Kemi Badenoch, minister of state for equalities, prefaced the report by acknowledging that while she has experienced equality of opportunity, “not everyone in this country” has. Image: UK Parliament
The government has published a new set of recommendations on how it can address racism and discrimination in the UK.
Named “Inclusive Britain”, the strategy was devised to address the findings of the Sewell report, released by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) last year.
CRED was established in the wake of global Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020, but its investigation into the state of racism in the UK concluded there was no systemic racism and as such was largely discredited.
Doreen Lawrence, who campaigned for justice for almost two decades after the murder of her son Stephen by racists, warned it risked setting the fight against racism “back 20 years or more” for undermining the existence of structural racism.
The lead author of the report and chair of CRED, Tony Sewell, reportedly had an honorary degree offer withdrawn by the University of Nottingham due to the controversial findings.
And now those findings are supported in the introduction to the new strategy by equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, who quotes Sewell’s claim that: “Put simply, we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism.”
“Of course, there is more to do to overcome barriers to opportunity, but that applies beyond ethnic minority groups, as the commission found a huge proportion of white people from deprived backgrounds continue to be left behind by society,” Badenoch adds.
The minister then goes on to draw on her own lived experience to confirm the notion that “anyone in this country should be able to achieve anything, no matter where they live or come from” is, already, at the heart of this government’s agenda.
The 97-page report makes a series of recommendations for government departments – including the Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Education – to implement.
In total there are 74 recommendations, some of which list actions or policies already being done by the government. To be frank, it’s a report that takes some time to digest.
So we’ve done the hard part for you. Here’s a round-up of what you need to know about the “landmark” strategy.
1. It does not challenge the Sewell report’s findings that there is “no evidence of institutional racism” in Britain
Though the report mentions “structural barriers” that “ block the way” to equality of opportunity, and “structural issues that immigrants may face,” it does not mention or address structural or institutional racism.
In its own words, the Sewell report concluded “the claim the country is still institutionally racist is not borne out by the evidence”, and was immediately discredited by academics, politicians and campaigners.
Labour says the new set of recommendations “agrees with the original report’s denial of structural racism,” and therefore fails “to deliver meaningful action.”
2. Recommends clamping down on online racist abuse through new legislation that has already been written
To clamp down on racist online abuse, the report recommends the Home Office introduce the world-leading Online Safety Bill as soon as possible.
The report reads: “Recommendation 1b… Action 2 – To clamp down on racist abuse online, DCMS and the Home Office will introduce the world-leading Online Safety Bill as soon as possible.”
It is unclear whether this is a recommendation, or a description of what the government is already doing, as the draft Online Safety Bill was presented to parliament on the same day as the Inclusive Britain strategy was published.
3. Recommends a new national framework for local scrutiny of police powers including stop and search
The report claims the Home Office, alongside police and crime commissioners, will develop a new, national framework for how the use of police powers are scrutinised at a local level by summer 2023.
Under the proposed framework, “local scrutiny panels” would be established to independently review police powers including stop and search.
Hackney MP Dianne Abbott has recently demanded an “urgent meeting” with the local police force responsible for strip searching a 15-year-old Black girl at school, after a report found that racism was a factor in officers’ actions.
It is also recommended that police forces better reflect the communities they serve by introducing a “local residency requirement” that would see people from local communities recruited into their police force.
4. How slavery should be taught in schools is not addressed
The Sewell report recommended that teaching about the UK’s colonial past should include material that “speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering, but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodelled African/Britain”.
That suggestion sparked a fierce backlash, with academic David Olusoga saying it was a similar argument to one used by slave owners 200 years ago: the “idea that by becoming culturally British, Black people were somehow beneficiaries of the system.”
The government’s response features no mention of slavery or how it should be taught in schools. Rather, it suggests “establishing a diverse panel of historians to develop a new knowledge-rich model history curriculum by 2024 to support high-quality teaching of our complex past”. Which historians would sit on the panel or how they could be chosen is not stated.
The report also notes that the Department for Education will create an inclusive school hair and uniform policy to “avoid unfair treatment of ethnic minority children whose hair type may not be like the majority.”
5. Recommends a cash injection for school pupils who have fallen behind during the pandemic
The report recommends that the Department for Education’s investments in “physical and cultural activities” to help students who have fallen behind during the pandemic should be targeted at those in “disadvantaged areas”.
6. Calls on government to investigate “what causes ethnic pay disparities” but stops short of making ethnicity pay gap reporting compulsory
While the report suggests support should be made available to “employers across the UK who want to publish their ethnicity pay gaps”, it stops short at recommending ethnicity pay gap reporting be made mandatory.
However, it does suggest that companies that volunteer to publish their ethnicity pay gap data should then be required to publish an action plan for how they will address the gap.
The Women and Equalities Committee has recently recommended that large companies be made to report their ethnicity pay gaps by April 2023 to address existing inequalities.
7. Calls the term BAME ‘unhelpful’ and recommends it be binned
The government has stopped using the term BAME (which stands for Black, Asian and minority ethnic), and the report recommends that other public sector bodies also drop the term, claiming that it lumps together different ethnic minority groups into a single category.
8. Recommends the establishment of an Office for Health Disparities
Recommendation 11 proposes the establishment of an entirely new office in government that would be tasked with reducing “health inequalities across all groups.”
The report then goes on to specify the office would work to “improve maternal health outcomes for ethnic minority women” (recent research by MBRRACE-UK found Black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth) and “reduce the health disparities we have seen during the pandemic” (people of Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnicity have been found to be three times more at risk of dying from Covid-19 than white people).
However, the Sewell report was described as “divorced from reality” when it comes to health disparities by the British Medical Journal and public health campaigners say structural racism at the root of disparities must be addressed if the government is to have any chance of fixing them.
9. Claims the DWP will roll out a new programme to help in-work benefits claimants
The report states that from April, 37 new specialist Progression Champions will be appointed by the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver specialist support to Jobcentres for in-work benefits claimants. These advisers will help people in work to increase their income and progress “out of low pay”.