A government report that claims there is no evidence of institutional racism in the UK has been described as a “gross offence” by a leading race equality think tank.
However, leading race equality groups expressed their profound disappointment after the Government Equalities Office released key findings from the commission’s report on Tuesday evening (30 March), showing that the commission had dismissed the effects of structural racism.
The report claims that the UK “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries” on race issues because children from ethnic minority backgrounds were found to do as well or better than their white counterparts in school.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the chair of the commission Tony Sewell said the commission encountered anecdotal evidence of racism, but had found no proof that institutional racism exists.
There was widespread backlash to the commission’s key findings and its report on Wednesday (31 March).
Government race report branded ‘extremely disturbing’
Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said the commission indirectly acknowledged a lack of institutional support for young Black and ethnic minority students by attributing their success at school to “minority aspiration”.
She said the finding is a “clear acknowledgement by the commission that immigrants and ethnic minorities are left to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, urging their children to over-achieve in school, precisely because there is not the necessary institutional support available to them.”
Begum continued: “The very idea that government evidence confirms that institutional racism does not exist is frankly extremely disturbing. A young Black mother is four times more likely to die in childbirth than her white friend. A young Black man is 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the Metropolitan Police than his young white neighbour.”
She also noted that 60 per cent of the frontline NHS staff who died in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
I think they’ve insulted every ethnic minority in this country – the very people who continue to experience racism on a daily basis.
“For Boris Johnson to look the grieving families of those brave dead in the eye and say there is no evidence of institutional racism in the UK is nothing short of a gross offence.”
Begum said the commission “lost the confidence and the trust of the ethnic minority communities” when it appointed Tony Sewell as its leader, noting his previous denials of institutional racism.
The report also recommends that the term BAME is “of limited value” and that it should not be used by official bodies going forward.
Begum said of this: “Frankly, by denying the evidence of institutional racism and tinkering with issues like unconscious bias training and use of the term ‘BAME’, I think they’ve insulted every ethnic minority in this country – the very people who continue to experience racism on a daily basis.”
The Institute of Race Relations also condemned the report, saying it was part of a government effort to “portray the British nation as a beacon of good race relations and a diversity model”.
“Where racism in Britain is acknowledged in the report, the emphasis is placed on online abuse, which is very much in line with the wider drift in British politics and society away from understanding racism in terms of structural factors and locating it instead in prejudice and bigotry.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said he was “disappointed” by briefings of the report when questioned by reporters in Leeds on Wednesday.
“I’ve seen the briefings out of it and I’m disappointed. On the one hand, there’s an acknowledgement of the problems, the issues, the challenges that face many Black and minority ethnic communities.
“But, on the other hand, there’s a reluctance to accept that that’s structural,” he said.
Government accused of ‘gaslighting’
Black Lives Matter UK told The Guardian that the report failed to explore “disproportionality in school exclusion, eurocentrism and censorship in the curriculum” in education.
“We are also disappointed to learn that the report overlooks disproportionality in the criminal justice system – particularly as police racism served as the catalyst for last summer’s protests,” the group said, noting that Black people in England and Wales are nine times as likely as their white counterparts to be imprisoned.
GMB Union accused the government of “gaslighting” Black and Asian communities and other people of colour.
“Only this government could produce a report on race in the 21st century that actually gaslights Black Asian Minority and Ethnic people,” the union said.
“It’s completely irresponsible and immoral.”
Nadine White, race correspondent with The Independent, said on Twitter that she had not been sent the commission’s key findings, despite the fact that she is the UK’s only race correspondent.
The government equalities office later apologised for not sending her the findings, and confirmed that the Race Commission had “specified a tight list of journalists” to be sent the details.
“There we have it: no oversight at all,” White wrote.