The guest blogger this month is Abdul Hai, Cabinet Member for Young People, Equalities, and Cohesion.
When I first heard that COVID-19 was spreading across London and the UK, I knew that my role as a community leader would be more important than ever in supporting our local communities and helping 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.
In March, my brother tested positive for the coronavirus and my elderly mother was unwell with symptoms. We shared the pain of other families across the UK in being unable to visit them. I have spent many hours, particularly during weekends, assisting families to navigate the new death registrations process for COVID -19. I have referred residents to bereavement services to cope with the emotions and challenges with burials.
The disproportionate impact of COVID-19
We have since learnt that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity have around twice the risk of death; and people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other Black ethnicity have between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to their White British counterparts. I was determined to use my role as Cabinet lead for Cohesion and Equalities, to shape the Council’s response to the pandemic. Whilst there will be difficult challenges ahead, we must ensure that the lasting impacts are not felt disproportionately by Camden’s ethnic minority communities.
I was interviewed on 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. Many of my fellow community leaders and Councillors created accessible communications including videos and WhatsApp messaging.
Building Equal Foundations
COVID-19 has exposed the deep structural inequalities in the UK. We recognised that urgent action was required. I worked with Juliet Billet, Director of Public Health for Camden and Islington, to establish a working group to implement a six-week programme to review the disproportionate impact. We looked at issues ranging from health to employment and sought evidence to better understand the issues.
Our key findings were that:
- a significantly higher proportion of Asian residents were shielding or clinically vulnerable from COVID-19;
- overcrowding impacted 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 background; and
- a disproportionate number of young people from Black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds were registering to access online mental health support.
On 7 August, we launched the “Building Equal Foundations” report. We had heard evidence from Councillors, senior officers, health practitioners, schools, young people and members of the community. We developed over 140 actions to tackle the impact of COVID-19 and its systemic inequalities.
As we move into the next phase of our response to the pandemic, I remain committed to ensuring that all our communities are protected. I will be monitoring progress against our action plans. I am setting up a members’ working group to monitor outcomes. We will also be setting up a citizens’ panel to enable residents to act as critical friends and hold us to account for the delivery of all the 140 actions.
The Council has set up the Local Outbreak Engagement Board chaired by Councillor Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council, which I attend with colleagues from Public Health, senior Council officers, community leaders, police, and practitioners. This will ensure that we have the right mechanisms in place to manage any future local outbreaks.
The hard work and commitment of community leaders, the wider community through mutual aid groups, and Public Health colleagues, has shown the collaborative spirit of Camden. At these most difficult times, we have all come together to support each other. In Camden, we have seen one of the lowest 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 the hardest to reach. It makes me proud to represent such a caring and courageous borough.
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.
Abdul Hai is an elected Councillor for King’s Cross ward and Cabinet Member for Young People, Equalities, and Cohesion. He was brought up in Camden and attended local state schools. He gained a BA in Informal & Community Education, Canterbury Christ Church University College. As an elected Councillor and Cabinet Member for almost 15 years, he brings an in-depth knowledge of local government.
Abdul has sought to make local government legitimate and relevant to those he represents, creating bridges between the many diverse communities. His political involvement in local government has led to local and national campaigns.
Abdul is a member of various bodies including Co-chair of Camden’s Youth Safety Taskforce Steering Group, Knowledge Quarter Steering Group, Member of Camden Community Safety and Youth Offending Partnership Board, and previously Governor of Westminster Kingsway College, Trustee of St Andrews Charity and Member of London Council’s Grants Committee.