White person by the police.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is the statutory body responsible for protecting human rights, tackling inequalities, and holding the government to account. Regrettably, the JCHR Committee concluded that the EHRC “has been unable to adequately provide leadership and gain trust in tackling racial inequality in the protection and promotion of human rights”.

The way forward

The Africa Centre is deeply concerned by these findings and joins others in demanding an unequivocal response from those who have the power to act.  We serve diverse communities in the UK, Africa, and the global diaspora and have proudly done so for almost six decades. However, issues of race, equality, and social justice are particularly close to our hearts. As a London-based charity, the majority of our constituents are directly affected by social inequality and racial disparities. So, we demand accountability from relevant authorities and will keep these conversations going until lasting and meaningful change is achieved.

It is highly unlikely that the government’s latest ‘‘call for evidence’ around ethnic disparities and inequality in the UK will reveal anything that is not already known. There is absolutely no need for any more consultations or commissions into racial inequalities in this country. The evidence is clear and has been consistent for decades, we now need urgent and decisive action!

At the height of the #BlackLivesMatter-led protests in the summer, we shared our thoughts and recommended steps toward combating racism in order to achieve justice and equality for all. Following JCHR’s report on Black People, Racism and Human Rights in the UK, The Africa Centre:

  • Calls on the UK Government to centre the voices of African and Caribbean communities in the immediate response to the pandemic and in taking forward the recommendations set out by the JCHR Committee in full.
  • Strongly advises government and civil society to amplify and resource Black-led organisations that have established trusting and fruitful relationships with affected communities locally to address these issues.
  • Urges African and Caribbean community leaders and key individuals in the UK to demand seats at key decision-making tables. This should include the board of the EHRC which currently does not have a single Black board member.

Now is the time for action, no more long talking! Please consider donating to The Africa Centre so that we can continue researching, educating, and advocating for lasting and meaningful change.