White applicants to civil service scheme accepted at far higher rate, figures show

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: pxl.store/Alamy</span>
Photograph: pxl.store/Alamy

White applicants to the government’s elite graduate scheme are three times more likely to win a place than their black counterparts, new analysis shows.

A record number of graduates applied to join the UK government’s civil service fast stream between 2019 and 2021, with more than 160,800 external applicants for just 3,290 places, a success rate of just under one in 50.

However, the figures show that the chances of success differed greatly for separate ethnic backgrounds.

People from black African or Caribbean backgrounds had a success rate of one in 137 when applying to join the fast stream between 2019 and 2021.

In comparison, white applicants had a success rate of one in 44, while Asian applicants had a success rate of one in 77 to join the scheme.

Overall, ethnic minority representation improved slightly, from 19% in 2020 to 23% in 2021.

Anneliese Dodds, the shadow secretary for women and equalities, described the figures as a “disgrace” and said it showed “just how far ministers are falling short of their promise to make the civil service the UK’s most inclusive employer”. She attacked the “Conservative incompetence and denial of the existence of structural racism” for allowing these disparities to exist.

The hugely popular scheme is designed to fast-track successful applicants into senior positions in government. Those who have benefited from it include Sharon White, who was the chief executive of Ofcom and is currently the chair of the John Lewis Partnership.

However, the scheme has long been criticised for failing to be inclusive enough. In 2018, figures released by the Cabinet Office showed about a fifth of applicants to the fast stream were from private schools – about three times the proportion who attend such schools in the UK.

Dodds, who is also the chair of the Labour party, said: “It’s a disgrace that young people from black backgrounds are still three times less likely than their white counterparts to win a place on the government’s elite graduate scheme.

“The fact that you have a one in 44 shot at success if you’re white and a one in 137 chance if you’re black shows just how far ministers are falling short of their promise to make the civil service the UK’s most inclusive employer.

“Conservative incompetence and denial of the existence of structural racism are creating barriers to success for young people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

“Labour has a plan to dismantle those barriers and support talented black, Asian and minority ethnic people to reach their full potential, with a new race equality act to tackle structural racial inequality at source.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Our latest data shows that the fast stream is making progress in recruiting the best people from every part of British society.

“We know that there is more to do, which is why we have outreach work in the most diverse schools, colleges and universities right across the UK.

“We have also expanded our paid diversity internships and continuously review and improve our selection processes.”

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