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Readers' Letters

Gazette letters: Toppling statue, Homerton Hospital, BAME Covid report and Brexit

PUBLISHED: 08:30 13 June 2020

Protesters throw statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

Protesters throw statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

When the people of Russia and eastern Europe rose up 30 years ago and tore down the statues of Stalin the British establishment cheered, writes Sasha Simic, Stamford Hill, full address supplied.

When the giant statue of Saddam Hussein that stood in Firdos Square, Bagdad was pulled down in 2003, the event was celebrated by the Western elite and was given prime time television coverage.

When the statue of the 17th century slaver Edward Colston was toppled by anti-racist protesters at the weekend home secretary Priti Patel denounced it as “utterly disgraceful” and the vocal racist Boris Johnson cited the event as proof that the Black Lives Matter movement has been “subverted by thuggery.”

Colston became wealthy by transporting 84,000 enslaved men, women and children from Africa. 19,000 of them died in the crossing to America.

The British establishment cheer the fall of statues of evil people - unless they’re statues of evil British people.

Many Gazette readers will have been sorely disappointed, indeed angered, at last week’s news that the Homerton Hospital Trust Board looks set to extend its current contractual relationship with the Danish-based multinational ISS for a further five years without so much as a competitive tendering exercise, writes George Binette, trade union liaison officer, Hackney North & Stoke Newington Labour Party.

The board has bypassed the trust’s own council of governors, so undermining the governors’ scrutiny role.

The trust’s chief executive, Tracey Fletcher, has publicly recognised the considerable commitment shown by the hospital’s cleaners, porters, catering and security staff amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and yet such praise rings hollow if she and the board are committed to signing a contract, which does nothing to address the gross disparity in pay, terms and conditions between these critically important staff and direct NHS employees. Critically, there is no guarantee that ISS will provide full occupational sick pay under the terms of the contract. The GMB and UNISON have already had to argue strenuously for improvements to sick pay in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.

Occupational sick pay is not simply a matter of parity with NHS staff. Full financial protection for workers in a hospital setting is essential to infection control. No worker should be faced with the dilemma of either attending while ill or trying to scrape by on just £95.85 a week, the current rate for statutory sick pay.

In addition, the board’s decision to continue with ISS shows scant regard for a predominantly Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workforce against the background of a pandemic, which has hit BAME groups especially hard. The board’s move also raises questions about whether the Covid crisis will serve more widely as a cloak for the continuation and still further extension of privatisation within our NHS.

As an individual Labour Party member I offer my solidarity to the ISS workers at the Homerton and to their trade unions, and am confident that Hackney Labour members and politicians will stand with these men and women. Meanwhile, time is of the essence as the new contract with ISS is due to be signed on June 30 and I urge Gazette readers upset by the trust board’s decision to write urgently to chief executive Tracey Fletcher (tracey.fletcher@nhs.net) with a copy to board chairperson Sir John Gieve (john.gieve@hns.net).

Last week, the government bowed to pressure and released Public Health England’s report on coronavirus health inequalities, writes Jennette Arnold OBE, London Assembly member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest.

The report confirmed Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more likely to contract and die from Covid-19. This tragic and unjust situation demands action. So, I was disappointed the report made no recommendations to the government.

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It is also concerning that evidence from BAME organisations and experts were not published with the report.

In January this year, Professor Michael Marmot’s landmark review of health inequalities revealed that a decade on from his first study, divides have got wider. Coronavirus has tragically illustrated this.

It is a shame the government ignored the report at the time, and the new Minister for Equalities admitted she had never heard of it.

The mayor is right to call for a public inquiry into the disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has had upon BAME communities, and it is positive that the Equality and Human Rights Commission have now decided to launch one.

In the meantime, we know that poverty, overcrowding, and key-worker job roles are all linked to the higher infection and death rates for BAME people.

The government must now act upon these factors and the stark health inequalities in our society.

I have watched with interest the great and the good, politically, from East London demanding to know over the last few weeks why it was that there was a greater risk of people from ethnic minorities contracting and dying from the coronavirus that people from the majority white population, writes Imran Khan, Hackney, full address supplied.

There have been several articles in the Archant Group newspapers in Hackney and Tower Hamlets as well as in the national media demanding an enquiry as to the causes of this.

The mayors of both boroughs, Diane Abbott, Rushanara Ali and assorted self appointed experts and spokespersons have all suggested that there was some hidden agenda and to uncover it there had to be an “independent” enquiry as otherwise, presumably, there would have been a cover up. The truth would now appear to be out and it was detailed by a former long-time councillor and leader of Tower Hamlets Council Helal Abbas on his website weeks ago. www.helalabbas.com. Click “My Thoughts” and the letter to Sadiq Khan.

He dispelled any connection to racism, structural or otherwise and put the whole thing down to two factors, that ethnic minorities are over represented in the health sector, especially at the sharp end, and also that they are more likely to have underlying health issues, suffer overcrowding and unemployment and as a result of their environment have psychological issues which further lower resistance. In other words, a thought-out analysis of the situation and not one which jumps to conclusions.

It now seems that the recent, this week, government report on the issue completely vindicates Helal Abbas and shoots down the array of critics to the extent that one of the most prominent, Simon Woolley, of Operation Black Vote, whatever one of those is, had this to say. “We’ve now clearly established that this deadly disease does not target race or ethnicity” which is a full 360 degree turn from what he has been saying! As Mr Woolley advertises himself as the chairman of the Number 10 Advisory Board for the Race Disparity Unit maybe the prime minister should consider sacking him and appointing someone who knows what they are doing like Helal Abbas. I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve just seen a new report (from Best for Britain and the Social Market Foundation) on the double impact of Brexit and coronavirus, and feel like I’ve spotted an iceberg on the horizon that everyone else is ignoring, writes Sylviane Decroliere, Cropley Court, Hoxton.

The report shows that any change to our trade relationship with Europe during the Covid-19 recession will hurt the UK economy. The North West and the Midlands regions of the UK would face a disproportionately severe impact should we leave the Brexit transition period without any deal.

Brexit is done and we cannot stop it, but we can protect our jobs, our services and our local businesses. However, our communities are already stretched to breaking point by the coronavirus pandemic and we desperately need time to deal with that before we can turn our focus to our changing relationship with the EU.


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