A new report claims that family lives and social class play a greater role than race in determining peoples lives in the UK. That was the findings of the Report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The findings have been criticised for allegedly playing down the extent of racism in the UK.
Chaired by Dr Tony Sewell, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was ordered by the prime minister following the death of Floyd George in America and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
The commission was set up in July 2020 and was tasked with looking at all aspects of inequality, including criminal justice, education, employment and health. In announcing the launch of the commission Boris Johnson said: “There is much we need to do to tackle racism”, in Britain.
Labour’s shadow women’s and equalities secretary, Marsha de Cordova was concerned about the evidence the commission would examine; She said: “Most the evidence the commission would examine had already come to light in previous reviews on race”. Ms Cordova said that she believed the priority should be: “Action on the structural racism we already know exists”.
The commission said that concerns that Britain is institutionally racist are not borne out by the findings: “We found anecdotal evidence of racism but there was no evidence of institutional racism”.
Campaigners against racism said they felt deeply, massively let down by the government who did not have the confidence of the black and ethnic minority community. Dr Halima Begum, director of the race and equality charity, The Runnymede Trust said: “The people appointed to lead the independent commission are on record denying structural and institutional racism”. Dr Begum added: It is no surprise we have Tony Sewell saying he didn’t find any evidence of institutional racism; it was a view he had held for 15 years”. Some anti-racism activists were said to be so enraged by Dr Sewell’s appointment they were considering seeking a judicial review over the appointment.
The Muslim Council of Britain also raised concerns saying Dr Sewell was the wrong choice as chair as he was “keen to downplay race disparities.”
Despite the prime minister’s positive attitude, concerns about the legitimacy of the commission had been raised from its inception. It was reported that Mr Johnson’s policy chief, Munuri Murza, was involved in appointing the commission despite being someone that said: “Institutionalised racism was a perception more than a reality and antiracism has become weaponised across the political spectrum”.
In his forward to the report Dr Sewell said: “The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism. That said, we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK”.
The 264-page report, delayed because of Covid restrictions, makes 24 recommendations which Dr Sewell hopes will bring about a burst in momentum to the story of the UK’s progress to a successful, multi-ethnic and multicultural community.
The recommendations call for an extension to the school day to be phased in, commencing in deprived areas, which it is hoped will help children catch up on missed learning during the pandemic. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds should also have access to better quality careers advice in schools.
Other recommendations include the creation of a police workforce that represents the community it serves. The Commission also recommended that the College of Policing, in partnership with other organisations, develop a strategy to improve the efficacy and implementation of stop and search, and de-escalation training, ensuring that a consistent person-centred approach is taken by all police service areas.
The report also says that the use of the term BAME, which is frequently used to group all ethnic minorities together, is no longer helpful. It is demeaning to be categorised in relation to what we are not, rather than what we are. The report also recognises the BAME acronym also disguises huge differences in outcomes between ethnic groups.
Dr Sewell explained the report’s findings saying: “Unlike previous reviews focused on particular issues such as the workplace or criminal justice, we have been able to look more widely and investigate the deeper underlying causes of key disparities”.
Even though it is beyond the scope of the report the commission acknowledged the work that has been done on anti-Muslim prejudice and antisemitism.
The report concluded that with some exceptions, the best and fairest way to address disparities within the community is to make improvements that will benefit everyone, targeting interventions based on need, not ethnicity.
Although many of the recommendations in the report are considered and proportionate, the focus has fallen squarely on the pollical landscape. Rather than getting a settled view of racism in the UK, the focus is on the serious accusations that the commission were hand-picked and said what the government wanted to hear. The failure to appear independent could rather than heel actually deepen divisions and distrust.