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A Women and Equalities Committee session yesterday highlighted the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME households and the Government’s failure to publish key equalities data which could be used to hold it to account.
The disproportionate economic problems facing Black and ethnic minority families, many of them working households, as a result of Covid-19 are in danger of being ‘buried’ because of the Government’s failure to publish an equalities impact assessment, a Women and Equalities Committee session heard yesterday.
The Government has failed so far to publish its equalities assessment of the emergency legislation dealing with Covid-19, with Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities, saying she thought publication would stop people coming forward with evidence. The Women and Equalities Committee has written to her asking her to publish it so that the Government can be held to account.
Dr Zubaida Haque from the Runnymede Trust said the absence of data put all the onus on civil society organisations with a fraction of the Government’s resources to produce the data needed to chart the impact of its policies on the ground.
Cym D’Souza from BME National said that the lack of publication of key data meant the Government was not being held to account. She added that a lack of representation of Black and ethnic minority people in leadership roles from housing organisations to Government meant important questions were not being asked.
Witnesses, including Dr Andrea Barry from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, gave detailed evidence of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black and ethnic minority people – particularly women – due to them being more likely to be in low paid, often insecure work [particularly zero hours which Black and ethnic minorities were twice as likely to be in than white people], including frontline key worker jobs. They are also more likely to be facing housing issues, including potential homelessness as a result of the cap on housing benefit [which does not recognise local rents – a big issue in London], the lack of social housing, the cost of rent and other benefits changes brought in over the last 10 years, such as the two-child limit on child benefit.
The Committee heard that the suspension of eviction proceedings during the lockdown was just postponing the threat of homelessness, unless the lack of a proper safety net for lower paid families was addressed. People from Black and ethnic minority groups are four times more likely to be made homeless than white people, said D’Souza.
They are also more likely to miss out on some of the policies put in place to help families during lockdown. For instance, one in five zero hours workers do not qualify for Statutory Sick Pay or Universal Credit as their incomes are too low, said Dr Haque.
She said that, while the Government had raised Universal Credit and extended it to self employed people, many had already built up debt by this point. The furlough scheme had also helped many, but the Committee was told that 80% of a very low salary might not be enough to cover costs. Moreover, many have not been able to access the furlough scheme because of the type of jobs they are in and a significant number of those furloughed fear redundancy as the scheme is wound down.
Childcare costs are also a big issue. D’Souza said there was little that local authorities could do because most of the root causes of the problems were due to central government policy. “Centralised government policies have the biggest impact on people’s ability to get out of poverty,” she said.
The Committee heard from witnesses that the way to help people was to provide quality, increase Universal Credit, strengthen the social security net, launch a public information campaign about Universal Credit tailored to vulnerable communities to improve awareness and address the issues associated with the five-week wait for Universal Credit which advance loans did not fix. They just force people into greater debt.
Haque said the Government’s lifting of the suspension of the Universal Credit requirement to be actively available for work would only make things worse, given the coronavirus pandemic is by no means over. D’Souza also highlighted the problems faced by people with no right to remain in the UK who had no recourse to public funds and faced destitution and hunger. Many were working in low paid frontline work, she said.