Marsha de Cordova has described a report published by the race and ethnic disparities commission this morning as a “divisive polemic” that “cherry picks statistics” and “downplays” institutional racism across society.
Commenting on the paper, which concluded that the UK “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries” in removing race-based disparity, de Cordova argued that its findings represent a missed opportunity to tackle racism.
“This report was an opportunity to seriously engage with the reality of inequality and institutional racism in the UK,” the Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary said today. “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.”
The report from the race and ethnic disparities commission today, which was formed after the Black Lives Matter protests last year, argued that the UK is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.
The 258-page document reported that “most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism” and found evidence of what it described as “dwindling white prejudice”.
It stated that “the concept of racism has become much more fluid, extending from overt hostility and exclusion to unconscious bias and micro-aggressions” because “ethnic minorities have higher expectations of equal treatment”.
The report acknowledged that racism still exists in the UK, but the commission said that there evidence to suggest that different experiences of family life can explain many of the disparities in educational outcomes and crime.
It also suggested: “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.”
“The government must urgently explain how they came to publish content, which glorifies the slave trade and immediately disassociate themselves from these remarks,” Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary de Cordova said.
“Instead of ideology and division, The Labour Party is committed to listening to people’s experiences and tackling racism in all its forms. The next Labour government will introduce a Race Equality Act to end structural inequalities.”
De Cordova highlighted this morning that the unemployment rate for ethnic minorities in the UK is 9.5%, which is double the rate for white people, and that the rate for Black people has increased to 13.8%.
A report last year found that while age is the biggest risk factor in relation to Covid, people from Black and Asian ethnic groups are twice as likely to die from the virus than those from a white British background.
Around 40% of doctors in the UK are from a Black, Asian and ethnic minority background, but 95% of the medics who have died as a result of contracting the virus since the pandemic began are from minority backgrounds.
The commission argued there is a “strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of white discrimination” diverting attention from “other reasons for minority success and failure”.
It criticised the “confusing” way the term “institutional racism” has been applied, saying this should only be used when deep-seated, systemic racism is proved and not as a “catch-all” phrase for any microaggression.
Race equality campaigners have dismissed the claim that the UK is not institutionally racist. Think tank Runnymede Trust chief executive Dr Halima Begum said she felt “deeply, massively let down” by the report published today.
Campaigners highlighted a number of disparities, including that Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts and that Black Caribbean children are over five times more likely to be excluded from school.
The commission set out 24 recommendations in the document, “designed to remove obstacles for everyone”, grouped around four themes identified as: building trust; promoting fairness; creating agency; and achieving inclusivity.
It argued that unconscious bias training should be scrapped in favour of sponsorship and skills training, and that all companies currently publishing their ethnicity pay gap figures should break the reported data up by ethnic group.
The paper recommended that the disproportionate number of ethnic minority young people going into criminal justice system due to low-level class B drug possession should be tackled by referring them to drugs courses instead.
The recommendations also included the police and BAME groups setting up “safeguarding trust” to hold local police services to account, and for police chiefs to bring forward a plan for the improved use of stop and search powers by officers.
Research in 2016/17 showed that Black people were stopped and searched for drugs at almost nine times the rate of white people, while Asian people and those of mixed ethnicity were stop-searched for drugs at almost three times the rate.
David Lammy told LBC listeners this morning that people are “dying to turn the page on racism” but has described the findings published today as an “insult to anybody and everybody across this country who experiences institutional racism”.
“Boris Johnson has just slammed the door in their faces by telling them that they’re idealists, they are wasting their time. He has let an entire generation of young white and Black British people down,” the Shadow Justice Secretary argued.
“I’m disappointed,” Labour leader Keir Starmer said ahead of the publication of the full report, after the government released a summary to a select group of journalists. The full document became available at 11.30 this morning.
“On the one hand, there’s an acknowledgement of the problems, the issues, the challenges that face many black and minority ethnic communities,” Starmer said. “But, on the other hand, there’s a reluctance to accept that that’s structural.”