People are dying because of the British government’s racist policies

We don’t want to buy into a concept created by an enthusiastic proponent of the racist hostile environment, but Stephen Lawrence day will no doubt quite rightly be of real importance to the Lawrence family, Duwayne Brooks, and those close to them.

We all have a duty to speak up, particularly on days like this.

Legal aid lawyers become accustomed to witnessing the real-life costs of the UK’s racist policies and the resultant injustice faced by many simply because they are not white.

We deal with what we can with the tools at our disposal, trying to improve people’s lives whilst packing away the burning pain of seeing the human cost of these policies and the mess and agony of what people’s lives become. But sometimes it becomes too much, like now. Sometimes you just have to speak openly about what is really happening and about when the law fails.

This week we learned of yet another client who died during their fight against racist policies and without seeing justice done. This client was gravely ill and was denied potentially lifesaving treatment because he didn’t have the right immigration paperwork, despite having always had the right to be here and having lived here almost 50 years. He spent the last few years of his life fighting for that right to be recognised after the Home Office spent 15 years refusing to recognise that right. And although a judge eventually acknowledged the right he had always had to be here, it came far too late to be of any benefit to him.

Apologists for the government will point to the Windrush Compensation scheme, but it’s a smoke screen for the racist policies that permeate our public services. Hospitals are supposed to try and keep people alive, but the non-white population of this country will know that that doesn’t apply to everybody, because even in the NHS some lives matter more than others. Anyone who shuts their eyes to this is helping to perpetuate it and should feel deep shame.

This death of our client is not an isolated incident. We have helped many people get treatment after it has been refused but this is now the sixth client of ours who has died in pain, unwanted and without dignity, after being denied hospital treatment in the UK because they did not have the right documents and could not pay for the treatment in advance, and before the legal system could address that injustice. How can anyone accept that this happens in our society?

Today we acknowledge our client and the others whom the legal system has failed:

– The 13 year old girl who died of cancer after being denied chemotherapy.

– The 45 year old woman, also denied chemotherapy, who died having not seen her children for several years.

– The elderly Caribbean woman who was told by a doctor in England that she was going to be sent “back to Africa”, and who died in pain worrying about the debt she was leaving her daughter.

– The 35 year old man who died after being refused treatment for leukaemia.

– The 40 year old woman who died after being subjected to racist treatment by hospital staff, leaving behind a 10 year old daughter.

Everyone should be angry about this. Everyone should do something about it. Anyone who doesn’t is part of the problem.

Visit Patients Not Passports for some ideas on what you can do.

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