Investment not cuts, the #peoplesbudget we need – Donna Guthrie, BARAC UK

“The increased racism of the hostile immigration controls mean that black workers and our communities faced at the same time the Windrush scandal, a mismanaged compensation scheme, forced detention and deportations.”

This article is an edited version of the speech given by Donna Guthrie, BARAC UK Women’s Officer, at the Investment NOT cuts event hosted by Arise Festival. You can read her speech or watch the meeting in full below:

We have faced over 10 years of Austerity, with cuts to jobs, welfare and public services, and 3 years of a pandemic that has impacted the most on Black communities, women, the elderly, disabled and young people

These disproportionate impacts have amplified racism with Black people facing increasing inequality in income, employment, housing, health, and targeted viciously with racist immigration controls under the government’s hostile environment.

Black women have been impacted more so, often concentrated in low paid, part time or temporary jobs. Hardest hit by austerity and now with the cost-of-living crisis unable to afford huge price rises.

Black women are at least 3 times more likely to be unemployed compared to their white counterparts. And we have seen 13 years of cuts which have impacted on women’s centres and refuges.

Women’s earnings have been hammered and black women are facing increased social and economic hardship due to systemic racism.

The Covid Pandemic exposed the racial inequalities in society, Black workers were exposed to Covid and died at higher rates of death. More likely to be front-line workers, lacking adequate PPE provision with a lack of financial support to self-isolate and no entitlement to occupational sick pay entitlement. Living in the worst housing conditions and with higher levels in overcrowding. We clapped while they died disproportionately from Covid.    

Year on year huge cuts to local government funding, from central government, have seen some of the most deprived boroughs like Newham in East London, facing huge cuts to services and jobs.

Last year Newham refuge workers, some of the lowest paid, from my union Unite, had to take sustained strike action to win a decent pay rise, in a face of this cost of living crisis.

We support the calls for a People’s budget and the demand outlined in the Labour Assembly Against Austerity  petition to Rishi Sunak.

  • We need an end to Zero-hour contracts and precarious jobs that black workers are more likely to be in.
  • We need a real living wage and a rise in the National Minimum wage to £15 an hour,
  • An increase in statutory sick pay,
  • Employment rights from day one 
  • And workers should not be made to pay for the cost-of-living crisis!

These gains would have a positive impact on black communities.  

Fat cat employers should not be let of the hook and Government should fund our public services and ensure all essential workers – Key Workers that kept the economy going during the pandemic are paid the fair pay rises they demand!    

My daughter works in a school and yet is unable to afford private housing or to buy a home. Her income simply isn’t enough. Housing is broken. We need real social housing! 

My Son in Law, a teacher was out on strike on 1st Feb with his NEU collegues. They deserve a pay rise!

On that day, I marched alongside tens of thousands of strikers in central London. I met many black workers, young workers, women workers striking for the first time. Realising the strength and power that they hold if they organise together to win.

As well as being the National Women’s officer for BARAC UK, I am a proud Unite union activist.

As a black worker myself impacted by the cost of living crisis, I led our pay campaign last year to ensure we protected workers and particularly lower paid workers.

We successfully won a pay rise which targeted the lowest paid staff, those impacted by austerity and systemic racism, our black staff on low grades, our staff that were forced to move back to their parents, staff forced to take out monthly loans to survive.

We made sure that, as our Unite General Secretary, Sharon Graham said, if the money is there, the workers shouldn’t be made to pay!

I am proud of what I and my members won!  

BARAC UK sends Solidarity to all those union members out on strike on budget day, this Wed 15 March! Around 600, 000 Workers up and down the country will be on strike and taking to the streets to demand an alternative budget:

Teachers in NEU, Junior doctors in the BMA and HCSA, London Underground drivers represented in the Aslef union, Civil servant workers in PCS members Public sector workers in Prospect union, dental trainees in BDA, NUJ members in BBC local, and University staff in UCU.

I would like to plug a petition BARAC UK launched in Dec against Job cuts in BBC radio launched in Dec.

Sign our petition to stop the BBC axing Black and Asian radio shows, model MP letter.

Systemic Racism, is such that Black and brown workers here, that kept the economy going during the pandemic, in the NHS, care workers, shop workers, transport workers, security guards, were clapped, yet still faced disproportionate deaths from covid, increased inequality, poverty and deprivation.  

And the increased racism of the hostile immigration controls mean that black workers and our communities faced at the same time the Windrush scandal, a mismanaged compensation scheme, forced detention and deportations.    

Black people often face such dangers that they don’t get a chance to think about economics and budgets.

Tonight, we send our solidarity to protests in Parliament Square against the Anti-Refugee Bill!

An evil bill, that will see the push back small boats in the Channel. Sentencing to death people seeking protection and fleeing danger.

An evil bill that will tear up protection for refugees, punishing people for trying to seek safety and stop people who get here from being able to rebuild their lives.

Lets be clear, this is an abuse of human rights and it is essential that we challenge it collectively. Nobody embarks on such a perilous journey unless they believe what they are fleeing is worse than what they are to face. 75% of those crossing the Channel on small boats are children.

We must shout loud and clear Refugees are Welcome Here!

We have been here before and we must unite and defeat this bill.

Back In 2021, when the Government instructed Border Force agencies to start turning away small boats of migrants,BARAC UK launched a hard-hitting petition on ActionStorm and started to spread it amongst their supporters. 

As the campaign ramped up, BARAC joined civil society groups from across the UK to form the ‘Citizenship is a right’ coalition, and stage several protests against the upcoming ‘Nationality and Borders Bill’, something that would have further penalised refugees seeking asylum

Sustained public pressure finally led to a defeat for the government.

Through sustained protest from BARAC UK and other high profile organisations, public pressure, news coverage, defeats in the House of Lords, and legal challenge in the courts, the government did a U turn and retracted the policy. 

While this battle was won, the fight is far from over, and the government has come back again with this evil bill.

We stand with decent civil society and with Gary Lineker, push back is a death sentence. The ‘turnaround’ policy was in breach of UN humanitarian laws, and contradicted the UK’s own laws on supporting asylum. The majority of people surveyed 82% want to help refugees but this Government wants to distract us all from their corruption and failures. 

Its classic Divide and Rule! We must all oppose racism wherever it is.

Three year on from the global #BLM protests sparked by the police murder of George Floyd, racial inequality has continued and the need for change is as pressing now as it was back in 2020.

We must defeat this bill! Black Lives Matter!

Four years after Government was forced to publicly apologise for the Windrush scandal and Amber Rudd’s resignation as Home Secretary,

The Home office has continued with forced mass deportation flights.

Even the height of the pandemic and lock down with international Covid restrictions it did not stop them chartering planes to Jamaica.

Inhumane and draconian legislation under this govt will strip people of their nationality and force the deportation of vulnerable asylum seekers, who arrive here to seek safety, to Rwanda

BARAC alongside other organisations including ACAL for Justice, Movement for Justice and Detention Action campaign to stop deportation flights and to raise public awareness and alert black communities to seek legal assistance.

Sustained public pressure can lead to a defeat for the government.

I urge you all to sign the BARAC UK petition here and support the campaign against this anti refugee bill in whatever way you can.

We still have to demand that BLACK LIVES MATTER

Featured image: General Election – End austerity – Vote for real change, December 10th, 2019. Photo credit: Diego Sideburns under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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