The devastating consequences of structural racism must not be ignored

Marsha de Cordova

Keir Starmer yesterday set out Labour’s vision for the country. He rightly declared that as we emerge out of this pandemic, we must address the deep inequalities and injustices in our country.

Publication of the delayed report from the Prime Minister’s commission on race and ethnic disparities is imminent. Yet, even before reviewing all the evidence, the chair of the commission has already claimed that the reasons for the disparity may have “little to do with racism itself”.  

Unfortunately, this fits both a picture and a pattern of behaviour. Alongside the continual dismissal and denial of the realities of racism by key government ministers, there has been a sustained failure to take any action on the inequalities in our society. Numerous government-led reviews, with hundreds of sound recommendations to tackle racial inequalities, have been ignored or forgotten.

It shouldn’t take a new commission to see the truth: structural racism and discrimination have been prevalent for centuries and are having devastating consequences today. The racial injustice they cause has life or death consequences for Black, Asian and ethnic minority people.

We’ve seen this clearly with Covid-19. As Doreen Lawrence’s recent report for Labour so powerfully exposed, ethnic minority communities weren’t randomly hit with worse infection rates. They were overexposed to the virus and under-protected as a result of social and economic inequalities. The disproportionate impact of Covid was the consequence of decades of structural injustice, inequality and discrimination.

Ministers deny the impact of structural racism. They pretend they want to focus on addressing inequalities of class and geography. But the truth is they have no interest in tackling inequality at all. They believe a good government is one that simply gets out of the way. Why else would they be planning to plunge hundreds of thousands of children into poverty by cutting Universal Credit?

The struggles facing Black, Asian and ethnic minority working class people and white working-class people are the same. Those in insecure, low-paid work, overcrowded housing, struggling to care for children or access decent healthcare have more in common than they do apart. Meaningfully addressing poverty in this country means engaging with race, ethnicity, geography and class. These webs cannot be separated.

This country needs bold, joined-up policies that acknowledge the injustice of structural racism and bring an approach that encompasses tackling ethnic disparities, from education to employment to health to housing. So unless the commission for race and ethnic disparity report is going to set out an action plan to do this, it will really fall short and prove the government is not serious about tackling structural racism.

A Labour government is committed to introducing a Race Equality Act to tackle structural racial inequality across the UK. As Keir said yesterday: “We cannot accept the fact that if you’re from Black, Asian or minority ethnic communities you’ll face structural racism and discrimination at every stage of your life.” Racism needs to be eliminated once and for all – and Labour will do whatever it takes.

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