East and Southeast Asian Community Conversation


Date: 05 September 2020 Venue: Hackney Chinese Community Services, 28-32 Ellingfort Road, E8 3PA Organisers: The Potluck Club and the Hackney Chinese Community Services


The London Recovery Board

The London Recovery Board, set up by the GLA, aims to:

• reverse the pattern of rising unemployment and lost economic growth caused by the economic scarring of COVID-19

• support our communities, including those most impacted by the virus

• keep young people safe

• narrow social, economic and health inequalities

• deliver a cleaner, greener London

They are placing engagement, involvement and inclusion at the heart of London’s social and economic recovery. It is crucial that all Londoners can influence, shape and participate fully in our capital's recovery from COVID-19.



The Community Conversation

To that end, the Potluck Club and the Hackney Chinese Community Services held a Congee Brunch and Community Conversation, in compliance with the Government’s social distancing guidelines, limiting the number of participants to fewer than 30 people, with full precautionary measures.


The Community Conversation was attended by many Potluck Club members, East and South East Asian (ESEA) activists and representatives from ESEA organisations formed during the pandemic to support the ESEA community in dealing with COVID-19, in particular the spike in racist hate crime towards these communities. The attending organisations included: Jun Mo Generation, Southeast and East Asian Centre, End the Virus of Racism, and CARG (COVID-19 Anti-Racism Group).


The Conversation selected the following aims of the London Recovery Board:

  • Support our communities, including those most impacted by the virus

  • Narrow social, economic and health inequalities.


The HCCS and the Potluck Club focused this ESEA Community Conversation on the following:

Mission 5: Enabling resilient communities

Mission 6: A robust safety net

Mission 8: Better health and wellbeing for Londoners most affected by the pandemic.

The ESEA Community Conversation took the format of three breakout groups; each discussed one of the Mission areas and gave feedback to the whole group, to agree on the key findings to report to the London Recovery Board.

Each breakout group explored a large amount of issues relating to the Mission area in discussion and during feedback, gave many detailed findings and recommendations. There were also a large number of findings and recommendations that were common to all three breakout groups.


Due to the short notice, we have decided to concentrate this report on the overarching issues identified by all three breakout groups. A detailed report on each of the mission areas will follow in the coming weeks.


About the London Recovery Board

  • The ESEA Community Conversation noted that there was no ESEA representation on the LRB. We recommend that the LRB widens its membership to include representatives from the communities most affected by the pandemic.


About the Community Conversation

  • The ESEA Community Conversation felt that the time span was too short to have a thorough discussion on all the mission areas. Some highlighted the following as important to discuss:

Mission 2 : Green New Deal (without this, everything else is pointless)

Mission 4: 15 minutes cities (‘Localism’ and access is key to community wellbeing)

Mission 7: New Deal for young people (most COVID-19 hate crime towards ESEA communities came from teenagers, education and other opportunities would help to reduce this).

About the Missions

  • The ESEA Community Conversation understands that the mission statement is taking a broad overview; however, participants felt that some of the missions were so broad and vague, making it difficult to hold any authority to account.

  • The lack of statistical,data or robust research into the ESEA community made it hard to focus on facts, e.g. what are the statistics on ESEA affected by the pandemic or on their education or training opportunities? What percentage of ESEA children are living with parents who are illiterate in spoken or written English?

  • In summary, the lack of detailed information about the ESEA community - other than the threefold increase in COVID-19 hate crime towards this community reported in the media - is an obstacle to the LRB responding to ESEA community needs. Too often, the GLA is responding to critical needs. We hope that diversifying the LRB and including ESEA members will ensure better strategic planning for the ESEA community.


About the “Chinese” and “Asian – Any other” in the census

  • The ESEA Community Conversation noted that there wasn’t a category of “East and South East Asian” in the census ethnic categories. The nearest estimate of the number of ESEA population from the census categories would be the combined population of the census categories “Chinese” and “Asian – Any other”.

  • In the 2001 census, the combined population of the “Chinese” and “Asian – Any other” in London was 193,234; this grew to 522,871 in the 2011 census, a 170% increase. No doubt this trend will continue to be reflected in the 2021 census.

  • In the 2001 census, the combined population of the “Chinese” and “Asian – Any other” in London constituted 2.7% of the London population; this grew to 6.4% in the 2011 census, more than doubling in a decade. No doubt this trend will continue to be reflected in the 2021 census.

  • Despite the significant growth in numbers of ESEA London residents and their percentage in London demographics, the GLA and London boroughs’ investment or specialist service provisions for ESEA communities remained stagnant.

Overarching issues identified by all three breakout groups

There are a number of overarching issues identified by all three breakout groups (the issues are not listed in order of priority):

  • None of the local authorities or public bodies, including the GLA, have terminology for the “East and South East Asian” community

  • GLA’s “working definition” of “South East Asian” appears to be extracted from a Google search, which is based on the states in SouthEast Asia. This working definition is problematic in neglecting the fact that Taiwan and Hong Kong are geographically in South East Asia, but are administratively different from the People’s Republic of China.

  • The lack of terminology and definition for the ESEA community has resulted in a lack of recognition of people from the ESEA community.

  • The needs of the ESEA community are being overlooked, and are not considered during the allocation of public resources.

  • The lack of public investment to research or study the living conditions of the ESEA, means there is a lack of relevant and specific service provision from local authorities and public bodies. The lack of public provision towards the needs of the ESEA community leaves this community (unfairly) having to fend for itself.

  • Immigration sets the baseline for inequality by putting some of the ESEA community on the verge of the poverty line. Recent ESEA arrivals are first and second generation migrants starting their lives in the UK with no recourse to public funds. This sets them on a mindset of lack of rights in the UK as a fact of life. The racist ‘model minority’ trope is extremely pernicious - the ESEA community, like any other group, needs at least the same levels of public support offered to all other community groups. Since ESEA communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 – in hate crime, cyberbullying, bullying at school / workplace and loss of employment, eg. Chinatown businesses were severely impacted by negative media reports months before lockdown, resulting in many job losses – the ESEA community urgently needs more support from the GLA, both to rectify decades of underfunding, but also to address the fact that this community has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, more than any other (see the statistics provided by the Met Police; the online research company, L1ght; and the YouGov Poll reported in the Financial Times that the ESEA community suffers the highest levels of racial abuse in the UK. See also www.carg.info)

  • This in turn results in the ESEA community over-relying on social connections as a safety net, eg. family, friends, work colleagues, employers, church and social groups, rather than accessing the same level of public services entitled to other citizens.

  • It also results in the ESEA community, particularly new migrants, under-claiming in entitlement for support or public services and not being aware of their basic human rights within the UK.

  • The lack of public provision towards the ESEA community and the over-reliance on private social connections as a safety net creates a dangerous hidden subculture that results in over-exploitation at work, domestic violence, homophobia or other controlling behaviours in the name of “culture” or “in the same boat to survive a hostile environment”.

  • The language barrier is also a hindrance to ESEA access to public services, e.g. social services, special needs education, adult services etc.

  • Second generation ESEAs often grow up with the daily experience of deprivation of public investment and over-reliance on social connections, which clashes with what they learn from school, education and peers, creating many intergenerational tensions and conflicts, ie. universal values vs. controlling behaviours in the name of “mother culture”. For example, the lack of regular representation of ESEAs in mainstream TV dramas, contributes significantly to the reinforcement of this ‘invisible’ minority group and the GLA’s lack of terminology for the UK’s third largest ethnic minority.

  • As part of Mission 1: Good work for Londoners, inclusion and representation of ESEAs should never be overlooked, whether in the LRB, politics, the arts or any other employment sector.


Recommended Actions or Interventions

  • The GLA, London boroughs and public providers to adopt the definition of “East and South East Asian”.

  • The GLA, London boroughs and public providers to invest in research, study and reporting on the living conditions of the ESEA community.

  • The research, study and reports on the living conditions of the ESEA community will provide reliable evidence to the GLA, London boroughs, public providers and the ESEA community of the community’s needs.

  • The GLA, London boroughs and public providers - armed with accurate information - can then develop policies and service provisions addressing ESEA community needs.

  • There is an urgent need for civic leadership in the GLA, London boroughs and public providers to recognise the ESEA community and to ensure their needs are included in all decision making.

  • The GLA, London boroughs and public providers to support, develop and train ESEA civil societies to act as community advocates and raise community awareness of their rights and entitlements.

  • The GLA, London boroughs and public providers to provide funding and facilities for ESEA community organisations to grow and develop.

  • The ideal situation is a complete overhaul in immigration controls, to enable everyone entering the UK to have the chance of a level playing field. A starting point to achieve this is that the GLA, London boroughs and public funders invest in specialist ESEA immigration advisors and campaigners to lobby for a more humane and compassionate immigration system and practices. London is the arrival point for many new ESEA migrants, particularly recently from Hong Kong, and existing ESEA community centres are not resourced sufficiently to deal with their needs.

  • The GLA, London boroughs and public providers must invest in accessible information to ESEAs in community languages and other formats such as audio and video, to raise ESEA awareness of their rights and entitlements.

  • The GLA, London boroughs and public providers must invest in ESEA specialist advisors to assist the ESEA community to access and assert their rights and entitlements.

  • The GLA, London boroughs and public providers to provide community spaces for ESEA communities to meet in a safe environment, to share their experience, to learn from each other and to develop a robust support network and services for their community.

  • Such ESEA community spaces will enable communities from different ESEA countries, from marginalised groups within the community such as women, LGBTQI+, artists etc to interact, debate, challenge each other in a safe environment, and then to nurture, experiment, develop, create, campaign and develop policies and services for the community, and to bring about a more level playing field for ESEAs in British society.

  • Given the current severe under-resourcing and deprivation in public services to the ESEA community, there are strong arguments to allocate a reasonable budget designated for use on ESEA community development.

A common identity

  • The outbreak of the pandemic showed that racism in all its forms affected all ESEA communities: there has been a 300% increase in reported racist hate crimes against the ESEA community to the police, and 900% increase in on-line hate speech towards the Chinese (and the resulting problems that all ESEAs suffer due to mistaken identity, as a result). There are media reports of racial attacks on Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, Filipinos, Singaporeans, Vietnamese, Thai etc. The racial attacks and incidents have hurt and traumatised the ESEAs in the UK as a collective community.

  • The ESEA Community Conversation recognised that the Chinese community - being the largest number amongst all ESEAs - has had the lion share of public investments in the past, and other communities from ESEA have been disadvantaged by their relative small numbers in getting public resources being allocated to them.

  • The ESEA Community Conversation unanimously agreed a working definition of the ESEA Community using a combination of the census terminology and heritage, i.e. people who are in the census categories “Chinese” or “Asian – Any other” - people who identify themselves with heritage from an ESEA country, including UK born or mixed-race ESEA.

  • The ESEA Community Conversation recommends that the GLA, central and local governments recognise us as an “East and South East Asian” community in Britain and in London, as a common identity to recognise the numbers of “Chinese” and ““Asian – Any other”. This recommendation has been specifically approved by representatives from Jun Mo Generation, Southeast and East Asian Centre, End the Virus of Racism, CARG (COVID-19 Anti-Racism Group), Potluck Club and the Hackney Chinese Community Service.

The Way Forward

  • The ESEA Community Conversation recommends instigating a regular monthly or bi-monthly meeting of ESEA community activists at City Hall with representatives of the GLA.

  • Depending on evolving community needs, ESEA community activists will invite representatives from one of the GLA department to explain their work, and discuss with ESEA activists how to engage the ESEA communities in their work.

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