Last year I was proud to lead the first Black History Month debate in the House of Commons for five years. That was an extremely well attended debate with many excellent contributions from all sides of the chamber. This year, I’m pleased to have secured an adjournment debate so we can again celebrate Black History Month in the House.
The theme of this year’s Black History Month is ‘Proud to Be’ and I will be using the debate to highlight and celebrate Black Britons who have been under-appreciated and under-recognised in our national discourse. These Black British heroes paved the way for the generations who came after them, whether in politics, business, sport, or culture.
As well as paying tribute to great Black Britons, I also want to use the debate to highlight some of the inequalities that continue to affect Black people in this country – and that I believe the Government must do more to address.
Last year, I had two clear asks of the Government. First, I called for a comprehensive race equality strategy and action plan. There has been much discussion in the last year about the inequality and structural racism that still exists in this country – not least in response to the controversial Sewell Report. But we haven’t seen anywhere near enough concrete action from the Government.
A race equality strategy and action plan covering areas such as education, health and employment is desperately needed. It should include specific proposals to address well-known inequalities such as the ethnicity pay gap, unequal access to justice, and the impact of the pandemic on Black people.
The race equality strategy should also address issues which specially affect Black women, such as Black maternal health. The organisation Five X More has done so much to highlight the stark disparity in outcomes that Black women face when giving birth in this country. Black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth. We need a target to end racial maternal health inequalities – and an action plan for achieving this.
I also want to highlight the lack of specialised training for police and other agencies supporting black women who are victims of domestic abuse. Here I pay tribute to the organisation Sistah Space, a domestic abuse charity supporting Black women.I met with them recently to discuss their petition to introduce Valerie’s law.This is named in memory of Valerie Forde, who was murdered by her former partner in 2014 alongside her 22-month-old daughter.
She had previously asked the police for help after her ex-partner had threatened to burn down her house, but this was recorded only as a threat to property.
Whilst shocking, this story highlights that manyBlack women do not get the support they need because the police are not trained to spot and deal appropriately with domestic violence in Black communities. We need mandatory, specialist training for the police and others.
My second ask of Government last year was to take action to diversify the curriculum so that our children’s education reflects the full history and culture of our country. I am very pleased to see some progress on this. TheWelsh Government have become the first UK nation to make teaching of Black,Asian and minority ethnic histories and experiences mandatory in the school curriculum. Meanwhile, the OCR exam board has also recently announced that it is doubling the choice of books by writers of colour in its A-Level English qualification.
But more action is needed by the UK Government in this area – and I hope the new Secretary of State for Education will make this a priority.
Black history is British history, and we need to teach it all year round.