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Will Putting Racial Inequality on Display Make a Difference?

Kiran Daurka and Ian Rajaratnam discuss Theresa May’s Race Disparity Audit and ask if anything will change.

Kiran Daurka (pictured) is a partner in the Employment team at Leigh Day where she is assisted by paralegal Ian Rajaratnam. 
“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” ― André Gide

Newspaper reports  began to emerge in July that there was a “pretty explosive” report circulating within the Cabinet Office which had the results of a race audit that sought to examine the experience of ethnic minorities across a range of public bodies and that it was “going to be pretty bad”.
Over the following two months reports intensified that the findings were so politically toxic that its publication had to be sensitively handled and that once published that it had the ability to “kick off”.

Then last week in the lead up to Theresa May’s fluffed party conference speech, there were explicit statements by the prime minister and members of the cabinet of how the full results of the audit would hold a “mirror up to society” and reveal “uncomfortable truths”.

This was set against the backdrop of a recently published piece of research that found that although Britain has become more socially liberal on issues such as same sex marriage, 26 per cent of adults admit that they are prejudiced against people of other races.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister May, the very same Theresa May who while serving as Home Secretary had presided over arguably one of the most hostile periods of  British immigration policy and whose hostility towards immigrants still forms much of the Home Office’s thinking today and who is leader of a party that has for the past sixty years laboured under the shadow of Enoch Powell, and who appointed a  Foreign Secretary who once described  black people as “piccaninnies” and with “watermelon smiles”, and whose MP once used of the phrase “n***** in a woodpile” launched the results of first ever Race Disparity Audit to be carried by any government in the world.  Should we be hopeful for change?
The creation of a new portal which is intended to be a “living” resource where datasets can be added over time across 130 public service areas including  education, housing, employment, health and criminal justice should be welcomed.

However what exactly does it tell us that we didn’t already know? That a middle-aged white person diagnosed with cancer receives better care than someone who is black?

That a black woman is more than seven times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than a woman who is white?

That black men are almost three times more likely to be arrested than white men?

That a black child is three times more likely to be excluded from school?

That the unemployment rate is double among ethnic minorities as among white people and so on and so forth.

The data and the conclusions drawn from it is by no means new and is all too familiar to lawyers who specialise in discrimination law and equality campaigners.
We have within the past year alone had numerous reports and recommendations from the Equality and Human Rights Commission , the McGregor-Smith Review   and the Lammy Review with the latter highlighting the race discrimination that exists within our criminal justice system, which is  not only wasting money but additionally wasting black lives.

Two weeks ago Operation Black Vote published a report that found that barely 3 per cent of Britain’s most powerful and influential people are from black and minority ethnic groups and that in some sectors – the police, military, supreme court and security services as well as top consultancies and law firms – there were no non-white senior directors, officers or partners at all.

All of these reports have painted a grim picture of what life is like for many people of colour in modern day Britain, but as one commentator wrote: “…none of these reports marks the radical turning point that we need. The best evidence of this is that each report is soon succeeded by a further report confirming the same problems exist”.
Although the audit should not be considered  an analysis of the Conservative party’s record on race and instead act as a record of Britain’s record on race, it is difficult to separate the two, especially when the policies of a Conservative led government over the past seven years have not improved racial biases and privileges. It is difficult to have faith in Prime Minister May’s pledge to “defeat ethnic injustice”.
There has been much debate as to the implications of the data and what conclusions can be reached from them. Some have welcomed the audit; some have offered recommendations as to how the data in the audit should be used and others have complained that the statistics are too complex and confusing, or that they only serve in “promoting a grievance culture and policies that harm the communities they aspire to help”.
Racial injustice has long existed within British society and yet the subject has rarely been part of the public debate alongside the criticisms made about immigration.

The economic, social and cultural integration of this country will not come by itself and we hope that by having clear, precise data, it will lead to a continued discourse examining how systemic discrimination can be overcome.

We hope that it will help explore solutions for the more complex issues that are not so clear, and help explain why in some situations those from ethnic minority backgrounds outperform those from white British backgrounds and why in other situations they are left far behind.

Maybe in addressing these issues Prime Minister May, who was responsible in 2010 for scrapping the socio-economic duty contained within the Equality Act 2010 will realise that racial inequality in Britain does not arise solely because of the ill-will of individuals, organisations or service providers and that poverty plays a key part.   

We hope that by continuing to analyse the data, Prime Minister May’s government will consider David Isaac’s recommendation to bring the duty into force.
It is encouraging to see that since the website launch, many central government departments have announced that they will be taking action to tackle some of the disparities identified in the audit.  

No one is suggesting that the solutions to improving race inequality in this country are simple. The solutions are indeed complex.

What we now need is persuasion, government action and a more vigorous enforcement of the existing equality legislation and if necessary, new comprehensive legislation tackling race discrimination.

The datasets contained in the audit should give pause for thought and lead to an informed reflection as to how Britain can become a truly integrated society. Until there is an unequivocal acceptance that systemic discrimination continues to enable inequality of opportunity and outcome, we cannot drill down into correcting our systems’ biases.

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