Landmark government race report labelled ‘divisive polemic’ as it rejects claim of institutional racism in Britain

Britain is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged” against ethnic minorities a landmark race review has concluded — prompting accusations of complacency over progress towards an anti-racist society.

Criticising the the use of the term “institutional racism” as being “too liberally used”, the 258-page report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities suggested that factors such a socio-economic background, culture and religion have a “more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism”.

In his foreword, commission chairman Dr Tony Sewell wrote: “Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.

“The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism. Too often ‘racism’ is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined”.

However, the authors said that “outright racism still exists”, the UK was not a “post-racial society”, and stressed: “We take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK”.

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The report was commissioned by Boris Johnson last summer in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that spread across the globe highlighting endemic racism and injustice after the death of the George Floyd in the United States.

In a statement, the prime minister suggested the commission had “set out a positive agenda for change” and said the government will “consider their recommendations in detail, and assess the implications for future government policy”.

The report — carried out amid the coronavirus pandemic — highlights that some ethnic minorities have face a disproportionate impact from the disease, but when examining the health of overall population “is it also evident there is more than one story to tell”.

“Life expectancy or overall mortality, shows that ethnic minorities do better overall than the white population and actually have better outcomes for many of the 25 leading causes of death,” the authors added.

In its 24 recommendations, the report calls for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to receive additional funding from government to challenge policies or practices that “cause significant and unjust racial disadvantage”.

In a section on schools’ curriculum it also called for the teaching resource that examines the influence of the UK — particularly during the era of Empire — to teach how Britishness influenced the Commonwealth countries and vice-versa.

However, it added: “There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain”.

Labour’s shadow equalities minister Marsha De Cordova hit back, saying: “The government must urgently explain how they came to publish content which glorifies the slave trade and immediately disassociate themselves with these remarks”.

Among other recommendations, the report also urges for:

  • the creation of an independent Office for Health Disparities
  • an extended school day prioritising disadvantaged areas
  • further action to challenge racist and discriminatory actions online
  • ending the use of ‘unhelpful’ acronyms such as BAME

However, following the publication of the report, opposition politicians, race equality campaigners and unions criticised its central conclusions as insulting while “gas lighting” ethnic minorities in Britain.

David Lammy, who led a review into racial disparities in the criminal justice system in 2017, described the report as an “insult to anybody and everybody across this county who experiences institutional racism”.

His Labour frontbench colleague Ms de Cordova added: “This report was an opportunity to seriously engage with the reality of inequality and institutional racism in the UK. Instead we have a divisive polemic which cherry picks statistics. To downplay institutional racism in a pandemic where black, asian and ethnic minority people have died disproportionately and are now twice as likely to be unemployed is an insult.”

Dr Halima Begum, the chief executive of the race equality think-tank Runnymede Trust,questioned the suitability of the chairman Dr Sewell and head of the Number 10 policy unit Munira Mirza, who had a role in setting the commission up — both of whom have previously questioned the existence of institutional racism.

No evidence of institutional racism, says head of race report

“If both these individuals are from the outset denying the existence of institutional racism, then what hope did we have that they were going to look into this in an objective manner, if not follow whatever the Government mantra is?” she said.

The GMB union national secretary for public services, Rehana Azam, claimed: “Only this government could produce a report on race in the 21st century that actually gaslights black, asian and minority ethnic communities.

Describing the report as “deeply cynical”, she went on: “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. 

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said: “We hoped that the commission would recommend action to stamp out insecure work and make employers act to close their ethnicity gaps.

“Instead, the commission has chosen to deny the experiences of black and minority ethnic workers and be complacent about the UK’s progress towards being an anti-racist society.”

The general secretary of the teachers’ union (NASUWT) Dr Patrick Roach said that structural racism “continues to blight and scar our community and our economy, holding back our communities and undermining life chances”.

“Black communities have been systematically failed by a government response that was supposed to protect us all during the pandemic, the refusal to publish evidence of their race equality impact assessments and by a government commission that has failed to grasp the realities. The evidence of racism in Britain today is there for all to see.”

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