Thousands could be spreading coronavirus 'because they can't speak English'

THOUSANDS of people may be unwittingly spreading the virus because they can’t speak English and don’t understand the rules, a peer has claimed.

India-born Baroness Verma said the pandemic had lifted the lid on swathes of the population who have failed to integrate into British society.

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She believes some Asian residents could be putting themselves – and others – at risk because they failed to get the message on social distancing.

Worse still, many were put in harm’s way because they worked in overcrowded sweatshop factories unaware they were being exploited on low pay.

Lady Verma said: “The pandemic has shone a torch on this issue in my city of Leicester, where communities have failed to understand important government messaging due to language barriers.

“Many people have been here for years but are excluded from available schemes and services and the wider opportunities just because they do not have English language skills.

“During elections, the parties send out leaflets in many languages but during the Covid crisis all the material was in English.”

Millions of pounds were spent on public information campaigns – including £5.8million sending a letter from the PM to every house in Britain – but they were almost exclusively in English.

Lady Verma said there were no leaflets in any other language delivered in Leicester when the second lockdown was imposed, despite half the population originating from outsides the UK.

DIVIDED COMMUNITIES

The Tory peer said of multi-generation families who live together, buy from their local shop and mostly watch Asian language TV.

Many have lived here for years, she added, but don’t know how to communicate in English outside their small circle of friends.

The Tory peer added: “There are huge numbers of people who have lived here for a long time but don’t know how to communicate in English.

“If public information leaflets were sent out, they probably wouldn’t understand them.


"It’s not their fault for not being able to speak English so much as the failure of local councils to give them access to learning it.

“It explains why people end up being exploited. It’s because they don’t even know about the minimum wage.”

India-born Lady Verma, who was a baby when her parents moved to Britain, has called on ministers to ensure community funding is linked to a commitment to improve English language skills.

She said: “If we are funding community centres and halls with public money, then part of it must surely be with strings attached so that some of it is spent on integration.

“Thousands of people are still being deprived of the chance to reach their full potential, simply because they are unable to communicate.

The language barrier explains why people end up being exploited – they don’t even know about the minimum wage.

“This results in people being stuck in the same community for a lifetime, unable to earn a decent living, often being exploited and, as the pandemic has shown us, suffering ill-health as a result.

“Local councils are partly to blame. Some of them have divided communities by putting lots of money in which have separated them from everybody else.

“If we are using the public purse to support communities there has to be some mechanism to ask local councils how they intend to spend the money.”

Official figures shows Asian and Asian British people made up a third of those who tested positive for coronavirus in the week up to July 26.

Public Health England stats revealed 37 per cent of positive cases in England were among the Asian and Asian British population.

White people made up 53 per cent and black, African, Caribbean and black British people five per cent.

A Tory MP was accused of racism last week after claiming the “vast majority” breaking the lockdown were from black and ethnic minority communities.

Craig Whittaker, who represents Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, said there were “sections of our commmunity” who were not taking the pandemic seriously.

He added: “If you look at the areas where we have seen rises and cases, the vast majority – not by any stretch of the imagination all areas – it is the BME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.”

Labour equalities spokesman Marsha de Cordova said his comments were “disgraceful and overt racism.”

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