The government has come under fierce criticism after commissioning a report on racial disparities in the UK, which critics including Unite have said has failed to take seriously the lived experiences of racism by Black and Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM) communities.
The 258-page report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities noted that “we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.
The report said that while “disparities do exist”…”ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism”, adding that “the evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism.”
The Commission was set up in response to the Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests that swept the UK and the world last summer after the murder of George Floyd by police in the USA.
Critics fear that the Commission’s report will be used by employers and government institutions to take a complacent approach to racism.
The report highlighted the educational success of BAEM children, who, the report notes, now do as well or better in school than their white peers – an achievement that the Commission says is not mirrored in other comparable countries.
But critics have highlighted that educational achievement means little if BAEM children go on as adults to face discrimination in, for example, the workplace or the justice system.
“Black and Asian Britons in our society today face less prejudice than their parents or grandparents; they may well fare better than those in many other countries. But such comparisons make little difference to the lives of ethnic minority Britons in 2021,” noted British Future director Sunder Katwala.
“There’s an important success story in education that can rightly be celebrated. But if a graduate in Manchester with an ethnic-sounding surname still gets fewer job interviews than a white classmate with the same CV, why should they feel lucky that the odds might be worse in Milan or Marseille?”
Unite was especially critical of how the report all but dismissed the disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on BAEM communities.
While the Commission acknowledged that BAEM people were at greater risk of dying from the virus, it said that the suggestion that racism was driving this disparity in health outcomes was an example of “overly pessimistic narratives” about race.
The report said higher Covid-19 death rates among BAEM people can be explained away by the fact that they tend to work in higher-risk occupations such as frontline roles in health and public transport, but as UniteLive highlighted earlier this year, even within these occupations, BAEM people are dying at higher rates than their white peers.
For example, an analysis published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in January highlighted the fact that while BAEM staff represent 21 per cent of the NHS workforce, BAEM workers accounted for 63 per cent of deaths among health workers.
Authors of the research said that while a number of factors contribute to higher Covid-19 death rates among BAEM people, institutional and cultural racism, alongside outright discrimination, must be considered as key drivers.
The researchers pointed to a Public Health England (PHE) study which found that racism and discrimination have contributed to higher rates of Covid-19 exposure and deaths among BAEM people.
“Ethnic minorities have poorer access to healthcare and poor experiences of care and treatment related to racial discrimination and marginalization,” the researchers noted. “Additionally, ethnic minority staff in the NHS are less likely to speak up and raise their concerns about testing and personal protective equipment.
Commenting on today’s (March 31) report, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said, “This report was an opportunity to seriously engage with the reality of inequality and institutional racism in the UK. Instead we have a divisive polemic which cherry picks statistics.
“To downplay institutional racism in a pandemic where Black, Asian and ethnic minority people have died disproportionately and are now twice as likely to be unemployed is an insult,” she added.
Unite national officer for equalities Harish Patel agreed.
“The report is a huge disappointment and failed to delve deeper into the inequalities that affect those from ethnic minorities in the UK which have been further highlighted by the impact of the pandemic over the last year,” he said.
“There will be real anger in these communities that, once again, the government has failed to tackle these ingrained inequalities. Unless ministers get serious about inequality, this will be a running sore that will continue to damage the social fabric of the UK and blight the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.
“This is a window-dressing report that is masquerading as a serious blueprint for the future – but fools no one,” Patel added.
“It is those from black and Asian backgrounds that have suffered disproportionately from Covid-19 whether they were NHS staff who succumbed to coronavirus or, more widely, in the community where many were holding down low-paid jobs meaning they could not afford to self-isolate because of the paltry levels of statutory sick pay.”
“Sir Lenny Henry’s appeal to the Black community urging them to take the vaccine openly acknowledged there was a lack of trust in our institutions.
“It would be an awful failure if this report and the government’s haste to sweep these long-standing issues under the carpet led to continuing complacency on the economic and social fronts,” he went on to say.
“The Windrush families will, no doubt, be aghast, as will Grenfell Tower families and all those trying to get justice for the mistreatment they have suffered at the hands of our institutions.
“The report looks at these issues of inequality through rose-tinted glasses and attempts to paper over the cracks in a society where disparities and disadvantage are rife.
“The government should not be stoking up the culture wars setting people against each other at a time post-pandemic when we should be coming together and this report is heading towards dividing communities further,” Patel continued.
“The report started out on a journey, but has totally failed and no way has reached its destination which should have been a concrete set of recommendations to address the inequalities in the workplace and, in society, which those from ethnic minorities experience on a daily basis.”
By Hajera Blagg