Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:01 pm on 21st April 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 April.

“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on our work to examine inequality across the population and set out a new, positive agenda for change.

The Government are committed to building a fairer Britain and taking the action needed to promote equality and opportunity for all. We do, however, recognise that serious disparities exist across our society, and are determined to take the action that is required to address them. Following the events of last summer, our nation has engaged in a serious examination of the issue of race inequality, and the Government have been determined to respond by carefully examining the evidence and data. We need to recognise progress where it has been made, but we also need to tackle barriers where they remain. That was why, last summer, the Prime Minister established the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. It was tasked with informing our national conversation on race by carrying out a deeper examination of why disparities exist and considering how we can reduce them.

After careful study, the commission made evidence-based recommendations for action across government, the private sector and other public bodies. The commission was established with 10 experts drawn from a variety of fields, spanning science, education, economics, broadcasting, medicine and policing. With one exception, all are from ethnic-minority backgrounds. The chair, Dr Sewell, has dedicated his life to education and to supporting young people from socially deprived back- grounds to reach their full potential. This distinguished group was tasked with reviewing inequality in the UK, and it focused on education, employment, crime and policing, and health.

As this House will be aware, on 31 March, the commission published its independent report. I will now turn to its findings. It is right to say that the picture painted by this report is complex, particularly in comparison with the way that issues of race are often presented. The report shows that disparities do persist, that racism and discrimination remain a factor in shaping people’s life outcomes, and it is clear about the fact that abhorrent racist attitudes continue in society, within institutions and increasingly online. It calls for action to tackle this.

However, the report also points out that, while disparities between ethnic groups exist across numerous areas, many factors other than racism are often the root cause. Among these are geography, deprivation and family structure. For example, a black Caribbean child is 10 times more likely than an Indian child to grow up in a lone parent household. Disparities exist in different directions. People from south Asian and Chinese ethnic groups have better outcomes than the white population in more than half of the top 25 causes of premature death.

The report also highlights the progress that Britain has made in tackling racism, and the report’s data reveal a range of success stories. For example, it underlines the significant progress achieved in educational attainment, with most ethnic-minority groups now outperforming their white British peers at GCSE level. The report also delves into the causes and drivers of some of the most persistent and enduring issues. For example, the commission has identified the disproportionate rate of black men convicted of class B drug offences.

Let me be clear: the report does not deny that institutional racism exists in the UK. Rather the report did not find conclusive evidence of it in the specific areas it examined. It reaffirms the Macpherson report’s definition of the term, but argues that it should be applied more carefully and always based on evidence.

The commission made 24 evidence-based and practical recommendations. These have been grouped into four broad themes: to build trust; promote fairness; create agency; and achieve inclusivity.

There are many things that unite this House. A shared commitment to making Britain fairer for everyone is one of them. In the light of that fact, I urge right honourable and honourable Members to take the time to read the report’s 258 pages. There is also another thing that I am sure unites this House, which is abhorrence of the appalling abuse meted out to the commissioners and the false assertions made about their work in the past three weeks. It is true that this landmark analysis challenges a number of strongly held beliefs about the extent and influence of racism in Britain today. The commissioners have followed the evidence and drawn conclusions that challenge orthodoxy, and they were prepared for a robust and constructive debate. However, they were not prepared for the wilful misrepresentation of the report that occurred following its publication, such as false accusations that they denied racism exists, or that they wished to put a positive spin on the atrocities of slavery, or false statements that commissioners did not read or sign off their own report, or that they are breaking ranks. I have been informed by the chair and by individual members that the commission remains united and stands by its report.

This Government welcome legitimate disagreement and debate, but firmly reject bad-faith attempts to undermine the credibility of this report. Doing so risks undermining the vital work that we are trying to do to understand and address the causes of inequality in the UK, and any other positive work that results from it. For that reason it is necessary to set the record straight. This report makes it clear that the UK is not a post-racial society and that racism is still a real force that has the power to deny opportunity and painfully disrupt lives. That is why the first recommendation of the commission is to challenge racist and discriminatory actions. The report calls on the Government to increase funding to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to make greater use of

“its compliance, enforcement and litigation powers to challenge policies or practices that…cause…unjust racial disadvantage, or arise from racial discrimination.”

The Government even more firmly condemn the deeply personal and racialised attacks against the commissioners, which have included death threats. In fact, one Opposition Member presented commissioners as members of the Ku Klux Klan—an example of the very online racial hatred and abuse on which the report itself recommended more action be taken by the Government.

It is, of course, to be expected that Members will disagree about how to address racial inequality and the kinds of policies that the Government should enact. However, it is wrong to accuse those who argue for a different approach of being racism deniers or race traitors. It is even more irresponsible—dangerously so—to call ethnic-minority people racial slurs like “Uncle Toms”, “coconuts”, “house slaves” or “house negroes” for daring to think differently.

Such deplorable tactics are designed to intimidate ethnic-minority people away from their right to express legitimate views. This House depends on robust debate and diversity of thought. Too many ethnic-minority people have to put up with this shameful treatment every day, as some of my fellow MPs and I know too well. The House should condemn it and reprimand those who continue with such behaviour.

The commissioners’ experience since publication only reinforces the need for informed debate on race based on mutual respect and a nuanced understanding of the evidence. The Government will now consider the report in detail and assess the next steps for future policy. In recognition of the extensive scope of recommendations, the Prime Minister has established a new inter-ministerial group to review the recommendations. It will ensure that action is taken to continue progress to create a fairer society. As sponsoring Minister, I will provide strategic direction with support from my officials in the Race Disparity Unit. The group will be chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

On that note, on behalf of the Prime Minister, I would like to thank the commissioners once again for all that they have done. They have generously volunteered their time, unpaid, to lead this important piece of work, and the Government welcome their thoughtful, balanced and evidence-based findings and analysis.

The Government will now work at pace to produce a response to the report this summer. I assure the House that it will be ambitious about tackling negative disparities where they exist and building on successes. It will play a significant part in this Government’s mission to level up and unite the country, and ensure equality and opportunity for all, whatever their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background. I commend this Statement to the House.”