The report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, 3 months overdue and 9 months after the Commission’s inception, is a script that has been written for 10 Downing Street. The people involved in this Commission had no interest in genuinely discussing racism, but even this Government does not go as far as to say that we are post racial. The least the Commission could have done is acknowledge the very real suffering of Black and minority ethnic communities here in the UK.
The very suggestion that government evidence confirms that institutional racism does not exist is frankly disturbing. A young Black mother is four times more likely to die in childbirth than her white friend. A young Black man is 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the Metropolitan Police than his young white neighbour and those with Black or Asian ‘sounding surnames’ have to send in twice as many CVs as their white counterparts, with the same qualifications, to receive the same jobs.
The Commission’s assertion that institutional racism no longer exists is premised on the flimsiest of basis, that “reporting hate crime and race-related incidents is now widely encouraged by police forces”. In other words, so long as hate crimes are reported, the institutions work just fine. This is as insulting as it is farcical. As is the suggestion that Pakistani and Bangladeshi families are over-represented in the lower income deciles because women in those groups “are economically inactive compared to white women”.
As we saw in the early days of the pandemic, 60% of the first NHS doctors and nurses to die were from our BME communities, despite the NHS comprising only 20% BME staff in total. For Boris Johnson to look the grieving families of those brave dead in the eye and say there is no evidence of institutional racism in the UK is nothing short of a gross offence. Tell those 60% BME NHS doctors and nurses who died from COVID that institutional racism doesn’t exist.
You can’t, because they are dead.
The facts about institutional racism do not lie and we note, with some surprise, that no matter how much it tried, the Commission does in fact concede that we do not live in a post-racist society.
Regarding educational attainment, it is telling to note that the Government ascribes much of the success of ethnic minority children to "minority aspiration". Certainly, there is no government policy that we are aware of to which the success of "minority aspiration" can be attributed. As such, this is a clear acknowledgement by the Commission that immigrants and ethnic minorities are often left to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, urging their children to over-achieve in school, precisely because there is not the necessary institutional support available to them.
With the “attainment thresholds” that the Commission speaks of only Chinese, Indian, Mixed white/other and White Irish have better attainment thresholds across the Commission’s four age groups compared to the White British population. This means that, for ages 4-5, 10-11, 16 year olds at GCSE and 18 year olds at A-level, mixed white/Black African, white other, Pakistani, Black other, mixed white/Black Carribean, Black Caribbean, Irish traveller and Gypsy/ROMA all have lower attainment rates across the four categories used by the Commission compared to their white counterparts.
The analysis regarding the ethnic pay gap is also clearly misleading. The Commission amalgamates pay across all ethnicities. This includes the group that is defined as "White Irish" who earn more than 40% above the national average. This is a community who will very well understand the challenges of racism in Britain, given the long history of prejudice the Irish have suffered in this country.
However, to suggest the ethnicity pay gap is negligible between White British and ethnic minorities like British Pakistanis, who earn 15% below their White British peers, is a cynical manipulation of the data. The Commission’s data is skewed by the high earning power of White Irish professionals. The Commission seems to suggest that, because the manipulated data for the overall pay gap is massaged down to 2.3%, that institutional racism no longer exists. Not only does this ignore the differences between ethnic groups but it toes a line that is not borne out by the evidence.
Conveniently, the ethnicity pay gap data cited in the report also only includes those who are employed in the UK, omitting those who are either self employed or not in work. Therefore, the assertions about the pay gap are void of all nuances or caveats, not least due to the number of BME workers who disproportionately lost their jobs due to COVID.
The Commission continuously uses rhetoric which pits the white working class against ethnic minorities, suggesting that for the white working class the ‘door may be only half open’.
However, even when white working class boys have lower educational attainment, they have substantially higher rates of employment and social mobility than Black boys. It’s also telling for the Commission to say that there is no institutional racism in higher education while suggesting low Black graduate employment is the result of going to worse universities and not following career advice.
Equally, the Commission and this Government fails to consider, or even articulate, the attainment and outcome gaps between the ‘white working class’ and the ‘white middle class’. Our latest report ‘Facts Don’t Lie - One Working Class: Race, Class and Inequalities’, details our response to this, very dangerous, rhetoric which pits minority groups against one another whilst doing nothing to address the very real issues these groups face every day.
That this Government see fit to comment on the slave trade as a 'new story' in which they commend the transformational ‘re-model’ of Black Britons is nothing short of shocking and racist.
Furthermore, the Commission calls the UK a beacon for racial equalities in white majority nations. The country is certainly making progress, albeit inadequate. However, the bar for international comparison is set very low and is a similar argument to the one that goes ‘we are the least racist country’, while, still being a racist country.
In countries like France, there has been minimal progress in tackling flagrant, state-led racial inequality. France does not even record ethnicity data in terms of access to public services, and so can’t monitor inequalities in any way whatsoever.
This Commission lost the confidence and the trust of ethnic minority communities when Tony Sewell was appointed to lead it – a figure who had previously asserted that institutional racism does not exist, and whose commitment to the wider equalities agenda was questionable.
Frankly, by denying the evidence of institutional racism and tinkering with issues like unconscious bias training and the use of the term ‘BAME’, the Government have insulted not only every ethnic minority in this country - the very people who continue to experience racism on a daily basis - but also the vast majority of the UK population that recognise racism is a problem and expect their government to contribute to eradicating it. All on Derek Chauvin’s trial day, no less.
Runnymede hosted a snap event on 31 March 2021 to discuss the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities's findings and why it has failed to address structural and institutional racism in the UK.