I rise—with some trepidation, Mr Speaker—to make a statement about the race disparity audit, which the Government are publishing today through a new website, Ethnicity Facts and Figures, and a summary report, which I have ordered to be placed in the Library of the House.
The audit was announced just over a year ago by the Prime Minister as part of her commitment to tackling injustices in society. This exercise has been unprecedented in scale, scope and transparency. It covers detailed data on around 130 different topics from 12 Departments. The first product of the audit is the website, which has been created to be used by all citizens. It has been developed through extensive engagement with members of the public from across the UK, public service workers, non-governmental organisations and academics. I hope that hon. Members will agree, once they have had the chance to examine it, that the website is clear and user-friendly. Each section of the website includes simple headlines and charts, and allows users to download all the underlying data.
Although the past few decades have witnessed great leaps forward in equality and opportunity in British society, the audit shows that there is much more still to do if we are to end racial injustice. In itself, that will sound to hon. Members like an unsurprising conclusion, but the audit adds a lot more clarity and depth to that single challenge. It tells us in which public services there are the largest disparities and whether those are increasing over time or diminishing, and about the influence of poverty and gender on the wider picture. For example, black people were over three times more likely than white people to be arrested and more than six times more likely to be stopped and searched.
Three issues demonstrate the added complexity of the data. First, there are significant differences in how ethnic minorities are doing in different parts of the country. For example, while employment rates are generally higher for white people than for ethnic minorities, there is a larger gap in the north than in the south. Also, if people are expecting a report that is relentlessly negative about the situation for ethnic minorities in Britain today, I am pleased to say that it is simply not the case that ethnic minorities universally have worse outcomes. For example, people of Indian and Pakistani origin have similar levels of home ownership to white people, although that is not true of other ethnic minorities.
Secondly, on some measures there are very significant differences between ethnic minority groups. Education attainment data show that there are disparities in primary school that increase in secondary school, with Asian pupils tending to perform well and white and black pupils doing less well, particularly those eligible for free school meals. Finally, on other measures, it is white British people who experience the worst outcomes, such as in relation to self-harm and suicide in custody, or smoking among teenagers.
In terms of what happens next, the data set out on the website present a huge challenge not just to Government but to business, public services and wider society. We hope that the website will not only contribute to a better informed public debate about ethnicity in the UK, but support local managers of public services to ask how they compare to other services.
On behalf of the Government, I have committed to maintaining and extending the Ethnicity Facts and Figures website. More importantly, I commit that the Government will take action with partners to address the ethnic disparities highlighted by the audit. We have made a start through initiatives such as the action taken by the Department for Work and Pensions in 20 targeted hotspots. Measures in those areas will include mentoring schemes to help those in ethnic minorities into work and traineeships for 16 to 24-year-olds, offering English, maths and vocational training alongside work placements.
On the criminal justice system, I want to thank Mr Lammy for his recent report. I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Justice will be taking forward a number of the recommendations in his review. These will include developing performance indicators for prisons to assess the equality of outcomes for prisoners of all ethnicities, committing to publishing all criminal justice datasets held on ethnicity by default, and working to ensure that our prison workforce is more representative of the country as a whole. In addition, the Department for Education will carry out an external review to improve practice on exclusions. It will share best practice nationwide and focus on the experiences of the groups that are disproportionately likely to be excluded. The House can expect further announcements on future Government work to follow in the coming months.
The approach that the Government are taking is “explain or change”. When significant disparities between ethnic groups cannot be explained by wider factors, we will commit ourselves to working with partners to change them.
The race disparity audit provides an unprecedented degree of transparency in reflecting the way in which ethnicity affects the experiences of citizens. It is a resource that will tell us how well we are doing as a society in ensuring that all can thrive and prosper, and I commend it to the House.
I thank the First Secretary of State for early sight of his statement.
There is value in putting all the data together in one portal, but what matters most is what the Government are going to do about the problems that have been identified. For some years, the Women’s Budget Group and the Runnymede Trust have been looking at some of the burning issues, including the impact of austerity on black and minority ethnic women in the United Kingdom.
The real uncomfortable truth is that the Prime Minister cannot pretend she did not know that there were in-built structural injustices before 2010, because she wrote to the then Prime Minister about “real risks” that
“women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and older people will be disproportionately hit by cuts”.
Our Prime Minister, knowing full well the damage that would be caused by Conservative cuts, has done nothing but exacerbate the problems. Far from tackling burning injustices, she has added fuel to the fire. We need solutions and a sustained effort to tackle those burning injustices, because talking shops just will not cut it. Mentoring schemes are good, but they are not nearly ambitious enough. The closure of Sure Start centres has contributed to the poor start of many young children, and the closure of Connexions, which was a valuable tool for young people, was also a mistake.
The Prime Minister has said that if these disparities cannot be explained they must be changed, so let me ask the Minister some questions. Will he explain or change the Government’s policy of rolling out universal credit, which has caused some people to lose their homes and has caused vulnerable people to plummet into debt? Will he explain or change their policy on the public sector workers’ pay cap, which has disproportionately affected women and people from diverse communities? Will he explain or change their policies on personal independence payments, which have resulted in the statement by a United Nations panel that the UK has failed to uphold disabled people’s rights? [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not like to hear this, but it is important if we are to tackle the burning injustices that exist in our country.
Will the Minister explain or change the Government’s policies on tuition fees, which have crippled the life chances of young people? Will he explain or change the delay in the increase in the minimum wage, which the Government have renamed the living wage? Will he explain or change the Health and Social Care Act 2012, the house-building programme, the Access to Work policy, or the Trade Union Act 2016? There are so many policies that the Government need to explain or change.
We cannot ignore the fact that the actions of this Government have contributed to the burning injustices in our country. They have failed to understand the value of equality impact assessments, which the last Prime Minister described as “red tape”. Britain is at its best when everyone has the opportunity to succeed—[Interruption.] Huw Merriman says, “What are you going to do about it?” Let me tell him. Labour issued a manifesto to tackle problems of discrimination. Its policy proposals included the introduction of equal pay requirements for large employers; the launching of an inquiry into name-based discrimination; the implementation of the Parker review recommendations; the enhancement of the powers and functions of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has been subject to Government cuts; and the boosting of income through the introduction of a real living wage—to name just a few.
There are other possible solutions to the problem, some of which must come from the Minister’s own side. The Government should reintroduce race equality audits and impact assessments, independently assess the Treasury, introduce “blind” sentencing in the criminal justice system, and implement their responsibilities under the public sector equalities duty.
What we need is a Government who are not afraid to act on uncomfortable truths, and Labour is that Government in waiting. History has shown that positive change only happens under a Labour Government, and we are ready once again to deliver a fair and more equal society for the many and not the few.
I am puzzled by the disparity between the Labour party’s response to the audit and that of the stakeholders who actually work in the sector. I came to the House today from a roundtable at No. 10 that was chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by about 12 of the principal non-governmental organisations that have worked for many years to improve the lives of ethnic minority people in this country. They are universally positive about this, unlike the Labour party—[Interruption.] Dawn Butler says that was not what they told her, but I have quotations from them here. Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote has said:
“The findings from the Race Disparity Audit present us with a real opportunity to make transformative change in tackling persistent race inequality”—
[Hon. Members: “What are the Government going to do?”] He actually went on to say:
“Yes, some findings make uncomfortable reading, but unless these things are laid bare we can’t begin to resolve them.”
After 13 years of a Labour Government trying to hide the facts, we now have a Government who are ready to expose them and to do something about them.
Jeremy Crook of the Black Training and Enterprise Group—apparently it has also been ignored by the Labour party—says:
“The data can support local communities to have conversations with local public bodies about ensuring that no ethnic group gets left behind in education or health or any other area of public life.”
The people who actually know what they are talking about welcome the audit, and welcome what the Government are doing. The people who do not are members of the Labour party who live in their own world.
The hon. Member for Brent Central appeared to take the general view that in all areas problems for people from ethnic minorities were getting worse. I appreciate that the website has been live for only about an hour, so she will not yet have had time to investigate all 130 datasets, but when she does, she will find a point that is much more nuanced than those that she has made. There are some problems, and some things are getting worse, but some things are getting better. The difference between the general employment rate and the rate among all ethnic minorities decreased from 15 to 10 percentage points between 2004 and 2016. Since 2004, employment rates have increased among all ethnic groups. The inactivity rate among Pakistani and Bangladeshi people, who have often had the worst unemployment rates, has fallen by 10%—[Interruption.]
I would hope that Labour Members, rather than laughing from the Front Bench, might welcome the fact that some of our most disadvantaged communities are doing better than they ever have before in this country. The Labour party seems to think that that is something to laugh about.
The hon. Lady referred to universities and tuition fees. I remind her that more disadvantaged people are applying for university places and going to university than ever before, and more people from black and minority ethnic communities are applying than ever before. Labour Members have a view of the world in which people are permanent victims, but that is not what this audit shows. Their lack of transparency, and their lack of ability to welcome a step by the Government that is welcomed by all experts in the field, reflects very badly on their party.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, and the Prime Minister for her commitment to tackling the injustice that is race discrimination. When will the Government bring forward plans across Government to ensure that it is clear what every single Department is doing to tackle these inequities, and particularly to separate economic disadvantage from race discrimination, because at the moment the figures blur together?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, because we of course need to determine the real causes of disadvantage, as I have said. Sometimes they are based on ethnicity, and sometimes on other factors. That is precisely why, in addition to the individual measures that I have announced today for three Government Departments, other Departments will be making policy proposals in the months and years ahead to address the various disadvantages, and they can now, for the first time, be based on publicly available facts and figures. That is the great advantage of the step forward that we have taken today, because we now have transparency. We will have much better evidence to ensure that the policies we bring forward to tackle disadvantage will be effective.
I thank the First Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. None of this comes as a surprise to any of us. A lot of work has been done over the years, including by Mr Lammy. Although we would welcome any new, user-friendly website, it really should not have been the centrepiece of today’s statement. I very much hope that the Government will be able to take effective and robust action. Given that Departments are carrying out their own pilots in the reviews, it is important that we have a holistic, multifaceted and co-ordinated response. Therefore, when will the Government come to the Chamber with a statement setting out how Departments will go forward with a joint solution for this problem?
That question is slightly similar to the previous one I answered from my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller. When the hon. Gentleman reads the audit, he will find that, rather than having a one-size-fits-all solution, it is precisely the value of the data we now have that will enable us to take specific action in a number of different areas.
I have announced some of the action today. I am sorry that the shadow Foreign Secretary was not listening to the statement I made all of five minutes ago, when I announced three separate pieces of action. There will be action from other Government Departments as we develop the policy response to the evidence.
Let me make one final point to the Scottish National party’s spokesman. I would encourage him to encourage his colleagues in the Scottish Government to take part in this process, because so far we have found it quite difficult to get the equivalent information for some areas in Scotland that are completely devolved. Facts and figures on reserved matters in Scotland, where they are available to the UK Government, are included in the audit, but at the moment there are no devolved facts and figures, and I genuinely think that it would help people in Scotland if those could be added to the audit figures.
The review by Mr Lammy did not actually include much hard evidence of discrimination. For example, despite setting out with the assumption that black people are more likely to be found guilty by juries, it concluded:
“Juries are a success story of our justice system. Rigorous analysis shows that, on average, juries—including all-white juries—do not deliver different results for BAME and White defendants.”
Will the Minister therefore ensure that success stories are also highlighted, that any actions taken are based on evidence, and evidence alone, and that we do not have solutions looking for problems?
I am delighted to have the opportunity to agree entirely with my hon. Friend—that might be regarded as a rare treat. He is exactly right; the report by Mr Lammy was very fair in pointing out the great successes in the criminal justice system as well as the problems, some of the answers to which I have announced today, and my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor will follow up on those. Across the board in this area there are indeed some successes, as I set out in response to the Opposition spokesperson. In some areas there are clearly endemic problems that have been going on for a long time, and action needs to be taken by society across the board—by central and local government, by businesses and by arm’s length bodies. We are not desperately searching for problems for our solutions. We will bring forward solutions only for those problems that we know exist.
I thank the First Secretary of State for the information that he has given the House today about the audit, but it does not answer the probing questions that the data throw up. Why are ethnic minorities still disadvantaged in access to public services, what are the Government going to do about it now that the audit has revealed the extent of the problem, and why have they left out religious discrimination, such as that against Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and others?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s last question is that it is a matter of what we record in our official information. When he looks at the audit, he will see that all the data sets contain a different level of detail. The question of religious discrimination simply cannot be included in an audit of this type, because we have never collected that kind of information. For example, we do not necessarily ask someone what their religion is when they go to the jobcentre, and I suspect that many people would find being asked for too much information intrusive, so we have to work with the material we have. With regard to disadvantage, he will have heard me announce the three Departments’ policy responses today—there are others that I have not announced, from the Home Office and others. He can rest assured that where the audit identifies problems, central and local government will respond to them across the board.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government on undertaking this broad-ranging audit, which is long overdue. We know what the problem is, and we know what needs to be done to address it. However, given the huge scope of the audit, will the First Secretary of State inform the House what is proposed to ensure that there is consistency and a high level of monitoring across the huge breadth of areas covered?
That is a very good point. There are clearly different problems in different areas, which is precisely why, in addition to individual actions by Departments, there is an inter-ministerial group, which will allow every Department to find out what the others are doing and ensure that it is responding as it should to the individual problems assessed in their area. Of course, the audit is not a one-off event, because the figures will be added to continually so that new policy responses can be made to new problems as they emerge. It will be a living document.
Let us give credit where it is due, because this data set is important. I welcome the Government’s commitment to the transparency that will help to shine a light on the structural racism that still exists in UK society. May I offer the First Secretary of State some advice based on painful experience? The Conservative side of the coalition Government spent five years insisting that we try to get employers to do gender pay gap reporting on a voluntary basis, until my Lib Dem colleagues and I finally won the battle for mandatory reporting in March 2015. We must not now waste five years in the same way, so will he now commit to introducing mandatory race pay gap reporting?
As the hon. Lady will know from her time in government—it was a pleasure to serve with her—we are unlikely at this stage to leap to such long-term commitments on the basis of information that we have only just gathered. However, she makes a fair point. The underlying point is that this is an issue not only for central Government, but for the private sector. I know that many private sector organisations, some of which were represented at the roundtable event held at Downing Street this morning, are anxious to follow up a lot of the work on trying to reduce the gender pay gap and to address pay gaps among people from different ethnic backgrounds as well.
I applaud the Government’s efforts, because this is the first such audit to be carried out. As chair of the all-party parliamentary groups on Pakistan and on communities engagement, I have consistently raised with the previous and current Prime Ministers the matter of the British Pakistani community falling behind on educational attainment, employment and wages. What will the Government’s strategy be to address that? Will there be effective community engagement so that the answers come from the bottom up?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend has a long and honourable record of campaigning in this area. The employment response from the Department for Work and Pensions will be targeted at specific areas, and 20 hotspots where the most difference can be made will be identified. I obviously cannot commit today to saying what those 20 will be, but I would be surprised if the impact was not deliberately designed to help the areas in which those communities tend to live, where the unemployment rate is not as good as it is on average.
I am slightly confused, so will the Government confirm something for me? Lots of information has been provided, but some of the data collated were already in place and the Government have not specifically told us what they are going to do about that data. A couple of problems have been identified, but talking about mentoring schemes is not the sole answer to those problems.
We have identified 130 different data sets, and coming up with 130 different policy responses in one statement might be a bit much. More seriously, much of the information is new—20 of the data sets are completely new—and it seems sensible to consider the evidence, work out what the best policy response is and then do the policy, not the other way around, which is how the Labour party seems to want to do things.
What a load of sententious, vacuous guff. Honestly, the Secretary of State should be ashamed. Has he just taken over the department for circumlocution and the office of how not to do anything while pretending to do something? The honest truth is that unless serious analytical work is done to check whether the statistics are a matter of correlation or causation, there is no value to this work whatsoever. Mrs Thatcher fell at the same time as Marathons were changed to Snickers, but I am not aware that there was any causal relationship between the two.
Behind the hon. Gentleman’s characteristic bombast is a serious point. He says that correlation is not the same as causation, so would he like to have a word with his Front-Bench team, who are demanding that all the policy responses should come now before we have done the analysis that he sensibly asks for? We are doing things the sensible way. Not only does his Front-Bench team have no polices, they appear to want policies before they have looked at the evidence. That would be the worst way to go about things. I appreciate that, in all sincerity, he believes that his Front-Bench team are as bad as I believe they are.
I am sorry that the shadow Front-Bench team find this issue so amusing. As someone who grew up in a deprived working class area—more girls in my school went to prison than to university—I take this issue very seriously. While I welcome the audit, the fact that it focuses on race, not the common issues that all communities face of broken families, poverty and getting into work, means that it misses some things. I point the Secretary of State in the direction of “A Manifesto to Strengthen Families”, which has been produced by Conservative Members, led by my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce, and addresses some of those issues in more detail.
I know the valuable document to which my hon. Friend refers. I recommend that she read the audit carefully, because she will find that it reveals the huge differences between areas that look similar demographically or in their ethnic makeup. Anyone who reads the findings carefully and sensibly will realise that some policy prescriptions may not be based on ethnicity and may need to be based on the other factors she mentioned. The sensible way for any Government to proceed—certainly the way that this Government will proceed—will be to look at the evidence and then devise the policy.
What other reports on race have been incorporated into the race audit data? Why have Sikhs, who are recognised as a separate ethnic group in legislation, been excluded from the audit? Will he put that right by ensuring that Sikhs are not further discriminated against and that the 2021 census will include a Sikh ethnic tick box?
I can only reply to the hon. Lady with what I said to Afzal Khan. Religion is not routinely collected in many of the 130 data sets, so it would be impossible to include. It is not a question of excluding any particular group. Many of the data sets have existed for decades, and we as a society have to decide over time how much personal information we want to collect and publish on every individual in this country. It is sometimes helpful to collect such information, because it helps public policy making, but people sometimes regard it as intrusive. Our view on that may change over time, and we can always have discussions in this House about what level of personal information we want to give to Governments and then have Governments publish, so that might be a way to aid public policy making, and I am happy to discuss that with her.
Having attended a failing school in your constituency, Mr Speaker —albeit before your time—and then having spent five years in a formerly failing school in west London, I have a real passion for what can be achieved through education if we have these race disparity audits. Indeed, that is exactly what happened to transform a west London school’s five A to C GCSE grade rate from 9% to 60%. In addition to sharing my distaste for the appalling behaviour of the Opposition, I ask Ministers to take the data and learn about the best practice in institutions so that it can be rolled out and applied nationally.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important point. Action that is taken at a local level—perhaps in an individual school—can be transformative for the lives of thousands of people. The audit will enable us to identify the areas with problems in a more fine-grain way than ever before, so that we can deal with those problems, whether they relate to education, employment and training or policing, in the areas where that action can have most effect. That will be how we can make the most beneficial difference to most people’s lives.
I thank the First Secretary of State for his statement. For some considerable time, black and white British boys in receipt of free school meals have had some of the lowest levels of educational achievement across the United Kingdom, and that is also the case in Northern Ireland. I welcome this initiative, but the data will be of value only if the analysis is mainstreamed into policy making in Departments. What do the Government intend to do to ensure that that happens?
Much good work has been done in Northern Ireland in that field, and we will continue to spread best practice and learn from where we have had successes. Making that part of mainstream policy making is one of way of doing that. The hon. Lady mentioned educational attainment, and it will be interesting to see the evidence from free schools in the years ahead. I suspect that they will be shown to do particularly well by pupils with various forms of disadvantage, but we will develop the evidence over time and we will base our policy on evidence—[Interruption.] I can tell from the noise level that the Labour party has already come to a view about free schools without any evidence. That is typical of why their policy making is always so bad—[Interruption.]
Order. Calm. My advice in particular is tendered for the benefit of Chris Bryant.
The hon. Gentleman witters from a sedentary position that he is very quiet. I think the answer to that is that it is all relative.
May I remind the First Secretary of State that it was the previous Labour Government who led an inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder and, following that, introduced the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Equalities Act 2010, which require monitoring, and that this Government have neglected much of that? I welcome this audit, but ask the Minister please, for the love of God, to focus on the structural inequalities—that is, child poverty, which will hit 4 million by 2020, and the cuts to further education and to education maintenance allowances. Those interventions and cuts to those provisions are making it worse for ethnic minorities and white working-class communities. If the Government are serious, we need to stop just doing research and evidence gathering. That is important, but it is not good enough if it is not followed by action.
The hon. Lady is right that one should get the evidence and then take action. I discover from those on her Front Bench that they prefer to take action blind without looking at the evidence first. One fact that we can jointly celebrate is that among the places where educational attainment has gone up significantly for all groups is her area. That shows that there can be improvements in areas that people once wrote off, which should never happen in any part of this country. I can tell the hon. Lady that this Government will not allow that to happen.
This morning the Communities and Local Government Secretary highlighted that some Pakistani and Bangladeshi women do not have English. May I suggest that one reason for that is that the Government have cut English for speakers of other languages funding by 60%? Will the Minister commit to change that and reverse the cuts so that everybody can reach their potential?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was quite right to point out that one of the biggest things holding people back is their not being allowed to speak the language of the country. That is why we spent £100 million last year on teaching English to ensure that more people than ever before can have access to it and play a full role in mainstream society.
In light of the audit today, will the Government commit to implementing their statutory equality impact assessment on some of their policies and, more specifically, on some social security policies, such as universal credit and the personal independence payment?
The First Secretary will recognise that disparity effectively begins at birth, and one thing we do know is that in Greater Manchester, for example, four in 10 children are not ready for school when they go there. In a town such as Rochdale, that rises to a considerably higher figure among the Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi communities and in the poor white community. Will the report make any real financial difference to investment in that early years education?
I have not had a chance to welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the House; the last time I met him he was a police and crime commissioner, and PCCs have a key role to play in making this audit practical. I suggest he looks at it, because one fascinating thing I found when I looked at the audit before it was publicly available is the precise level of analysis that can be done of individual communities. He will be able to see that certain similar communities require different solutions. Different problems are at different levels in neighbouring towns that otherwise look very similar. I have looked at a lot of the towns in the north-west in and around Manchester and I can only suggest that he has a look at the evidence. He will find that there will be different policy prescriptions for what would otherwise be similar towns.
I welcome the focus in the audit on educational attainment and many Members have already spoken about the subject. That shows how stubbornly the gap persists between pupil premium children and others. If the Government are serious about addressing this burning injustice, should they not allocate the money to schools to tackle the problem rather than forcing them to make damaging cuts, which the poorest families are least able to mitigate?
I say to the hon. Lady that the schools budget is of course protected and, secondly, that the simple prescription that more money means better public policy was exploded many years ago. She can see that through the different performances of schools in different areas and the differences between individual schools. There is certainly a problem in raising educational attainment and that is why I am very proud that over the past seven years we have had 1.8 million more children attending good or excellent schools than we had in 2010.
Like others, I welcome this audit, but I am not sure that we needed an audit to tell us of the deep rooted injustices and discriminations in many of our institutions. I have a specific question about charges brought under joint enterprise. Is the Minister aware of research from Manchester Metropolitan University that found huge disparities in the number of people in prison under joint enterprise and how those prosecutions are brought?
More than three quarters of those in prison for joint enterprise found that gang narrative and neighbourhood narrative were used in their prosecution if they were from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, compared with less than 40% for those from white backgrounds. I had a recent case in Moss Side that found exactly that: the young black men who were facing these charges found that they relied heavily on a neighbourhood narrative about Moss Side. It is no wonder that people from places such as Moss Side feel that the criminal justice system works against them, not for them. What will the Minister do about it?
I was not aware of that report, but it is clearly centrally important to the sort of evidence that the audit will produce. The hon. Lady will be able to see from the audit at a local level whether the criminal justice system is working in a discriminatory way. I will speak to the Lord Chancellor and the Prisons Minister about the specific points that she raises.
Let me turn to the issue of evidence collection as regards schools. Following the Macpherson report, there was a requirement that all schools had to report racially motivated incidents in school to their local authority. In 2010, that requirement was dropped, so there is now no information coming from academies or free schools, no local statistics and no national statistics on racist incidents in schools. Today, the Institute for Public Policy Research has shown that the figures on exclusions probably under-represent the true position—the figure could be five times as high—mainly because academies are dressing up exclusions under other names. Is it not about time that the Government revisited these issues and gave proper powers and oversight to local authorities so that we can get a true understanding of what is happening in both these areas.
The hon. Gentleman has great expertise in the area of local Government and I am happy to tell him that one policy change that has already come about as a result of the audit is an external review of exclusions to deal with precisely the sort of issue that he has just raised.
Last year, at Cabinet Office questions on
We are certainly working towards that. Some of the problem is that the information in the audit is not all collected by central Government. The audit contains quite a lot of information concerning Travellers, and some of the educational attainment information revealed for Traveller children, in particular, is especially worrying. I take the hon. Lady’s point and we are seeking, as I have said in answer to other questions, to be as transparent as possible with the information we can collect. We will continue to move down that road.
There is quite a lot of evidence in the audit that Gypsies and Travellers are one of the most discriminated against disadvantaged groups. I sat through and took part in last night’s debate, during which a succession of the First Secretary’s colleagues simply wanted to talk about planning enforcement matters. If he actually wants this audit to have an effect, perhaps he could start by explaining things to his colleagues and changing their attitudes to some of these issues.
I am not sure there was a question in that, but I take what the hon. Gentleman said in the spirit in which I know he meant it. His remarks will have been heard.
Will the First Secretary address in a bit more detail the serious issue, highlighted by the audit, of educational underachievement among white working-class children? In particular, will he address the fact that only 32% of white children on free school meals reach their expected level of attainment at key stage 2 and that white working-class children from poorer backgrounds are the least likely to go to university? Are we not dealing with a cycle of deprivation that spans the generations? The challenge is not, as he said it is, to “explain or change”—it is to explain and change. May I put it to him that tackling those cycles of deprivation is not helped—rather, it is the reverse—by cuts to Sure Start and early years provision?
In that case, I think many of us would agree on the “explanation”. At the root of a lot of the educational reforms introduced in recent years is improving the attainment in schools containing the sorts of pupils the hon. Gentleman referred to, so that they get a fair chance in life. That is what the whole of this is about and we will continue that approach. I have already said that we have far more children going to good or excellent schools than was the case five years ago and we have more children from disadvantaged background going to university than ever before, but there is always more to be done in this area. This audit gives us some of the tools to enable us to do it in a more precise way. That will be the long-term benefit of this audit.