End the stigmatisation of communities

The Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled racism as some have sought to blame Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities for spreading the virus.

At the start of the pandemic we saw shocking acts of hate crime against Chinese and East Asian communities, fuelled by the branding of Covid-19 as the ‘Chinese Virus’ from senior global figures, taken up by the UK far right. A survey carried out by psychologists at the University of Oxford in May found that nearly 20 per cent agreed to some extent with the statement that “Muslims are spreading the virus as an attack on Western values" [1] and the far right have spread conspiracy theories that mosques were illegally open during lockdown. [2] The Community Security Trust has highlighted an explosion of antisemitic conspiracy theories regarding the virus and we heard that the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community had been the targets of excessive racialised media scrutiny during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite SAGE having warned the Government in July of a risk that local restrictions could lead to racial stigmatisation and discrimination, little has been done to counter these narratives and, in some cases, rather than being challenged by politicians, they have been reinforced. For example, Conservative MP Craig Whittaker tweeted:

“If you look at the areas where we've seen rises and cases, the vast majority, but not by any stretch of the imagination all areas, it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough." [3]

This also appears to be feeding into the enforcement of restrictions by public authorities too. Liberty has found that police forces in England and Wales are up to seven times more likely to fine Black, Asian and minority ethnic people for violating lockdown rules. [4] Yvette Cooper, Chair of Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee raised the fact that young Black men were stopped and searched by police more than 20,000 times in London during the coronavirus lockdown – the equivalent of more than a quarter of all Black 15 to 24 year olds in the capital. 80 per cent of those stopped were found not to have done anything that required any further action. [5]

The disproportionate number of fines and stop and search during this period reflects a broader disproportionality across the justice system. The direct and indirect effects of this disproportionality are to deepen financial hardship and raise employment barriers for ethnic minority groups. This is one of the reasons the Lammy Review recommended introducing a system for sealing criminal records, as used in several US states.

Any stigmatisation or discrimination must be challenged strongly whenever it rears its head. It is the responsibility of all those in positions of power to be absolutely clear that any disproportionate impact of this virus on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities is not a result of choice but due to structural inequality, inadequate protective measures and Government inaction.

But while there are countless examples of racism and injustice during this pandemic, there has also been much to offer hope. We have seen worldwide solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, with people of all races lining the streets in support. In Surrey a hospital was named after Mary Seacole, in tribute to the Black, Asian and minority ethnic NHS employees, following campaigning from Patrick Vernon OBE and others. The Hindu Forum of Britain told us how temples across the UK provided support in the community and to frontline workers. Moving forward we must do more to publicly recognise Black, Asian and minority ethnic heroes if we are to change the narrative and tackle racial prejudice.


Recommendation 11:  Develop and implement a clear plan to prevent the stigmatisation of communities during Covid-19

The Government must develop a clear plan, in conjunction with local authorities, to combat stigmatisation of communities during the Covid-19 crisis. The plan should include action to address the increase in hate crime and scapegoating seen during the pandemic, including online. As part of this plan the Government should provide clear guidance on the application of the law on inciting racial hatred, and political leaders should issue a joint statement to condemn any attempt to pit communities against each other.

Recommendation 12: Urgently legislate to tackle online harms

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has warned that Covid-19 has ‘’exacerbated online harms before the machinery to deal with them has been put in place’’. The Government needs to take this issue seriously and must urgently bring forward its much-delayed Online Harms Bill. [6]

Promoted by David Evans on behalf of the Labour Party, both at Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QT.