THE sermon last Sunday at the church I attend concerned the integrated nature of things, all reaching up to that great controlling intelligence which lies somewhere beyond our ken. I think that was it anyway. I was having happy thoughts about how well Christmas with my friends had gone.
As I walked home in the weak winter sun, I passed an Asian grocer’s and saw a woman, part of the owner’s family, without a mask, in a paroxysm of coughing. She spat the contents of her throat and mouth on to the ground outside the shop. I politely said that spitting into the street is not a good idea, especially at the moment.
‘What do you want me to do with it?’ she yelled.
‘Put it into your handkerchief,’ I replied. She looked blank, then started expostulating about the terrible illness she was suffering from and how ‘sick’ she was. I walked away and as I did, she screamed ‘Virus!’ at me with all the spitting venom she could muster.
It’s unpleasant to be shouted at and my festive spirit slumped. Hearing the Queen’s Christmas Message, relishing the joys of ‘cultural diversity’, for the first time ever I felt a tinge of annoyance. Who are the people around HMQ, telling her for instance that Mary Seacole was a nurse who risked her life in the Crimea? Seacole kept a mobile canteen behind the lines, she was never a nurse and never referred to herself as black.
The Queen’s words reflected the blinkered, unrealistic view of the elite from Buckingham Palace down, now reflected in all our institutions. Last week in the Guardian, Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think-tank, accused the government of pursuing a divisive ‘white nationalist agenda’, favouring the white working class at the expense of ethnic minorities in an attempt to win votes.
She also accused the government of being slow to address the increased risk to ethnic minorities from Covid and using ‘BAME’ appointments cynically to deny ‘structural racism’.
She’s right, the government have been slow, they don’t want to touch the issue of race and Covid-19 at all. Who can blame them? South Asians in the UK are 20 per cent more likely to die from the virus than other ethnic groups, twelve years younger. Successive governments worshipping at the shrine of multi-culturalism have ignored the obvious need for those communities to change.
It’s obvious, from my small experience on the street and the statistics, that some communities need more basic health education. The BBC preferred to blame the Pakistani death rate on the government for not testing enough. But it was the BBC which shone light on the issue last October, with the Radio 4 documentary Born in Bradford. This was based on a hospital study of 12,500 mostly Pakistani pregnant women, and 14,000 babies born between March 2007 and December 2010 and tracked for several years.
Bradford has some of the highest rates of childhood illness not just in the UK but the developed world. Bradfordians suffer from a huge scale of obesity, type 2 diabetes, 40 per cent of five-year-olds have tooth decay compared with a national average of 25 per cent, others have disabilities caused by first-cousin marriage. There’s a high infant mortality. The town has the third highest number of Covid-19 deaths after Rochdale and Leicester.
Begum, an LSE graduate, was once British Council Director of Education, East Asia, involved with education programmes, but doesn’t mention that issue at all, preferring to accuse the British with the nebulous catch-all ‘structural racism’. In contrast, Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum in Leicester, where adult diabetes is 50 per cent higher than the average, making the population more vulnerable to the virus, has bravely written about the practical impact of government reluctance to intervene due to political correctness.
‘The problems were hidden because of the city’s social, economic and cultural make-up,’ he wrote in the Mail on Sunday. ‘It’s an inescapable reality that ethnic minorities face particularly acute challenges when it comes to coronavirus.’
He went on: ‘I have had growing concerns that my city was heading for a severe Covid outbreak because since the end of April, lockdown here has been observed in name only . . . Watching this play out was like living in a parallel world. Some pleaded ignorance of the lockdown rules. Others claimed that the council had not informed them of any measures. This was laughable, but what concerned me was that the local authorities were turning a blind eye and until [a Sunday Times report] continued to do so. A Covid outbreak was inevitable but no one wanted to take responsibility to stop it . . . The rules should have been enforced to protect our community.’
Who would dare to try any ‘enforcement?’ Instead, ‘outreach’ has been suggested to those ‘hidden’ people. But the NHS has spent £64.4million on translation services in the last three financial years. That’s £59k per day and rising. ‘Lack of English’ is code for Asian women at home or in the shop, like the one I met last week, with no education.
It would have been simple enough to tackle this lack, if the ideology of ‘multi-culturalism’ hadn’t got in the way. Child benefit could be dependent on women learning English. British Asian men could be discouraged from taking wives in Pakistan rather than women already here. Labour’s abolition of the ‘Primary Purpose Rule’ in 1997, under which applicants had to prove that marriage was not motivated by desire for immigration, greatly increased the number of spouses granted settlement. Those vulnerable girls, often illiterate in their own language, now form one of the largest migrant groups.
As the vicar said last Sunday, everything interconnects. In the UK lack of initiatives from the centre to integrate migrants into the whole state has led us to an epidemic much larger than it need have been. It’s not just a vaccine that’s needed, but a belated cultural shift from platitudes to a courageous will to tackle the problem of public health in our ethnic communities.