Councillor Abdul Hai: Covid, ethnicity, and the power of local leadership.


Twitter: @abs_hai

What Camden Labour is doing to tackle the inequality the pandemic has exposed

When Labour-run Camden Council learnt that Covid-19 was spreading across London and the UK, we knew it would be more important than ever to support our local communities and help to save lives in Camden. As the pandemic progressed, it became clear that residents from Black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds were being disproportionately impacted.  

How Covid-19 disproportionately impacts on our communities           

We learnt that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death from the pandemic; and that people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other Black ethnicity are at between 10-50% higher risk of death, when compared to their White British counterparts.  

Camden was determined to use all leverage to respond to the pandemic.  To get the message out, I spoke to Channel S, a Bangladeshi TV channel, to emphasise the importance of complying with government guidelines on social distancing and only going out when essential. Given the impact on the Bangladeshi community, it was important to reach out in ways that mainstream channels were unable to do. Our fellow community leaders and Councillors created accessible communication including videos and WhatsApp messaging.

Covid-19 has exposed the deep structural inequalities in the UK.  We recognised that urgent action was required. Our new working group committed to implementing a rapid six-week programme to review the disease’s disproportionate impact. Our aim was to investigate and gather evidence quickly so that we could take immediate action to protect our residents, and develop a call to action to make long-term, substantive change. We looked at issues ranging from health to employment and sought evidence to better understand the issues.

We found that:

  • A significantly higher proportion of Asian residents were shielding or clinically vulnerable from Covid-19;

  • Overcrowding impacted on the way in which people could self-isolate;

  • In Camden, 73% of households with points allocated for overcrowding on the Council’s Housing Allocation Scheme have a lead tenant from a Black, Asian or other ethnic minority background; and

  • A disproportionate number of young people from Black, Asian and other ethnic minority backgrounds were registering to access online mental health support.

In August, we released Building equal foundations – Camden Council. We had heard evidence from councillors, senior officers, health practitioners, schools, young people and members of the community. After gathering in this experience, we developed over 140 actions to tackle the impact of Covid-19 and its systemic inequalities. 

Next steps: Building truly equal foundations

As we move into the next phase of our response to the pandemic, Camden Labour are working to ensure that all our communities are protected.  We will be monitoring progress against our action plans, and have set up a cross-party councillors’ working group to monitor progress. 

The hard work and commitment of community leaders, the wider community through mutual aid groups, and public health colleagues, has shown the collaborative spirit that defines Camden.  At these most difficult of times, we have all come together to support each other. We have been fortunate in Camden to have had one of the lowest overall death rates in London. This is a testament to the work that everyone has been doing to care for the most vulnerable and those who are hardest to reach. As a Camden Labour councillor I am proud to represent such a caring and courageous borough.

As the title of our flagship report suggests, we must build the foundations so that everyone in Camden – regardless of their ethnic or social background – has an equal opportunity to enjoy healthy lives. We must also ensure that we emerge from this unprecedented crisis to a better, fairer, and greener society in which everyone is able to achieve their full potential. 

Cllr Abdul Hai is Cabinet Member for Young People, Equalities and Cohesion at Camden Council.