image captionThe commissioners said they owed a “debt of gratitude” to young protesters but criticised “strident” anti-racism
When the death of George Floyd in the US inspired protests about racial injustice across the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set up the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to examine inequality in the UK.
Now its 258-page report covering health, education, criminal justice and employment has been published. But what does it say?
‘Strident form of anti-racism’ criticised
The commission acknowledges that it was established as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the upsurge of concern about race issues it inspired. It says it owes the mainly young people behind the movement a “debt of gratitude”.
But it sets out a generational divide between younger activists and the commissioners who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, saying: “Our experience has taught us that you do not pass on the baton of progress by cleaving to a fatalistic account that insists nothing has changed”.
It also criticises “bleak new theories about race that insist on accentuating our differences” and an “increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of white discrimination”.
That diverts attention from other reasons for the success or failure of minority groups, including those relating to the “culture and attitudes” of those communities, the report says. It rejects terms such as “white privilege”.
Old class divisions have lost traction and identity politics is on the rise, fuelling “pessimistic narratives” about race, the commissioners say. While single-issue identity groups can do good work in protecting the vulnerable, they also “raise the volume” on these pessimistic viewpoints.
Racism the direct cause of ‘very few’ ethnic disparities
“Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities,” the commission says. It says racism is too often used as a “catch-all explanation” for disparities and impediments for people from minority groups.
Examples where ethnic minority communities “rightly felt let down”, such as the Grenfell fire or the Windrush scandal, sparked “genuine national grief”.
The commissioners suggest that inequalities such as the higher death rates from Covid-19 among some ethnic groups are explained by factors such as their occupation or housing rather than direct discrimination. “Outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted,” they say.
It urges a detailed examination of the cases of racial and ethnic disparities and criticises the use of the term BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) as “no longer helpful” because it “disguises huge differences” between minority groups.
image captionTragedies with ethnic minority victims such as the Grenfell Tower fire were met with “genuine national grief”
Too much data in the UK only breaks down ethnic groups according to the “big five” of white, black, Asian, mixed and other, making it harder to see differences within ethnic minorities such as black African and black Caribbean communities, the report says.
Many of the poor outcomes were due to family breakdown, the report suggests. It also says huge geographical inequalities can be the underlying causes of racial disparities.
The commissioners say it was “a revelation how stuck some groups from the white majority are” and it decided its recommendations should be “designed to remove obstacles for everyone”.
Social media ‘amplifies racist views’
Although the commissioners cite opinion polls showing there is wide acceptance among the population of the UK as a multi-ethnic society, they suggest social media “enormously amplifies racist views”.
It says the “dominant narrative” tends to draw attention to issues such as this abuse rather than progress in society, such as that 40% of NHS consultants are from ethnic minorities.
Social media abuse, where people can find themselves targeted in their own homes, is a “unique torment”, the report says. It says platforms such as Facebook and YouTube with a huge user base have provided racists with a new, more public way to inflict pain on their victims.
It suggests social media companies too often fail to even enforce their own terms and conditions, and they should face “substantial penalties – and public naming and shaming”.
Contrary to public perception of rising hate crimes, the report says they may be declining, according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales. But it still equates to 142 racially-motivated hate crimes a day.
Praise for ‘immigrant optimism’
The report looks for explanations as to why some ethnic minority groups do better than others, and it finds one in some educational research which suggests an important factor is “immigrant optimism”.
In the education system, black African, Indian and Bangladeshi pupils perform better than white British ones, taking into account socio-economic status. Ethnic minority pupils also have higher aspirations at 14 than white students – with the exception of boys from black Caribbean backgrounds .
The research suggests that recent immigrants devote themselves more to education because they see education as a way out of poverty.
The commissioners say it may explain why pupils from black African backgrounds have better attainment in education than students with black Caribbean heritage, despite similar levels of neighbourhood deprivation, prejudice, and poverty.
Minorities who have been long-established in the UK, particularly if they have faced racial, social and economic disadvantage, may be the least optimistic about social mobility, the report says.
Education the “success story” for UK ethnic minorities
New arrivals to the UK have seized on educational opportunities and achieved “remarkable social mobility”, making education the “single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience”.
A bigger proportion of ethnic minority students attend university than white British ones, the report says. People from white British backgrounds have the best outcomes at top universities, but the commissioners suggest this is a “selection effect”, due to a smaller, better qualified cross-section of the white British population going to university.
It says from early years onwards, family, geography and poverty are the main reasons for poorer outcomes in education.
The report says some groups need extra support, including black Caribbean, mixed white and black Caribbean, traveller of Irish heritage, gypsy and Roma groups, as well as Pakistani boys from low socio-economic backgrounds, and lower socio-economic status white British pupils.
But it compares racial attainment gaps to the US and finds they are about eight times smaller in the UK.
It acknowledges that teaching is “overwhelmingly white” but says the causes for differences in the rates of exclusions and suspensions “cannot be reduced to structural racism and individual teacher bias”.
‘Shame and pride’ in British history
Teachers from ethnic minorities have faced “pushback” from senior staff when they push for a broader curriculum, the commissioners say. It suggests opportunities for a more inclusive portrayal of British culture are being missed, even when colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds are proposing them.
But it says British history is not just one of “imperial imposition”, with a more “complex picture” of ideas travelling back and forth, cultures mixing and “positive relations”. “All this makes up the British story, our story, which has episodes of both shame and pride,” the report says.
image captionProtests involving statues have sparked national debates about British history and race
It says to develop a sense of citizenship and to support integration, pupils should be exposed to the “rich variety of British culture” and the influences on it, from classical civilisation to modern immigration.
The commissioners note there have been calls to include topics such as the Commonwealth contribution to the World Wars, major race relations events such as the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1968 and Commonwealth writers such as Derek Walcott and Andrea Levy.
Family is the ‘foundation stone of success’
Family breakdown is one of the main reasons for educational failure and crime, the report says. “Family is also the foundation stone of success for many ethnic minorities,” it adds.
The commission said it had “great concern” about high rates of family breakdown in some communities, with 63% of children from black Caribbean backgrounds growing up in lone parent families compared to a UK average of 14.7%. Lone parenthood is much lower than average in south Asian and Chinese families.
The report says it is not “passing judgement”, “allocating blame” or saying “two parents are always better than one”, but stressing they may need extra support from extended families or community groups.
It also says “governments cannot remain neutral here” and minsters should look at initiatives to prevent family breakdown.
Stop-and-search a ‘critical tool’
The commissioners criticise widely-cited figures that black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, saying the nationwide figures do not take into account the different sizes and characteristics of local populations.
They produce figures for London alone, where the bulk of searches are carried out, which show black people are nearly four times more likely to be searched.
Stop-and-search is a “critical tool for policing when used appropriately, and lawfully”, the report says. But it says there needs to be more transparency and accountability about why it is deployed.
image captionStop-and-search has been criticised for targeting black men, but the commission defended its use
It quotes a suggestion by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services that the fact that most searches are for drugs does not suggest it is targeted on the most high-priority crimes.
“Is stop and search tackling the war on drugs? Or is it removing knives from our streets?” the commissioners ask, calling for greater clarity from police and government.
The report also suggests that more Class B drug possession offences where it is for personal use only should be dealt with outside of the criminal justice system.
‘Better outcomes’ in health for ethnic minorities
Amid concern about the disproportionate numbers of people from ethnic minorities dying in the pandemic, the report says this is mainly due to increased risk of exposure through their occupation, as well as living in urban areas and multi-generational households.
It says that overall ethnic minority groups have better outcomes than the white population in terms of life expectancy, overall mortality and for many of the leading causes of mortality.
“This evidence clearly suggests that ethnicity is not the major driver of health inequalities in the UK,” the commissioners say, pointing to deprivation, geography and different levels of exposure to key risk factors as the main issues.
They also suggest that the lack of evidence of an impact on health outcomes casts doubt on whether black and South Asian communities are “suffering from systemic racism throughout their lives” that negatively affects their health, education, income, housing and employment.
There was “no overwhelming evidence” of racism in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions.
But the report says there needs to be more research into disparities in maternal mortality.
It stresses that the number of deaths overall is low, but between 2016 and 2018, among every 100,000 giving birth, 34 black women died. Among Asian women the rate was 15, and for white women it was eight.
‘Diversity training does not work’
Research for the commission suggests that over the last 50 years, many first generation immigrants experienced downward social mobility, but the second generation have “caught up, and in some cases, surpassed, white people”.
But it says this progress has mostly taken place in the last two or three decades and it has been “imperfect and mixed”.
People from ethnic minorities are more likely to have persistent low incomes and among young people unemployment rates are high even for Indian and Chinese people who “comfortably outperform the white average in education and incomes overall and generally benefit from positive stereotypes”.
It says discrimination is “likely to be a part of the story”, with experiments showing ethnic minority candidates have to apply for about 1.6 times the number of jobs to get the same number of responses as a white person.
But the report says: “Diversity training and policies that treat people differently according to ethnicity does not work.” And it recommends policies such as name-blind applications and mentoring rather than quotas.