Britain is not institutionally racist, landmark report chief says

Jemma Crew
·5-min read

Watch: Britain is not institutionally racist, says landmark report

There is no evidence of “institutional racism” in Britain, although there is evidence that “overt” prejudice exists, the man behind a landmark study set up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement has said.

Tony Sewell, who is chairman of the Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities, said while there was anecdotal evidence of racism, he denied there was any proof that it was structural, saying there was data to show some ethnic minorities were doing well in the jobs market and in education.

Labour said action was needed to tackle racism, rather than simply another report.

Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said it was “deeply, deeply worrying” that the commission has denied the existence of institutional racism, while Independent MP Claudia Webbe tweeted that the finding was a “slap in the face”.

It follows wider discussions around racism following the death of George Floyd last year, subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, elite sports stars taking the knee before football matches, and a claim by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey that a member of the royal family – not the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh – had made a racist comment about their son Archie.

Mr Sewell, a former teacher who grew up in Brixton, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No-one denies and no-one is saying racism doesn’t exist.

“We found anecdotal evidence of this.

“However… evidence of actual institutional racism? No, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that.”

Mr Sewell also said the term “institutional racism” was “sometimes wrongly applied” as a “sort of catch-all phrase for micro-aggressions or acts of racial abuse”.

He added: “I don’t want anyone to think this (report) doesn’t deny that companies themselves have to go out and really do better in terms of getting a broader and more diverse workforce.”

Watch: Protester climbs crane in London's Canning Town to hang Black Lives Matter sign

Asked whether he was hired by the Government specifically to repeat his previous findings that there was no institutional racism, Mr Sewell – who was chairman of Boris Johnson’s Education Inquiry panel when the Prime Minister was London mayor – replied: “We have some very focused recommendations on changing the landscape for ethnic minorities, and I think that’s the key thing.

“We’ve got to acknowledge that overt racism does exist.”

A child at school
Successes in education were highlighted in the report (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Dr Begum told the PA news agency she feels “massively let down”, adding: “Institutionally, we are still racist, and for a Government-appointed commission to look into (institutional) racism, to deny its existence is deeply, deeply worrying.”

She also questioned the suitability of Dr Sewell and head of the Number 10 policy unit Munira Mirza, who had a role in setting the commission up – both of whom have questioned the existence of institutional racism previously – asking: “What hope did we have that they were going to look into this in an objective manner, if not follow whatever the Government mantra is?”

She also criticised the lack of response from the Prime Minister so far to the report, and said: “We feel that if the best this Government can do is come up with a style guide on BAME terminology, or what we should do about unconscious bias training, or extend a few school hours, then I’m afraid this Government doesn’t carry the confidence of black and ethnic minority communities any longer, certainly not on race.”

Director of Voice4Change England Kunle Olulode, a co-opted member of the Commission, told Sky News the question of institutional racism “depends where you look”.

He said in relation to the economy – an area of the report he was involved in looking at – “there are things that actually have been persistent and they are, to a degree, structural”.

He added: “But that’s not the case in every aspect of British society. On the whole there’s been immense progress in many areas.”

The report will be published in full later on Wednesday, after the Government Equalities Office revealed selective highlights.

It said there have been improvements such as increasing diversity in elite professions and a shrinking ethnicity pay gap, although disparities remain.

It also found that children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than white pupils in compulsory education, with black Caribbean pupils the only group to perform less well.

Meghan and Harry
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s revelations during an interview with Oprah Winfrey caused a furore (Yui Mok/PA)

Success in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries”, it added.

It also said that issues around race and racism are becoming “less important”, and in some cases are not a significant factor in explaining inequalities.

Different outcomes are complex and involve social class and family structure along with race, it said.

The report states: “We found that most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism.”

Black Lives Matter sign
A Black Lives Matter sign at the City Ground in Nottingham (Barrington Coombs/PA)

However, it notes that some communities continue to be “haunted” by historic racism, which is creating “deep mistrust” and could be a barrier to success.

The 264-page report makes 24 recommendations, including for extended school days to be phased in, starting with disadvantaged areas, to help pupils catch up on missed learning during the pandemic.

And it is calling for more research to examine the drivers in communities where pupils perform well, so these can be replicated to help all children succeed.

Lisa Nandy
Lisa Nandy called for action to tackle the issues highlighted (Jane Barlow/PA)

The commission also recommends that the acronym BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) should no longer be used as differences between groups are as important as what they have in common.

And it calls for organisations to stop funding unconscious bias training and for the Government and experts to develop resources to help advance workplace equality.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told Sky News that statistics on disproportionate rates of school exclusion and arrest among black children underlined evidence of “an institutional problem”.

She added: “The Government has report after report after report… what we really need now is some action to implement them.”