Uncomfortable reading but necessary and overdue

Rosie Carter - 10 10 17
The Government’s race disparity audit released today reveals a bleak picture of how people of different backgrounds are treated in society.

Black and ethnic minority (BAME) people face widespread discrimination in terms of health, education, employment and the criminal justice system.

BAME Brits are almost twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts, with a wider gap in the north than the south of the country.

BAME people are also far less likely to be in managerial positions than white people and are far less likely to be homeowners.

Furthermore, over half (54%) of Black British pupils and just 13% of white Gypsy and Traveller children are reaching the expected standard for reading, writing and maths at primary school.

These findings on inequality are stark, and while critics have already suggested that none of this information is new, collecting and presenting this data in this way fills a much-needed gap.

But it is true that these outcomes are things we have heard before.

Earlier this year, The Guardian’s Colour of Power project highlighted that just three percent (3%) of Britain’s most powerful political, financial, judicial, and cultural and security positions were held by those from BAME groups.

Last month, the Lammy Review found “overt discrimination” in the British criminal justice system, with black people disproportionately incarcerated at a rate worse than in the U.S.A.

Explain or Change

Laying this information bare, with the challenge set by Prime Minister Theresa May to “explain or change”, should be welcomed as a clear signal to trigger policy change that works for, and represents, diverse Britain.

While the report does not put forward any solutions, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has already proposed targeting 20 ‘hotspots’ where it will offer training and mentoring schemes to help those from minority ethnic backgrounds into work. Other departments will be presenting their responses over the coming days.

Transformative change is needed, not just from the Government but across local authorities, employees, schools, communities and among individuals, too.

But moving forward, government departments must be careful not to throw the onus directly back on to those facing discrimination, rather than challenging oppression head on.

As with the Casey Review, this audit puts the spotlight on women from Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim communities who are seen to be living ‘parallel lives’ from wider society and who are, according to a cabinet source, “shockingly badly integrated”.

Integration does not occur solely through efforts made by individuals, but relies on the ability for all people to access opportunities equally, to engage with their community in a meaningful way, and to be able to engage with structures that govern.

Support for these groups will require additional resources for English language provision and skills training, but an assimilationist approach which focuses on the promotion of British values will not help isolated and marginalised groups to integrate when faced with severe structural inequality.

The structural racism highlighted by this audit inhibits processes of integration, which when seen as a ‘choice’ or a result of culture, places minority groups in a paradox.

Discrimination reliably reproduces social and economic inequities, and integration initiatives will have to tackle discrimination alongside opening opportunities for marginalised people.

This audit might be uncomfortable reading but it is necessary and overdue. What is important now is that radical, positive steps are taken to ensure discrimination is confronted and challenged, and that communities and individuals are not further marginalised in the process.


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