Politics

The Controversy Around The The UK Race & Ethnic Disparities Report, Explained

The results have triggered widespread criticism after it was concluded that the UK is “a model for other white-majority countries.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 20: People, holding banners, take part in a march from Hyde Park towards Trafalgar Square to protest against racism and inequality, on June 20, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On March 31, 2021, the UK government revealed the outcome of the highly anticipated Race and Ethnic disparities report, a review commissioned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter anti-racism demonstrations that took place during the summer of 2020.

The results have triggered widespread debate after it was concluded that the UK was no longer “deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities” and “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries.”

In response, some UK race advisors and leading minority voices have dubbed the report as “whitewashed” and “complete nonsense”, saying that it fails to acknowledge the true extent of institutional racism in Britain.

Here’s what you need to know about the report and how it may affect minority communities going forward.

Why Was The Report Introduced?

The 258-page report was commissioned by Downing Street following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

As written in the review, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK “needed to consider important questions about the state of race relations today, and that there needed to be a thorough examination of why so many disparities persist.”

A board of ten commissioners was tasked to look at race and ethnic disparities in education, employment, crime, and policing, and health. In the main, they concluded that social class and family structure had a “more significant impact” on how people's lives turned out “than the existence of racism."

What’s The Conclusion Of The Report?

While the report acknowledged “overt racism” remains, particularly online, the report found no conclusive evidence of institutional racism in the country.

“For some groups, historic experience of racism still haunts the present and there was a reluctance to acknowledge that the UK had become open and fairer,” wrote chairman Tony Sewell in the report foreword.

However, he went on to say: “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.”

He added: “Too often ‘racism’ is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on March 31, Sewell, who voiced similar views about institutional racism more than ten years ago, further clarified his position: “What we have seen is that the term ‘institutional racism’ is sometimes wrongly applied and it’s been a sort of a catch-all phrase for micro-aggressions or acts of racial abuse.”

What are the key takeaways from the report?

The lengthy report looked at race and ethnic disparities in education, employment, crime, and policing, and health. Some of the key takeaways include:

  • The report claims children from ethnic communities “did as well or better than white pupils” in compulsory education. This success in education has “transformed British society over the last 50 years into one offering far greater opportunities for all,” it states
  • Factors like class and family are more useful in explaining poor outcomes than racism, states the report. Although the Commission stated it took “the reality of racism seriously” and did not “deny that it is a real force in the UK.”
  • The report warned against “idealising” UK BLM protestors, deeming the movement “counter-productive” when attempting to achieve a “decent centre ground” occupied by people of all races and ethnicities.
  • The term BAME should no longer be used “because differences between groups are as important as what they have in common.”
  • “We have argued against bringing down statues, instead, we want all children to reclaim their British heritage,” it states, rejecting calls to “decolonise British education.”
  • The pay gap between all ethnic minorities and the white majority population has shrunk to 2.3% overall, the report states, and was barely significant for employees under 30.

The report also made 24 recommendations that the Commission “believes will catalyse the most effective way to meaningfully address disparities and inequalities for all those affected.” These included:

  • A movement away from unconscious bias training towards “new interventions that when implemented, can be measured or evaluated for their efficacy.”
  • Extended school days for disadvantaged areas.
  • Establishing a new office to properly target health disparities in the UK.
  • Establish more robust measures to monitor stop and search tactics within the police.

The full report, including the recommendations, can be read here.

What have people's reactions been?

Since the full report has been made public, there has been noticeable outrage.

The Runnymeade Trust, the UK’s racial think-tank, says it has been “let down” by the report.

Speaking to BBC News, Dr. Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said: “Institutionally, we are still racist, and for a government-appointed commission to look into (institutional) racism, to deny its existence is deeply, deeply worrying.”

The race and ethnic disparities report has been compared to findings from previous research, including The Race Disparity Audit, published by former Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017, which, by contrast, found evidence of racial bias and discrimination in education, workplace, healthcare.

For many, Sewell’s review failed to thoroughly address known and deeply concerning racial disparities in Britain.

“Tell that to the black young mother who is four times more likely to die in childbirth than her young white neighbour, tell that to the 60% of NHS doctors and nurses who died from Covid and were black and ethnic minority workers,” said Begum, via the BBC.

Meanwhile, Professor Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University, branded the report a “PR Move.

“This is not a genuine effort to understand racism in Britain,” he said to PA Media. “This is a PR move to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. The evidence is clear, it’s been there for a long time around ethnic penalties in employment, around the problems in education, around the problems with policing.”

Labour MP David Lammy recently tweeted that he would not be taking media requests about the race commission for the sake of his “mental well-being.”

“For my own mental well-being I am not doing media interviews on the race commission today. Like so many in Britain’s Black community I’m tired!” he wrote. “Tired of the endless debate about whether structural racism exists with little desire to actually address it. We are being gaslighted.”