October was Black History Month. This is the opportunity each year to celebrate the contribution that black people have made, and continue to make, to our society and our communities.
Nowhere is the contribution of black people more obvious than in Southwark, one of the most diverse boroughs in the country. According to data from the most recent census, 25% of Southwark residents reported their ethnic group as “Black, Black British, Caribbean or Africa”, well above the London average of 14% and the UK average of 4%. And Southwark has a very high proportion of residents who were born outside the UK, with 11% of Southwark residents born in Africa, substantially higher than the London and UK averages.
But Black History Month is also an opportunity to focus on the fact that there remains significant progress to be made before we can be satisfied that black people can consider themselves treated on equal terms with white people.
An awful problem which needs to be tackled urgently is that black women are at significantly greater risk of dying in childbirth than white women. Black women have consistently been the ethnic group most at risk during childbirth and the most recent data shows that black women are 3.7 times more likely than white women to die. An inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) into black people, racism and human rights commissioned polling which reported that 78% of black women felt that the NHS would not give them equal treatment, and the JCHR called for there to be an NHS target to end this discrepancy.
We not only need a clear target to close this gap but we must also have regular and publicly accessible monitoring of maternal mortality rates; the NHS must set clear targets to close the gap; we must work to close wider health and social inequalities; and we have to address the differential delivery of care that is the experience of too many black women.
Black people also understandably still do not feel that the criminal justice system treats them equally. In the same inquiry, the JCHR found that 85% of black people are not confident they would be treated the same as a white person by the police. And the release of Baroness Casey’s report into the Metropolitan Police earlier this year revealed that racism, misogyny and homophobia are rampant.
Sir Mark Rowley, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has vowed to reform the police. And as a London MP I will be holding him to account on that promise. Until such time as the Met have rid the force of racists they won’t command the confidence of black people or the wider community.
And black people are at a disadvantage in the labour market. Black people are more likely to be in insecure work, such as zero-hour contracts. And black African women are more disadvantaged than their white counterparts, earning 26% less than the average male worker compared to 14% for white women. Labour has announced that if we get into government we will tackle this, including with the introduction of the mandatory publication of ethnicity pay gaps for firms with more than 250 employees.
There is still much to do. But it is encouraging that in Peckham we are seeing increasing numbers of impressive black leaders in positions of power to lead that change. Not least the local borough police commander Seb Adjei-Addoh, who is the first black officer in charge of Southwark. And my successor as the Labour candidate for Peckham, Miatta Fahnbulleh, who is set to become the first black MP in Peckham and would be a truly brilliant representative of all her constituents.
October was Black History Month. This is the opportunity each year to celebrate the contribution that black people have made, and continue to make, to our society and our communities....