The Coronavirus pandemic has presented all of us with an unprecedented challenge. I wanted to provide an update to you all regarding the kind of work that the community, my team and myself have been doing to provide all possible assistance to those in need of support.
At the beginning of the crisis, most of my energy went toward ensuring constituents stranded abroad could return home safely. This included constituents in Morocco, Peru, India and Pakistan. As the virus began to spread, I then focused on pushing the government to implement stricter social distancing measures, calling for a national lockdown to reduce the spread of COVID19. Once the lockdown was finally announced, I received an increasing number of letters, emails and phone-calls across an increasingly wide range of issues.
This included support for private renters, the self-employed and others on insecure contracts, non-UK nationals, refugees, asylum seekers, nurseries, rough sleepers, businesses and microbusinesses, hospices, the creative industry, estate agents, Ltd. Companies, children on free school meals, the aviation industry, the theatre industry and people with disabilities. Many constituents have also expressed their concern over PPE, testing, NHS funding, non-essential services remaining open, loopholes in the furlough scheme, panic buying, care-home deaths, forced cremations, a lack of access to reproductive health, the closure of parliament, the potential closure of allotments, police powers, exam-cancellations, a no-deal Brexit and travel insurance. In addition to responding to individual cases, I have written to several departments, including Health, the Home Office, the Treasury, Education, Work & Pensions, Housing and the Foreign Office, in order to represent these concerns at a national level.
Ethnic minority deaths and COVID-19
I have been particularly alarmed by the fact that ethnic minorities are at greater risk of being infected with – and dying from – COVID-19. A report found that a third of people critically ill with coronavirus were from ethnic minorities, despite making up only 14% of the population. This means that when the figures are matched to the local population, black patients are over-represented at a rate of double the local population.
These statistics were circulated at the same time as it emerged that NHS staff who were dying from the virus were disproportionately from an ethnic minority background. Most recently, the ONS found that the black people are 4 times as likely to die from coronavirus than the white population.
I was glad to see the government announce agree to conduct a review into why ethnic minorities are at greater risk of Covid-19. However, it is still unclear what this review will actually entail. As I said on LBC, it is clear BAME workers, especially in the frontline, are more affected by this disease, and if we are in the business of saving lives, we must do what we can to protect these individuals. It is essential that Public Health England are guided by the expertise and the evidence. Any investigation must thoroughly examine socio-economic (e.g. housing, employment, health and geographical disparities) and pathological factors, as well as the overlap between them (e.g. ancestral access to immunization). We’ve got to quickly get on top of the evidence. Ultimately, this issue was being raised weeks ago by our ethnic minorities population and it’s taken some time to move forward and accept the alarming reality.
In many ways, despite being placed under immense pressure, the crisis has brought out the best in our community. Over the course of the crisis, I have visited three foodbanks across the area: The North London Community Consortium, The Somerford Grove Adventure Playground, and the Selby Centre (below). Witnessing the amazing work being carried out by a multi-generational and multi-racial coalition of staff and volunteers was truly overwhelming. A testament to the support, love and solidarity that has emerged from this crisis, these organisations continue to provide fresh food, emotional support and invaluable guidance to so many people in the face of extreme adversity.
Please find the following list of websites and organisations for support, as well as information on how you can help others in your area:
For latest health advice visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19
For up-to date Government updates visit https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response
For the Mayor of London’s latest updates visit https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/statement-coronavirus-covid-19
To access local support and advice call Haringey Council’s Connected Communities line on 020 8489 4431 (open Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm) or visit https://www.haringey.gov.uk/community/connected-communities
Employees and employers seeking advice should visit https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus
The self-employed seeking advice, visit https://www.ipse.co.uk/ipse-news/news-listing/coronavirus-ipse-activity-and-advice-freelancers.html and https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tax-helpline-to-support-businesses-affected-by-coronavirus-covid-19
For mental health support, visit
https://www.kooth.com/ , https://www.good-thinking.uk/ or call Samaritans on 116 123
For schools guidance, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-educational-settings-about-covid-19
For information on Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit, visit https://www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance and https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/employment-and-benefits-support/
Support for businesses can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/financial-support-for-businesses-during-coronavirus-covid-19 and https://www.fsb.org.uk/campaign/covid19.html
The government has made a commitment to support those in the private rental sector, including suspending evictions for 3 months. If you are facing housing difficulties, please visit https://www.homesforharingey.org
Mutual Aid Groups are being set up across Haringey to help those who are self-isolating and in need of support. You can find information on how to get involved by searching for Haringey COVID-19 Mutual Aid on Facebook. You can also visit www.nextdoor.co.uk and search “Coronavirus: Haringey neighbours supporting each other.”
More people are relying on foodbanks. Tottenham Town Hall are accepting donations between 11.30 -18.30. Alternatively, you can make a donation at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/tottenham-foodbank or https://www.bankuet.co.uk/tottenham
Anyone thinking of volunteering in the community should first visit https://www.haringey.gov.uk/covid-19/haringey-together for advice on staying safe.
My new role as Shadow Justice Secretary
It is a great honour to be appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and I am grateful to Keir Starmer for giving me the chance to serve in his cabinet. I am thrilled to be working with Lyn Brown, Alex Cunningham, Peter Kyle and Karl Turner on the shadow Justice team. I am also grateful to my predecessor, Richard Burgon, in particular for his vital work on legal aid.
The COVID19 outbreak has put immense pressures on our prisons and courts. The crisis has created a conflict between two fundamental issues. On the one hand is the issue of public health; already too many people who work in our prisons, probation services and courts, as well as those who are incarcerated, have died because of the virus. On the other hand, the justice system still needs to do its job: protecting vulnerable people, including victims of domestic abuse; adjudicating on the terms of the lockdown; ensuring people are not simply stacked on remand, awaiting justice indefinitely; and defending human rights and the rule of law. I co-proposed several ways in which the system must swiftly adapt to the crisis in an article with Lord Falconer. More specifically, we must commit to emergency funding of legal aid; implement remote hearings - or stream cases online - where appropriate and possible; provide financial support to the legal profession, which has largely been excluded from the government’s coronavirus package; and urgently reduce prison overcrowding. You can read the article in full here: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/commentary-and-opinion/pulling-our-justice-system-back-from-the-brink/5104113.article?clearcache=1
Some of these adaptations will be temporary. Other should reflect the permanent changes we want to keep. We must do all we can to help defeat the virus, but we must also ensure the system is never so vulnerable again. Looking at some of the issues more closely, the changes we make to our justice system today will shape it for decades to come.
In terms of the legal profession, for example, I wrote for the New Statesman about the sweeping misconception of lawyers during this crisis. There does remain immense privilege and wealth in some areas of the law, but the truth is that junior criminal barristers working on legal aid cases come from a variety of backgrounds and, for some jobs, earn less than the minimum wage. If we do not support them now, there will be no one to represent victims and defendants when the coronavirus crisis is over. You can read the article in full here: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2020/05/covid-19-criminal-justice-barristers-earning-legal-lockdown
Regarding our broken court system, on the 1st May, I wrote to the Justice Secretary, calling for an emergency action plan for courts and the judicial system in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This emphasized the importance of access to early legal advice, safe ways to re-open the doors of the court system, protecting the legal profession and implementing a system of “open justice.”
More specifically, on this last point of “open justice”, I have been focusing on the possibility of livestreaming court cases during and after the coronavirus outbreak. There were already huge backlogs in court cases before the Covid-19 crisis began. If urgent decisions are not made now, the justice system will be at breaking point by the autumn. Many large courtrooms, university lecture halls, schools and leisure centres are currently sitting empty. The Ministry of Justice should co-opt these buildings if necessary to carry out socially distanced trials according to public health advice. To maintain public confidence in the justice system, with a few exceptions, all court cases should be streamed online. That’s why I’ve been calling for the livestreaming of cases to become the norm during and after the Covid-19 crisis. You can read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/may/01/labour-livestream-court-cases-during-and-after-covid-19-crisis-justice
On prisons, I have been pushing to prevent prisons from becoming hotspots of covid-19. Not only would this put the health of prisoners and prison staff at risk, prisons also risk becoming pumps that spread the virus into the rest of the community. That’s why I have been closely monitoring the government’s early release scheme, which the government itself said is necessary to protect the NHS and save lives. Initially, the government announced that they wanted to bring forward a release scheme for up to 4,000 prisoners. In my first appearance in Parliament as the Shadow Justice Secretary, I asked the Secretary of State to “update the house on how many prisoners have been released and sadly how many prison officers and staff have lost their lives and how many prisoners have lost their lives.” After the Secretary of State informed me that just 33 prisoners had been released, I told him that “we cannot keep prisoners in their cells for 23 hours a day. It puts prison staff at risk, never mind potentially breaching very serious human rights. What’s his exit strategy in terms of tracing, upping testing, and moving back to a degree of order in our prisons? Or we could be seeing of course rising tension across the country.”
Ultimately, I have been determined to ensure that, once we emerge from this crisis, things do not return to business as usual. I have already had a very productive phone call, as well as two in-depth briefings - with the Justice Secretary. I outlined my particularly strong commitment to tackling racial disproportionality in our criminal justice system, widening access to legal aid, protecting victims of violent crime and improving systems of rehabilitation.
In addition to the Justice Secretary, I have met virtually with the Lord Chief Justice, Department of Public Prosecutions, unions (including the Prison Officers Union, Unison, Napo, and Community), various think-tanks (including Justice, Nacro, Transform Justice, Howard League for Penal Reform, and the Prison Reform Trust) and several law organisations (including the Law association and Bar association).
Ultimately, as I have always insisted, I an MP for Tottenham and I am an MP because of Tottenham. My new role as Shadow Justice Secretary does not change this. Far from it. Over the past 20 years, my passion for criminal justice reform has been shaped by my interactions with disillusioned and oppressed communities in Tottenham, my first-hand experience of racial disproportionality, my conversations with vulnerable people lacking access to legal aid and my observation of families being torn apart by the criminalisation of their children. Everything I do is rooted in my priority to protect and fight for my constituents.
Finally, it is very important not to allow other, important issues to be brushed under the carpet during times of crisis. That’s why I have been extremely busy across a wide range of other campaigns, events and constituency matters. I will share three examples.
Firstly, at the beginning of the outbreak, the Windrush Report was released. This report was a brutal indictment of the Home Office, which shows that it is wholly unfit for the society it is supposed to serve. The review states that the Home Office displayed “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” on race issues that is “consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism.” The review accuses the Home Office of having a “defensive culture” that makes it deaf to those raising genuine concerns. I will continue to work with the Shadow Home Secretary to ensure that the government implements every single recommendation in this review. Beyond this, the government must also significantly expand their compensation scheme and commit to the complete eradication of the Hostile Environment.
Secondly, I have been working closely with the Shadow Home Secretary to scrutinise the government’s handling of rising knife crime. More specifically, we have been persevering to seek updates from the government on the progress of the Serious Violence Taskforce. I am still waiting for a written question to be answered by the Home Office, which I submitted on the 5th February and chased up on the 4th March.
Thirdly, we cannot allow climate breakdown to fall off the radar. That’s why I was proud to present local organisations in our constituency with recognition at the Climate Coalition GHHA Awards. As we sit in self-isolation, forests are still burning, species are still extinguishing, sea-levels are still rising and our planet is still dying. In fact, our response to both COVID19 and the climate crisis are intimately related. Both represent a large-scale threat to human life. And both crises reveal fundamental flaws in how our society and economy are organised. Ultimately, it is no coincidence that pollution has temporarily lowered around the world during the lockdown. Make no mistake, this is not because human activity has paused. It is because our brutal economic system has paused. Once this period has ended, we must learn the right lessons, one of which is to fundamentally change how our economy operates. In light of impending climate breakdown, we do not have a minute to spare.