A chance for lasting change

Tower Hamlets Council has set up a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Inequalities Commission

The shocking death of George Floyd and subsequent demonstrations across the world brought the subject of racial inequality to the forefront of personal and political discussions. 

Tower Hamlets witnessed several Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in which people of all ages and backgrounds came together in a shared view that the status quo was no longer an option. 

We took early decisive action with our partners at the Museum of London Docklands and the Canal & Rivers Trust to remove the statue of slave owner Robert Milligan from where he had stood unchallenged and out of historical context for many years. 

He will return, in time, to public view within a more appropriate setting that puts his personal achievements alongside education on the human price paid as a result of the slave trade.

A positive outcome triggered by the BLM protests was local discussions about ongoing levels of racial inequality that continue to adversely affect people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. 

This included the fact borne out from studies, including by Public Health England, that people from these backgrounds are significantly more likely to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19. 

In response, John Biggs, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, tasked me to lead a new Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Inequalities Commission. 

As we celebrate Black History Month, I’m pleased to say that our work is well and truly under way. We want to hear the lived experiences from local people but also their great ideas, so that we can bring about a set of practical, tangible and lasting changes.

Equality is embedded in our major partnership plans so that addressing inequalities is a core part of our outlook and the way we deliver public services. 

Tower Hamlets is a place that has, for generations, welcomed people from all over the world, and at times has come together in solidarity to stand up to racist attacks from those who wish to divide us. 

We’re a very diverse borough, and I’m very proud of my own Bengali heritage. It’s a part of my identity, as is being an East Ender, but knowing that a community’s life chances might be pre-determined by their background or skin colour needs to be challenged.

We must recognise that there remains much room for improvement to achieve greater equality. We know that racial discrimination means some people have had neither equal access to public services or employment, nor fair treatment and life chances.

The commission’s main four focus areas are community leadership, health, education and employment – and they run alongside our aims to: 

  • engage and operate at the heart of Tower Hamlets’ communities to hear about people’s lived experience and solutions
  • work with institutions to advance and prioritise race equality to achieve an inclusive, cohesive, thriving and representative Tower Hamlets
  • influence local, sub-regional and regional leaders who have significant influence on Tower Hamlets, particularly in the development of policy and strategy practices and the allocation of resources.

Despite the major challenges these issues bring about, it’s actually a very exciting time for Tower Hamlets, and I’m proud to be involved in this unique opportunity to help deliver real change.

I also look forward to sharing the experiences and progress of the commission with first readers in the future.

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