Minister: UK has black underclass

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The Independent Online

The veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and Foreign Office minister Peter Hain has warned that Britain is creating a black underclass similar to that which has emerged in South Africa.

The veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and Foreign Office minister Peter Hain has warned that Britain is creating a black underclass similar to that which has emerged in South Africa.

Mr Hain said that an alarming gulf had opened up between the country's small black middle-class and a "vast pool of ethnic minority citizens" who were "doing extremely badly". The minister's comments were last night endorsed by some leading black figures but criticised by others who said his views were pertinent to the United States but not to Britain.

In an interview with The Independent to coincide with last week's European Conference against Racism in Strasbourg, Mr Hain warned that racism was still "deeply embedded" in British society. The minister's comments will reignite the debate which erupted into controversy last week over a report which suggested that the very concept of Britishness was "racially coded".

The row prompted Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, to attack left-wingers who had "turned their backs on the concept of patriotism".

Mr Hain said that in South Africa, where he grew up, there had been a "huge redistribution from whites to a small proportion of blacks, perhaps 10 per cent of the black population who are doing very well".

He said: "But the vast majority of black South Africans... are doing no better than under apartheid, they're actually doing very badly. I think we are seeing the same thing in Britain. There is an opening divide between a black professional class which is doing extremely well compared with previous generations [and] a vast pool of ethnic minority citizens who are doing extremely badly in comparison not just with mainstream society but with their better-off brothers and sisters.

"That's a problem that we could see spreading through Europe and elsewhere. Black empowerment... I am a really strong believer in it. But we have got to recognise that it has got to go right down through the system."

Mr Hain's comments came as a study from Britain's leading race research unit found alarming disparities in the achievements of Britain's ethnic minority communities, with the successes of Indian and Chinese groups contrasting with the experiences of the Afro-Caribbean, African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations.

Mr Hain is the son of radical Liberal parents who were fearless campaigners against apartheid. At 15 he gave a speech at the funeral of an anti-apartheid campaigner hanged for terrorism. In 1966, the Hain family was forced to flee South Africa for Britain, where Peter Hain led a series of successful campaigns to ban tours by South African sportsmen.

He said: "There's still a lot of racism in Britain. It's pretty deeply embedded in our culture from the pub joke to the fire bomb that goes through the British Asian family's door on a council estate. There's still far too much racism and there's no point in trying to deny it. We have not eliminated it by any means."

Last night, Sir Herman Ouseley, the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, agreed that sections of the Afro-Caribbean, African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations in Britain feared being cut off from the rest of society, including successful members of their own communities.

Sir Herman said: "They have had problems in their lives like running into police and they have found it very hard. They now see almost everyone as against them. They see successful people from their own communities as pulling the ladder up. The danger is if people who have reached the middle tier actually start to do that."

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