“Racism is a US problem – we do not have those problems in the UK”
Aya Jamal, Arooj Khan and Gene Matthews discuss whether the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights new report: Black people, racism and human rights, is a step towards defeating racial inequality in the UK
Posted on 24 November 2020
After George Floyd’s death at the hands of law enforcement in the US sparked protests in America and beyond, Black Lives Matter UK showed its solidarity by underlining the continuing racism and inequality against Black people in the UK and Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a cross-governmental commission to look at “all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academia and all other walks of life”.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report, published 11 November, 2020 addresses racial inequality and the government’s continued failure to protect Black people’s human rights within the criminal justice system, immigration, health, and the democratic process (specifically the voting system).
The report calls for a “comprehensive cross-Government race equality strategy”, provides its own recommendations and urges the government to implement the recommendations of previous reports.
The Black community’s perception of human rights
Based on an online polling sample of 515 individuals conducted by ClearView, the committee found that more than 75 per cent of Black people in the UK believe that their human rights aren’t equally protected compared to White people. This amounted to over 82 per cent of women and 69 per cent of men. Participants said they had experienced “unequal treatment in education, employment and crime”.
The survey revealed that more than 60 per cent of Black people believe their health is not equally protected by the NHS compared to White people. That was 78 per cent of women compared to 47 per cent of men.
Researchers said the gender disparities were because Black women were more likely to have caring responsibilities, making them more likely to interact with the NHS and thus have negative experiences. However this does little to acknowledge the levels of ingrained prejudice experienced by Black women (commonly termed as misogynoir).
The committee found that 85 per cent of Black people in the UK do not believe that they would be treated equally by the police, compared to White people. This amounted to 91 per cent of Black women and 77 per cent of Black men.
The report also highlighted that 25 per cent of Black voters in the UK are not registered to vote compared to 17 per cent across the population. Lord Woolley of Operation Black Vote believes this is due to hundreds of thousands of black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) young people viewing British institutions, particularly the police, as rigged against them.
The government’s continued failure to protect Black people’s human rights
The committee lists a significant number of reports published in recent years which have found racial inequalities across “state institutions and processes, from the Home Office to the Youth Justice System”.
These include the Windrush Lessons Learned Review (2020), Race Disparity Audit (2017), The Lammy Review (2017), The McGregor-Smith Review (2017) and The Angiolini Review (2017.
The majority of their recommendations have not been implemented and where the government has acted, results have been superficial and have not had a lasting effect. A very recent example is that key recommendations from a Public Health England report into the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on BAME people have been buried.
The committee found that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) failed to “adequately provide leadership and gain trust in tackling racial inequality in the protection and promotion of human rights”.
Since its formation in 2007 after the demise of the Commission for Racial Equality, the EHRC has had its annual budget slashed from £70m to £20m, making it harder for the organisation to support the laws that protect Black people’s human rights.
The committee says its findings are a “damning indictment of our society and must be addressed as a matter of the highest political priority”.
It recommends that the EHRC conducts an annual opinion survey addressing whether Black people believe that their human rights are equally protected and suggests it will routinely hear from “Black, Asian and minority ethnic people about their experiences in relation to human rights”. It was also suggested that the police “regularly poll Black people to find out their levels of confidence in the police to protect their human rights”, then publish these findings and work to increase the confidence that Black people have in the police.
The committee advises Parliamentary select committees to consider how they should tackle racism and inequality and “have a regular focus on race equality through their inquiry work”, and thus “use best endeavours to facilitate the recruitment of Black and minority ethnic staff into senior roles and report annually on progress”.
The government should consult on automatic voter registration to increase democratic participation amongst Black people and other ethnic minorities and reduce the registration gap between Black and White people.
With regards to deaths of Black people in custody, in order to ensure that responsibility of upholding Article 2 (of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to life) legal proceedings does not fall on the shoulders of the families of the deceased, it was suggested that a Commissioner or Office of Article 2 compliance be established to ensure that the correct processes are followed. This would ensure that lessons are learned, and that best practice is disseminated to prevent future unnecessary deaths.
Following the Windrush scandal, the Home Office urgently needs to rebuild trust with affected communities by fixing the compensation scheme (including by lowering the standard of proof for evidential requirements to “the balance of probabilities”) and ensuring that those affected receive the compensation they are entitled to without further delay. Cultural changes must be targeted, to ensure that people are treated with humanity and not treated unfairly because of their race. Recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review must be implemented as a matter of urgency.
In healthcare, recent research into maternal deaths and morbidity showed that Black women are five times more likely than White women to die during childbirth. Given this startling figure, it was suggested that the government should “introduce a target to end the disparity in maternal mortality between Black women and White women”. The report highlights institutional racism as a clear contributor to negligent pre-natal care experienced by Black and Asian mothers-to-be.
It is clear that these disparities have increased due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which in turn has exposed the long-standing failure of the government to combat these disparities and protect Black women’s’ human rights. The committee therefore welcomes the Chief Midwifery Officer’s four-point action plan to better support women during the COVID-19 pandemic, which should be implemented “as a matter of urgency”.
Ultimately it was suggested that any future public inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 should prioritise the consideration of why Black people have experienced higher mortality from the virus.
Room for Further Improvement?
Baroness Lawrence asked the committee “How many more lessons do we all need to learn?”
The 1999 Macpherson Report (from the inquiry set up after the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993) found the UKs largest police authority to be a prime example of institutional racism. Despite this, over 20 years later Black children are still four times more likely to be arrested than their White counterparts. Additionally, despite the common assumption that racism fades with time, the percentage of Black children in custody has increased by 13 per cent within the last decade. Rather than being addressed, current racial inequalities are not just being sustained, but seem to be increasing.
The government and society at large appears to be enmeshed in a cycle, whereby racism and inequality leads to a national tragedy (eg. the Windrush Scandal): the government conducts an inquiry and releases a report whose recommendations are not actioned, thus allowing racism and inequalities in society to go unchecked. The government’s continued failure to implement these recommendations “intensifies disaffection and lack of confidence in the Government on race issues”.
These delays cost and shorten Black lives, they illustrate a woeful negligence on the government’s part not to action what learned academics and professionals within the BAME community have urged them to do time and time again. The time has passed for further fact-finding, we now need to take action to reduce inequalities and secure Black people’s human rights.
As Baroness Lawrence reminds us “the lessons are there already for us to implement. Until we start doing that, we will keep coming back in a year or two years repeating the same thing over and over again.”