PM to hold MP Craig Whittaker to account over unsubstantiated claims that show racist bias

PM to hold MP Craig Whittaker to account over unsubstantiated claims that show racist bias

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Craig Whittaker made these comments on a national platform and they were widely reported in the media. These unsubstantiated comments have caused racial division and have fuelled and perpetuated racist prejudices, new and existing. 

I want parliament to hold Craig Whittaker to account for his words, and to send a message that MPs cannot scapegoat minorities for society’s ills.

These are Craig Whittaker’s words to LBC:

"What I have seen in my constituency is that there are sections of the community that are not taking the pandemic seriously”

Ian Payne (the interviewer) sought to clarify that he was talking about the Muslim community and Mr Whittaker responded:

"Of course. If you look at the areas where we've seen rises and cases, the vast majority - but not by any stretch of the imagination all areas - it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.

Firstly I’d like to point to the fact that Craig Whittaker’s constituencies, using the 2011 census data, are over 95% white.

There is no evidence to support that it is BAME residents in the constituencies held by Craig Whittaker that are not adhering to social distancing measures or ‘taking the pandemic seriously’. There are a number of reasons as to why BAME heavy areas are seeing the highest number of cases (population density, types of work, size of households), so to plump for the “not following the rules” reason without the stats to support this supposition speaks loudly to a racial bias. This type of thinking is something we as a society should be doing more to recognise, point out and fix.

Craig Whittaker issued a further response:

“Calderdale seems to have a higher rate of contacts identified through test and trace than average which could indicate household transmission in large households and/or lack or adherence to social distancing”.

As of 23rd June 2020, two households were permitted to mix indoors and outdoors as long as social distancing was adhered to; if the transmission is increased due to households mixing (again, Craig hasn’t provided any solid data to prove this) this was within the rules at the time.

Craig goes onto say:

Cases are associated with Park ward in central Halifax – the current area of highest incidence – and other areas of deprivation and Asian groups;

“For context, it is important to note other data released by the Council has reported that:

* Park ward is the most highly populated ward within the Borough of Calderdale and that the proportion of residents that identified as ‘Asian’ grew from 60% in 2001 to 67% in 2011 (which is the last census date for which we have data).
* Warley ward ranks as the ward with the second greatest ethnic Asian population after Park ward.
* Of the 44 cases reported between 20.07.2020 - 26.07.2020 within the Halifax Parliamentary constituency (one of the two areas that makes up Calderdale), 35 came from Park and Warley wards.”

In reference to Park Ward there are other factors to take into consideration, including income deprivation, multi-generational households and overcrowding. Park Ward shows a huge disparity in these areas to other, lower affected areas in Calderdale. For example:

• 17.3% overcrowding in Park Ward compared to Calder at 5.7%.

• In Park Ward 7.5% claim tax benefits compared to 2.3% in Calder.

Craig Whittaker’s analysis doesn’t just lack context but ignores the wider social and economic factors while focussing on blaming the behaviours of BAME residents, which have no factual basis.

It’s also been noted on a number of occasions that BAME workers are disproportionally affected by COVID-19 due to structural racism. One of these areas is job roles as taxi drivers, transport workers, health workers and retails workers and due to their financial instability, forcing them into work without the opportunity to benefit from the furlough scheme. 

In relation to point two, Warley Ward may have the second greatest Asian population after Park Ward, but Craig fails to mention Warley Ward is 81.81% white with a 16.31% Asian population which is significantly lower than Park Ward. Without clearly stating what the number is in Warley Ward, he is misleading his audience.

It was reported in the Halifax Courier that these areas have had the highest COVID infection numbers over the last four weeks up to 29th July 2020:

Pellon West & Highroad Well

Pellon East

Norton Tower & Mount Tabor

Savile Park

King Cross

Pellon, Highroad Well, Norton Tower and Mount Tabor all sit under Warley Ward which as previously mentioned is 81.81% white. To say this is primarily due to Asians, Muslims and immigrants not taking the pandemic seriously is unsupported.

The lack of qualitative and hard data suggests Craig has formed an opinion based on his existing prejudices against the BAME community.

Craig Whittaker has so far stood by his comments, re-iterated them and made no apology.

The issue was raised to PM Boris Johnson in Parliament, and was simply evaded. In the era of Black Lives Matters we have a responsibility to challenge those who would seek to reinforce old prejudices and stereotypes. Particularly, where these comments seek to distract from the reality of the situation by scapegoating minority groups.

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