Campaigners criticise government race report, calling it ‘deeply cynical’

A government-commissioned report on racial disparity has criticised the use of the term “institutional racism” and says other factors, such as family influence, socioeconomic background and religion, have more “significant impact” on life chances than the existence of racism.

But the report, which has been described as "deeply cynical" by campaigners, has also been criticised by unions, who have said it ignores black and ethnic minority people's concerns.

Labour has also accused the government of downplaying institutional racism.

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.

The commission was set up after Black Lives Matter (BLM) anti-racism protests across the country last summer - triggered by the killing of George Floyd in the US.

The commission’s report notes that while racism and racial injustice do still exist it no longer sees a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities.

The 258-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.

In his foreword to the report chairman Tony Sewell, an education consultant and ex-charity boss, said while the "impediments and disparities do exist", it continued, they were "varied and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism".

The report, which has 24 recommendations has advocated for establishing an office for health disparities, opening up access to apprenticeships, teaching an “inclusive curriculum”, and putting a stop to use of the term BAME.

It also pushes for a move of focus away from institutions and more towards “the extent [that] individuals and their communities could help themselves through their own agency, rather than wait for invisible external forces to assemble to do the job”.

Boris Johnson said the government would consider the implications of the report's recommendations for future policy and remained "fully committed to building a fairer Britain".

Black Lives Matter UK tweeted that it was "disappointed" that the report overlooked disproportionality in the criminal justice system.

Black people in England and Wales are nine times more likely to be imprisoned than their white peers, it said.

Simon Woolley, who was head of No 10’s race disparity unit until last summer, slammed the commission for disrespecting and disregarding people’s lived experience.

Lord Woolley said: “If you deny structural race inequality then you’ve got nothing to do and that in of itself is a huge problem. There was structural racism before Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter, in all areas and all levels of our society. There are shocking disparities and shocking outcomes in health, education and housing. That’s why we set up the race and disparity unit in the first place.

“Covid-19 laid bare these structural inequalities in such Technicolor and made them worse, where [BAME communities] are dying in greater numbers, becoming severely ill in greater numbers, and losing their jobs. Then to be not only in denial, but saying: ‘What are you complaining about? We live in a society that is much better than it was 100 years ago’ is monumental disrespect and disregard of people’s lived experiences, but above all a lost opportunity for systemic change.”

The commission said unemployment differences between ethnic groups had declined and the pay gap between ethnic minority workers and white workers was also falling and at its lowest level for almost a decade.

However, TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said "institutional and structural racism exists in the UK, in both the labour market and wider society", and said black and minority ethnic workers were far more likely "to be in low-paid, insecure jobs" compared to white workers.

The report's 24 recommendations included:

  • Extended school days to be phased in, starting with disadvantaged areas, to help pupils catch up on missed learning during the pandemic

  • Children from disadvantaged backgrounds should have access to better quality careers advice in schools, funded by university outreach programmes

  • More research is needed to examine why pupils perform well in certain communities, so this can be replicated to help all children succeed

  • Organisations should stop funding unconscious bias training, with government and experts developing resources to help advance workplace equality

The conclusion of the report notes that while most of the Black Lives Matters protesters are young, the bulk of the commission are from “an older generation whose views were formed by growing up in the 1970s and 1980s”. But it states that because of the progress that has been made over the past 50 years “a degree of optimism is justified”.

Sunder Katwala, the 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.