Labour’s race equality act will only divide Britain further

Sir Keir Starmer arrives on board his election battle bus
Sir Keir Starmer arrives on board his election battle bus

In my book “Black Success: The surprising Truth”, I argue a case from my own life and wider that “Black” success ironically has little to do with being Black. In this counterintuitive romp through black modernity, I happily disrupt claims of race-based victory.  I look at examples such as the tremendous success of black pupils in Hackney, the very non-black heroism of entrepreneur Mary Seacole and the new success of Nigerians across the globe. I argued that the factors that drive success for all groups are agency and self-affirmation.  All have been blessed when they have looked beyond the castle of their skins.

So, it seems strange or maybe predictable that a new Labour administration will prioritise a new Race Equality Act that at its core attempts to close an ethnicity pay gap based on the framework used for gender.  It deliberately ignores the complexity of the task and how in the end the exercise will prove to be counterproductive and divisive.

In my March 2021 report for the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, I argued that pay gap reporting as it is currently devised for gender cannot be applied to ethnicity. There are significant statistical and data issues that would arise because of substituting a binary protected characteristic (male or female) with a characteristic that has multiple categories.

The main statistical problem that arises with ethnicity pay reporting is the unreliability of sample sizes. If an employer with 250 employees reports a gender pay gap, on average they will be comparing 125 men with 125 women.

If they report an ethnicity gap as well, on average they will be comparing 225 White employees with 25 ethnic minority employees. Any findings from such a comparison will be unreliable and make it impossible to look at the workforce stratified by the 18 ONS ethnicity classifications.

If an employer is in an area with a low ethnic minority population, there may not be a diverse local candidate pool for firms to draw on.  The 2011 Census data shows that of the 650 constituencies in the UK, 437 are over 90 per cent White, so many employers around the country simply do not have enough ethnic minorities for the recording sample to be valid.

In addition, the age distribution of ethnic minority groups can influence the ethnicity pay gap. Those from ethnic minority groups are more likely to be younger, meaning they have not reached the top of the career ladder.  So, comparing and reporting becomes a statistical minefield.

Many of the less ideological Labour Peers in the House of Lords understood my Report and may well challenge their own party. I was pleasantly surprised that when I became a Conservative Peer, many from the Labour side would stop me and congratulate me on my Race report.  They recognised that the report’s emphasis on a difference between “disparity” and “discrimination” was something their own party chose to ignore.

The reasons for the disparity in the numbers of doctors from an Indian background is landed in family and education, while the high levels of black males in custody cannot be dissociated from the crimes that are committed. This is different from intentional discrimination in job applications against those that do not have so-called “British” surnames.

The other matter that they liked was the return of “class” and “poverty” to explain disparities in education and employment. This meant that white groups had to be considered, and that you clearly couldn’t lump all Black and Asian groups together. A taxi-driver from Bradford of Pakistani background is a world away from an Indian-Hindu background doctor from Harrow. Yet traditionally we have lumped all Asian groups together, in some kind of brown power block.  The new Race Equality Act seems to want to ignore such statistical refinements as politicians seek to dismantle the edifice of white privilege.

Indeed, there is a religious zeal in Labour to take on the race agenda and exorcise the deep sin of institutional racism. It isn’t surprising that data is ignored over so-called “lived experience” and feelings. Race is being re-configured as a paradigm of Christian victimhood. It can persuade its base that black people like me are race traitors, a Judas with no ethnicity pay gap selling his people for 30 pieces of silver. It is also driven by a white guilt that ignores our clear disparities driven by geography, age, poverty, and low aspiration.


Lord Sewell CBE is the author of “Black Success: The surprising truth”