A landmark report on racial disparity has criticised the way the term “institutional racism” is used and says others factors, such as family influence, socioeconomic background and religion, have more “significant impact” on life chances than the existence of racism.
The report, which race equality campaigners have described as “deeply cynical”, marks a change in government policy, with the report stating its findings “present a new race agenda for the country”.
The 264-page report calls on the government to fully fund the Equality and Human Rights Commission, improve training for police officers and include a local residency requirement for recruitment, establish an office for health disparities, open up access to apprenticeships, teach an “inclusive curriculum”, and stop using the term BAME, as part of its 24 recommendations.
In an open rebuff to the arguments of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the protests that erupted after the death of George Floyd in the US, the report is described as saying the “idealism” of “well-intentioned young people” that the dominant feature in society is institutional racism achieves little “beyond alienating the decent centre ground”.
Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said: “Black and Asian Britons in our society today face less prejudice than their parents or grandparents; they may well fare better than those in many other countries. But such comparisons make little difference to the lives of ethnic minority Britons in 2021.
“There’s an important success story in education that can rightly be celebrated. But if a graduate in Manchester with an ethnic-sounding surname still gets fewer job interviews than a white classmate with the same CV, why should they feel lucky that the odds might be worse in Milan or Marseille?”
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said he was disappointed by the findings from the summary of the report published, insisting there were structural problems that needed to be addressed.
He told reporters on a visit in Leeds: “I haven’t seen the full report yet and, obviously, I’ll want to read that. I’ve seen the briefings out of it and I’m disappointed. On the one hand, there’s an acknowledgement of the problems, the issues, the challenges that face many black and minority ethnic communities. But, on the other hand, there’s a reluctance to accept that that’s structural.”
Rehana Azam, the GMB national secretary for public services, said: “Only this government could produce a report on race in the 21st century that actually gaslights Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic people and communities. This feels like a deeply cynical report that not only ignores black and ethnic minority workers’ worries and concerns. But is part of an election strategy to divide working class people and voters. It’s completely irresponsible and immoral.
“Institutional racism exists, it’s the lived experience of millions of black and ethnic minority workers. We’re paid less, we’re more likely to be in high-risk jobs during the pandemic, we’re more likely to die from Covid, we’re more likely to be stopped and searched, to be arrested and to go to prison.”
In response to the report, the Institute of Race Relations said: “From what we have seen, both the findings and the recommendations of the government-commissioned Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report fit neatly with the government’s attempts, post-Brexit, to portray the British nation as a beacon of good race relations and a diversity model, in the report’s words, for ‘white majority countries’ across the globe.
“The methodology of the report appears to be one that, in severing issues of race from class and treating issues of structural racism as ‘historic’ but not contemporary, leads to the stigmatisation of some ethnic minorities on the back of the valorisation of others. Black Caribbeans, for instance, are contrasted with Black Africans, and deemed to have internalised past injustices to the detriment of their own social advancement.”
The Institute of Race Relations added the report signals “the post-Macpherson narrative on institutional racism that the government will be most eager to sideline”.
Lady Kishwer Falkner, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Race inequality is complex and there are links with other factors such as social and family background, poverty and geography. This report rightly identifies the varied causes of disparities and by making recommendations to address them gives the government the opportunity to design policy targeting the sources of inequality.
“There are a number of recommendations we can play a leading role in and we welcome the recognition that additional funding would help us carry out our important work to tackle discrimination and disadvantage.
“While Britain has made great progress towards race equality in the last 50 years, there is still much more to do. As the report says, we need to find a way to take our successes, learn from them, and apply them to where we need to make further improvements. A joined-up approach is needed. Now is the time for action and we are ready to play our part.”