• Friday, December 09, 2022

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New action plan to ‘unblock’ political culture clash on race in the UK

Shot of human hands stuck on each other between business colleagues partnership

By: Melvin Samuel

New agenda for action on race inequality in employment, education, health, civil service and online

New proposals for action on racial inequality across Britain’s institutions – from employment, schools and justice to the NHS, civil service and online ­– are set out today in a new collection from thought leaders across the political spectrum.

An agenda for action: Reducing racial inequality in modern Britain, edited by think tanks Bright Blue and British Future, seeks to move beyond polarised political arguments about language. The debate has become ‘stuck’, they argue – while there is scope for consensus on specific, concrete actions that would make a difference in addressing inequalities. Action needs to come not only from the government but from institutions across our society. Some of the proposals put forward in the collection include:

1. More ‘apprenticeship academies’ to reduce school exclusions that affect black pupils disproportionately.

2.nTackling perceived unfairness from recruitment agencies towards black job candidates (just 3 in 10 black candidates feel they are treated fairly by agencies).

3. Looking at the pay awards of senior NHS leaders who fail to tackle discrimination.

4. Increasing the diversity of the senior civil service by ensuring more ethnic minority candidates join the civil service ‘fast stream’.

5. Tackling hatred on social media by restricting unverified users’ ability to use features that could be abused, such as tagging or direct messaging someone.

Labour MP Rupa Huq and Conservative Steve Baker have both contributed forewords to the collection. In her foreword, Rupa Huq writes: “Debate and discussion about race in Britain can be complex and contested. One’s opinion can shift in the space of a day from optimism to a sense that we have barely advanced at all. It is for that reason that we need to move beyond angry exchanges about language to a cool-headed discussion of the changes to the policy that could make a real difference to people’s lives.”

In his foreword, Steve Baker writes: “If we can navigate these tricky conversations in a spirit of goodwill, somehow containing malign political actors exploiting division for electoral ends, the prize of a better society in which the colour of one’s skin matters no more than the colour of one’s eyes will be within our grasp. It is a prize worth having.”

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said: “There is more common ground than we think on race. Most people recognise that discrimination still exists and that it leads to people being denied equal chances in life. There is much public agreement on what we can do about it too, once the debate moves from theory to proposals for action.

“The next cabinet may be the first in history with the three great offices of state occupied by ethnic minority politicians. More diversity at the top of politics is a sign of progress on race in Britain. But voters will judge politicians by what they do and the impact it has on people’s lives.”

Ryan Shorthouse, Director of Bright Blue, said: “Political debate and attention on racism and racial inequality in the UK is stuck and increasingly polarised. We have a frustratingly circular debate about whether modern Britain is institutionally racist or not.

“Instead of our politics fixating on an academic debate about the terminologies for racism in modern Britain, it is desperately important to instead focus on specific and actionable ideas that will actually mitigate the racism and racial inequalities that manifestly still exist in this country.

“Responsible politics has an obligation to those whose life chances are diminished as a result of racial disparities. The only way to meet that obligation is through action.”

Other proposals put forward in An agenda for action: reducing racial inequality in modern Britain, include:

1. Deepening the connection between the Monarch and the Commonwealth, particularly those countries with large ethnic minority communities in the UK, through a new post of Commonwealth private secretary to the Queen.

2. Teaching all school children the history of the Empire, in all its controversial complexity, as a foundation for understanding why our modern, multi-ethnic country looks as it does today.

3. Ensuring that our world-class sports heroes – from show-jumping and rowing as well as boxing and running – reflect the diversity of our society, in time for the Brisbane 2032 Olympics, by creating more gateways to elite sport in cities and large towns.

4. Reducing the use of ‘Stop and search’, and providing police with better and more consistent training in conducting stop and search respectfully, appropriately and impartially.

5. Using major events and commemorations, such as the 75th anniversaries in 2023 of the Windrush and NHS, to tell a story of shared history between people from different backgrounds in Britain today.

Further detail on some of the policy proposals set out in the collection:

Schools
‘Apprenticeship academies’, piloted in London in 2020-21 by City of London Academies Trust schools for students at risk of permanent exclusion, led to a reduction in permanent exclusions from 18 in 2018-19 to just one in 2020-21. All of the students who attended the Apprenticeship Academy went on to accept places and enrolled at local further education or sixth-form colleges.

Employment
Many employees from ethnic minority backgrounds have concerns about fair treatment from recruitment agencies, according to the BITC’s Race at Work 2021: The Scorecard Report. While jobseekers from a Caribbean and African background were more likely than white candidates to use a recruitment agency when looking for a new role, just three in ten of black job seekers believe they are treated fairly when they work with a recruitment agency. Recruitment agencies can start to address this by increasing the number of staff from diverse backgrounds at their own firms; while employers can set recruitment targets to openly encourage more candidates from a black, Asian, and mixed race backgrounds to apply.

Health
Leadership from the top is needed to address the inequalities facing NHS staff from a minority background working in the NHS that were identified by the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) study. Ministers could be asked to give an annual statement on the efforts being made to combat racial discrimination and inequality within the NHS. And NHS bodies that consistently fail to make progress in tackling racial discrimination could also face financial penalties, including with regard to the pay awards of senior leadership.

Civil service
Only 7% of people in senior civil service roles are from a minority ethnic background. Recruitment needs to be broader and more open. A policy whereby a dedicated percentage of people who join the fast stream should be from an ethnic minority background would force the civil service to seek people out and put them on a path to success in the upper echelons of Whitehall.

Online hatred
While Britain is a less racist society than 20 years ago, people’s experience of racism may have changed little or even increased – in part due to the prevalence of racist hatred on social media. Moderation is insufficient but even when sanctions are applied to persistent offenders, they can easily be evaded. Abusers can and do set up new accounts with impunity. Mandatory user identification would make it harder for abusers to evade suspension and bans and could also tackle ‘bots’ and ‘sock puppet’ accounts used for coordinated forms of abuse. But it is contentious and unpopular with the social media companies themselves. Restricting unverified users’ ability to use features that could be abused, such as tagging or direct messaging, would promote identity verification and potentially reduce abuse.

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