by LAUREN CODLING
PRIME minister Boris Johnson told his ministers on Tuesday (9) that there was more to be done to eradicate prejudice and create opportunity in Britain, but society was much less racist than it was before, his spokesman said.
Johnson’s comments came as further protests were held in Oxford, where there are calls to remove the statue of 19th century imperialist Cecil Rhoses.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The PM said we are a much, much less racist society than we were, but we must also frankly acknowledge that there is so much more to do in eradicating prejudice and creating opportunity.”
Johnson said on Monday he “heard” the message from those protesting after the killing of George Floyd in the US, but such action should not lead to violence, unlawful actions or the disregarding of social distancing measures.
Mass anti-racism protests have taken place across both the UK and the US, following the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minnesota. Floyd’s death triggered a wave of demonstrations in the UK, with protests taking place in London, Bristol, Newcastle and Manchester.
Tensions rose over the weekend as a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was brought down by protestors.
Speaking to Eastern Eye, London mayor Sadiq Khan said rooting out racism, discrimination and inequality from public institutions and society “takes time and commitment”, and “protesters are right that we all must go much further”.
Labour MP Dawn Butler said she was not surprised to see anti-racism protests as so many were “fed up with no progress”. “I fear that the public will have no confidence in the government to make the
deep and fundamental changes that this country needs to tackle institutional racism and bring about equality and fairness for all,” she told Eastern Eye.
Fellow Labour MP Rushanara Ali told Eastern Eye the murder of Floyd, and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests had “shone a spotlight on racism, discrimination and structural injustices on a global level, including here in the UK”.
Preet Kaur Gill, the Labour MP from Birmingham, said it was clear black people and other ethnic minorities in the UK faced structural economic and social inequalities disproportionate to their white
counterparts. “(These) are inequalities that we have known about since the Race Disparity Audit and the Lammy review, yet nothing has changed,” Gill, the first Sikh woman MP, told Eastern Eye.
She also repeated her call for a Sikh ethnic tick box on the census, which she said would “better understand and address health and other structural inequalities that the Sikh community faces”.
Last Tuesday (2), Public Health England (PHE) published a review which revealed BAME people face higher risk of death due to Covid-19. However, many have criticised the inquiry for not providing concrete answers.
Conservative MP Bob Blackman, who represents the diverse constituency of Harrow East in northwest London, admitted the review failed to answer a number of questions and that it was therefore difficult for the government to take action. “(It has left us) with more questions than answers,” Blackman told Eastern Eye.
Gill said a lack of answers from the review on how to prevent the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 falling upon ethnic minority groups “sends a message to BAME communities that the government simply does not care”.
Ali, representative for Bethnal Green and Bow, echoed Gill’s sentiments. “The government has failed to set out the actions it will take to address the risks that BAME and other groups face,” she
said. “By not learning the lessons and taking urgent action, the government is putting more lives at risk.
“As we ease out of lockdown, the government must act immediately to protect those who are most at risk.”
The Labour party has since called for the review’s recommendations, and a plan of action on how to implement them, to be published imminently.
Meanwhile, home secretary Priti Patel denied accusations that the government did not understand racial inequality on Monday. She pointed out the racial abuse she had encountered in her youth and
revealed she had been advised to “drop her surname” to further her career.
In response to Labour’s Florence Eshalomi, who asked if the government was taking steps to address racism, Patel said: “When it comes to racism, sexism, tolerance for social justice, I will not take lectures from the other side of the House.”