Politics: Race bias is rife at heart of government

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The Independent Online
Racial discrimination and harassment are rife in the Home Office, the government department responsible for race relations, according to an internal report. Fran Abrams, Political Correspondent, says the Government is determined to tackle the problem.

Four out of 10 black and Asian civil servants in the Home Office feel disadvantaged or discriminated against because of their race, according to a survey of 2,700 staff released to the Liberal Democrats. One in seven say that they have suffered harassment during the last year.

The revelation of continuing discrimination at the heart of government has disturbed ministers. Although several ministers have promised to tackle the problem in their own departments, the Commission for Racial Equality believes that it exists across Whitehall.

Although the Home Office is the only department to release a survey, the Labour MP Keith Vaz said in a report published two months ago that the Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Treasury had no black or Asian people in the top six grades.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, has promised to take action by holding recruitment open days and has complained that the higher echelons of his department are "very white and very male".

There are only 190 ethnic minority Britons among 5,900 diplomats, and none of them is in senior management.

Across the board, there are only two black or Asian people in the top four grades of the civil service and only 58 among the top 3,000 policy- makers.

The Home Office report, published in response to a written parliamentary question from the Liberal Democrats, said 54 per cent of black staff and 63 per cent of Asians were at administrative officer grade or below, compared with 23 per cent of white staff. Ethnic minority staff also tended to be younger.

"There is a fairly widespread feeling among black and Asian staff that they are discriminated against on account of their race." the report said.

"Furthermore, black staff in particular and Asian staff to some extent often display less positive views about their job than other staff. They tend to enjoy their job less than others and are less likely than white staff to feel that there is variety in their work or that it is interesting."

The Cabinet Office is reviewing all departments' programmes on race equality, and will report on their progress in the spring. A spokesman for the Commission for Racial Equality said that its advice, which had been sought by Mr Straw and Mr Cook, would be the same as it gave to every major employer - to examine every aspect of their work from recruitment to training and to try to eliminate possible bias.

Richard Allan, the Liberal Democrats' community affairs spokesman, said: "It is a matter of great concern that there is such a strong feeling of discrimination and harassment at the heart of government. There is no reason to believe that these problems are unique to the Home Office."

Mr Vaz said that Mr Straw had written to him after the publication of his report to underline his commitment to equality.

"We have a long way to go but obviously the best way forward is to ensure that if there are allegations of racism that they are inspected as quickly as possible and dealt with," he said.

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