Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:12 pm on 21st April 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 1:12 pm, 21st April 2021

President Joe Biden said today that the conviction of a former police office in the killing of George Floyd can be a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America, but he warned, “We can’t stop here”. I would add that neither can the United Kingdom.

Following the Black Lives Matter movement, the commission that produced this report had an opportunity meaningfully to engage with structural inequality and racism in the UK. Disappointingly, and incredulously, they have produced a divisive and downright offensive piece of material. It seems to glorify slavery and within the underplay of institutional racism appears to blame ethnic minorities for their own disadvantage. This report must be rigorously challenged to prevent the decades of progress that we have made in our efforts to develop race equality in the UK. Since its publication, the report has garnered widespread criticism from groups and individuals such as the BMA, Professor Michael Marmot, all of our major trade unions, which represent over five million workers, and human rights experts at the UN who state that the report has misrepresented data, shoe-horned conclusions and misquoted academics. My noble friend Lady Lawrence said it gave

“a green light to racists.”

The data is misleading and incoherent, and its conclusions are ideologically motivated and divisive. I have many questions to ask the Minister in my speech, and I will be content to receive written responses from her, as it may be difficult to answer every one I pose in the Chamber today. These questions need resolution and reflection on this highly contentious government report.

Despite the overwhelming body of evidence, why does this report seek to downplay the role of institutional and structural racism in the UK? Does the Government share its view? It was reported that a number of commissioners say that No. 10 intervened in the writing of the report and failed to give them sight of the final copy. These are serious accusations that call into question the credibility and independence of the report. Can the Minister whether her Government intervened in the work of the independent commission and rewrote any part of the final report?

Does the Minister agree with the foreword by the chair of the report? There he remarks:

“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.”

Will her Government reject these abhorrent remarks? The report attempts to construct a false binary between socio-economic inequality and racial inequality, suggesting that racism has less of a role than class to play in producing inequalities. Does the Minister agree this is disingenuous and divisive given that so many ethnic minority people are part of the working class struggling after more than a decade of Tory austerity?

The report appears to soften the role of structural racism in the labour market, but the latest ONS unemployment figures show that the unemployment rate for ethnic minorities is more than 9.5%—more than double the rate for white people at 4.5%. What steps, therefore, will the Government take to address structural racism in the labour market? Will the Minister commit to publishing equality impact assessments of job creation schemes?

Many of the recommendations in this report lack teeth. They are repetitions or rely too much on individual discretion. Some simply ask the Government to undo the damage they have done since 2010. Proposals to fund the EHRC and to establish an office for health disparities are particularly ironic, given that the Conservatives have slashed EHRC funding by £43 million since 2010 and abolished Public Health England. Does the Minister regret these cuts, and does she have any plans to restore this funding?

The report appeared to downplay the role of structural racism in health inequalities despite the hugely disproportionate number of deaths of black and Asian people from Covid-19 over the past year and is out of step with the analysis of the ONS. Does the Minister agree that this section is an insult to black, Asian and ethnic minority people who have suffered the worst fatal and financial consequences of the pandemic?

The report also downplays the role of structural inequalities in our education system, despite very recent data that shows that black Caribbean children are more than five times more likely to be excluded from school in parts of the UK. There have been 60,000 racist incidents in schools in the past five years. What steps will the Minister take to address the deep-rooted, structural racial inequalities within the education system?

The report contained minimal information and recommendations on social security, despite this being a key mechanism to end socio-economic and racial inequalities. What steps is the Minister taking to address structural inequalities of race and ethnicity in the social security system?

Finally, the language in the report appears to regress to blame black, Asian and ethnic minority people for their own disadvantage. Mentions of family structure and culture misrepresent the reality of structural racism and turn back the clock on how we talk about race and structural inequality. Will the Minister reject this report before us today in this Chamber?