‘It’s all them sweat-shops they have!’ The rare voice of what sounded like a white working-class woman on BBC R4 ‘Any Answers,’ after a question about why Leicester was going into another lock-down.
The presenter quickly moved on. The following day the Sunday Times revealed, under a blaring headline: ‘Fashion giant faces ‘slavery investigation,’ that Asian workers in Leicester making clothes for the fashion chain Boohoo, under the sign Jaswal Fashions, had been working for £3.50 an hour (the UK rule is £9.30) in what the Home Secretary called ‘truly appalling,’ conditions without any Covid-19 protection. People were forced to work when ill. Being illegal migrants with little English, they couldn’t complain.
In Leicester there are believed to be about a thousand such ‘sweat-shops,’ operating under the noses of factory inspectors, the police, local MP, Leicester’s Textile Manufacturer’s Association, HMRC, Leicester City Council and non- Asian residents. Councillors can enter fast-food restaurants and pubs but are not allowed to enter garment factories, a rule which puzzled Harriet Harman MP, as Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, when she led a fact-finding mission, 2016-17, into ‘sweated labour’ in Leicester, a term most people thought was consigned to the history books.
She warned that between a third and three quarters of workers were being paid below the minimum wage and working in unsafe conditions. She wanted that law changed to allow councils to investigate but presumably failed to get Jeremy Corbyn interested, and the situation in Leicester went on being ignored. Harman investigated following research by Leicester University revealing systematic abuse of workers and a Channel 4 Dispatches program, but until Covid-19 no one wanted to know; Asian business practises were obviously best left to Asians to sort out.
Lockdown Leicester reflects the ideological refusal of the government to either control migration or actively encourage integration. Coupled with this, we now live by the ‘Cologne Syndrome;’ terrible events must be ignored in the interest of ‘cultural sensitivities,’ (fear of being called racist) even if that exposes vulnerable people, often women, to harm.
An extreme example is surely that members of the Rochdale grooming gang, sentenced to lose British citizenship and be deported after their jail terms, after losing appeals against deportation, are still here, back in the same town, to their victims’ distress.
The British public is still disgusted that those ‘sensitivities’ stopped the police investigating Asian grooming gangs targeting white girls for decades. That same ‘cultural cringe’ a refusal to investigate a particular community is now adding to the death toll in the pandemic.
Lockdown Leicester has been hard for Woke broadcasters to explain. South Asians are twenty percent more likely to die from the virus than other ethnic groups, and do so twelve years younger. The BBC tried the line that it was the government’s fault for acting too late and not testing enough, but that doesn’t explain the soaring incidence of the virus according to ethnicity.
On BBC Woman’s Hour, Carol Cooper, an NHS, ‘Equality and Diversity Manager,’ blamed racism from white colleagues deliberately, she said, sending black staff onto dangerous wards. But the main issue has been the Asian community, nearly five million people according to the 2011 census, who often live in a parallel world where British law hardly applies.
The BBC have not always been reluctant to identify specific problems in a particular community. Last October a Radio 4 documentary unit, launched a startling series, Born in Bradford, based on a study at Bradford Royal Infirmary of 12,500 pregnant women and 14,000 babies, between March 2007 and December 2010, tracking them for years.
Although the image on the BBC web-page shows skinny white middle-class children, the majority of children studied were Pakistani, suffering from a huge scale of obesity, type 2 diabetes, forty percent of five year olds have tooth decay, compared to a national average of 25%, others have disabilities caused by first cousin marriage, and there’s high infant mortality. Bradford now has the third highest number of Covid deaths, after Rochdale and Leicester.
It has been said that some communities haven’t been able to protect themselves from Covid through a lack of English. The NHS spent £64.4 million on translation services in the last three financial years. That’s £59k per day and rising. ‘Lack of English’ is code for Asian women at home often illiterate in their own language given no possibility of learning English and being completely reliant on their male relatives and children for help.
Leicester is about deep culture which has gone unchallenged for fifty years. One wonders who originally thought it was going to be good for Asians in the UK and for wider society, if they were allowed to go on living in an Asian bubble, floating in a previous century, rather than joining the modern European state they’d chosen to join.
Manzoor Moghal, Chairman of The Muslim Forum, Leicester, also asked this question in an honest piece in the Mail On Sunday. He wrote that in Leicester, ‘The problems were hidden because of the city’s social, economic and cultural make-up. It’s an inescapable reality that ethnic minorities face particularly acute challenges when it comes to coronavirus.’
He’d had ‘Grave and growing concerns that my city was heading for a severe Covid outbreak because, since the end of April, lockdown here has been observed in name only.’
Lockdown was ordered on March 23 but he saw sweatshops opening again by April 22nd, ‘at ‘100 per cent capacity.’
He also worried that, ‘Many workers in the local textile factories that provide so much local employment and in the densely packed markets where a lot of Asian food is sold, had given up observing social distancing. They were carrying on with their pre-coronavirus lives as if nothing had happened.’
‘Watching this play out was like living in a parallel world,’ he wrote. ‘Some pleaded ignorance of the lockdown rules. Others claimed that the council had not informed them of any measures. This was laughable, but what concerned me was that the local authorities were turning a blind eye and, until last week, (the Sunday Times report) continued to do so. A Covid-19 outbreak was inevitable but no one wanted to take responsibility to stop it.’
He makes the same observation and probably wants the same answers as the despised white woman on Any Answers.
‘Why did no one in authority ensure that the basic safety rules were upheld in shops and in factories?’ he asked in his article. ‘While the police lectured dog-walkers for venturing out too far they seemed to allow sweatshops to operate without batting an eyelid.
‘The rules should have been enforced to protect our community. A place such as Leicester should have been a priority, particularly since diabetes is a known coronavirus risk factor. The city has adult diabetes almost 50 per cent higher than the national average. Those in authority failed.’
He even asserted that the Asian view of death added to the problem:
‘Many people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are what I might call fatalists,’ he wrote, ‘believing that we will die when are meant to die and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. I know someone who’s been refusing to observe social distancing and will not wear a mask for precisely this reason. He believes that his fate is written in the stars.’
Moghal echoes Daniel Defoe, in his Journal about the plague of 1665, who wrote that merchants reported that, ‘The presumptions of the Turks and Mahometans in Asia upon every Man’s End being predetermined and unalterably decreed, they would go unconcerned into infected places and converse with infected persons, so they died at ten or fifteen thousand a week, whereas Europeans who kept retired, generally escaped the contagion.’
He also suspects that while mosques and temples in Leicester have shut during lockdown, it’s likely that some worshippers have gathered to pray in the confined air of their living rooms. His piece ends with the question, ‘How, then, do we get out of this mess?’
Apart from stopping illegal migration, solutions might include making welfare benefits including child benefit dependent on learning English by mothers. It might mean making it harder for British Asian men to marry foreign peasant girls.
Since the abolition of the Primary Purpose Rule, by Labour in 1997 under which applicants had to prove that their marriage was not primarily motivated by immigration, the number of spouses granted settlement in the UK has rapidly increased. They now form the largest single category of migrant settlement, forty per cent in 2010.
Keith Vaz, then Labour MP for Leicester East, was quick to welcome that change.
‘An historic decision,’ he said. ‘Thousands of people separated under this cruel and malicious rule will now be treated with the respect they deserve. This is the first step toward restoring justice to Britain’s immigration policy.’
Bringing Leicester’s Asian population into the 21st century is possible, it could be as simple as imposing the minimum wage in all businesses and allowing regular checks on working conditions. But finding a solution will need a profound cultural change; not among South Asian men but among the institutions of the British state which are largely run by liberal, wealthy, white western people.