PRIME minister Theresa May’s successor must carry forward her unfulfilled commitment to tackle racial inequality in the UK, a leading Asian peer and a think-tank director have said.
On her first day as prime minister, May addressed the nation on the steps of her Downing Street office, pledging to fight the “burning injustices” that hold people back.
“If you’re one of those families, I want to address you directly; she said. “The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”
She promised ‘a country that works for everyone’ but over the course of the following three years, found herself spending much of her time struggling with Brexit.
Lord Jitesh Gadhia told Eastern Eye: “I believe Theresa May was genuine in her desire to address some of the Issues faced by SAME communities.
“When she assumed office in July 2016, she expressed her passion and commitment for making Britain a great meritocracy, where advantage is based on merit not privilege; where it is talent and hard work that matter. It was a noble mission and provided music to the ears of 1.5 million British Indians whom this approach would benefit among the most.
“One of the first acts of her premiership was to commission a comprehensive audit of how people of different backgrounds access public services and identify racial disparities for the 14 per cent of the UK population belonging to SAME groups. She promised to act on the findings – however uncomfortable these might be.
“In October 2017, the results of this Race Disparity Audit were released. The Cabinet Office’s dedicated website on ‘Ethnicity Facts and Figures has since been poured over by commentators and stakeholders.
“From the perspective of British Indians, far from showing them as a disadvantaged minority, this exercise demonstrated their outsized contribution across many walks of British life ranking the community top for economic and educational attainment
“However, for the wider Asian community – especially Pakistanis and Bangladeshis – It revealed Integration challenges. These groups are still lagging on many social and economic indicators.
“In her previous role as home secretary, May was keen to bring down immigration levels to tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands. However, this has not been achieved since the Tories took power in 2010 and later in 2015.
As home secretary, May led the “hostile environment” policy, making it difficult for immigrants to remain in the UK if their visa had run out. It eventually led to the Windrush scandal and also saw the Home Office ply “go-home” vans in minority-dominant parts of London, such as Brent. The latter sparked outrage among politicians and public alike, and was withdrawn.
Another contentious issue was counting foreign students as immigrants, although the government’s own findings showed that most left for their home countries upon completion of their courses. ‘While in the UK, non-EU foreign students contributed millions of pounds to the Treasury because they paid higher fees than national students.
May refused to exclude students from the migrants’ category despite opposition from some of her own MPs.
Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, told Eastern Eye: “Theresa May’s reputation was dominated by her tough stance on immigration, which dominated her approach as home secretary and prime minister.
“Language such as ‘citizens of nowhere’ was polarising. This exacerbated the long-standing Conservative issue of lack of trust from ethnic minority voters.
“The Windrush scandal also showed that the tough approach on immigration had real-life human consequences that hit black Britons hardest.”
Under David Cameron as prime minister, the Tories engaged with SAME groups and were able to increase their vote share, especially among British Indians. Yet, under May, these efforts lost momentum.
On May’s visit to India after she became prime minister, New Delhi sought easier visas for skilled professionals but there has been little progress on this front.
Lord Gadhia noted some positive initiatives during May’s tenure at Downing Street.
“There’s been some progress, particularly in addressing ethnic minority representation in the workplace, such as the Race at Work Charter, now with over 150 signatories, or the consultation on the Ethnicity Pay Gap”, he said.
“However, the distractions of Brexit and her premature departure means that The-resa May’s original mission of tackling the burning injustice of racial disparity has been a job left half complete.”
Katwala had similar views. He said “May combined the harshness of her immigration policy with an important innovation on racial equality at home that has had too low a profile. She created the race disparity audit to deal with ‘burning injustices’ of inequality.
“This pioneering initiative brings transparency across every policy area, to show where we are making progress, where the gaps are, and who risks being left behind. It Is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
“We must not lose this platform.”