Politicians 'can fuel racial hostility': Discrimination remains 'unacceptably high'

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The Independent Online
POLITICIANS who raise fears about 'swarms of asylum seekers' can fuel hostility towards ethnic minorities, the Commission for Racial Equality warned yesterday.

Sir Michael Day, the commission's outgoing chairman, said: 'There can be little doubt that the scale of racial attacks in Britain has increased substantially in recent years.' Discrimination and hostility towards Britain's ethnic minorities still ran 'at unacceptably high levels'.

The pressures of the recession in inner cities made 'young, socially disadvantaged groups from the majority community turn their own hurt on a vulnerable minority'. But in a reference to the recent controversial anti-immigration speech by Winston Churchill MP, Sir Michael suggested politicians must also shoulder responsibility for the increase in violence.

Sir Michael said the commission was helping to create 'a new sense of nationhood from a more diverse community' and to prove that Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech 25 years ago was wrong.

Launching the commission's 16th annual report, Herman Ouseley, its new chairman, said government reluctance to strengthen the Race Relations Act and increase the powers of the commission was hampering the fight against discrimination.

He said the Government's refusal to give the Act teeth was the commission's 'biggest frustration'. It is still waiting for a response to its proposed overhaul of the Act submitted in 1985. Mr Ouseley said he was optimistic there would be some response from ministers to a 'stronger' set of 31 recommendations for reform submitted last September.

He repeated the commission's call for the creation of a specific offence of racial violence, and added: 'A review would improve the Act's effectiveness and cost the Government no money. I think the Government is concerned about discrimination but law enforcement may not be be part of its agenda. That is something which worries us.

'If bodies which discriminate know there is an effective body with enforcement powers, that would cut the amount of litigation cases.'

Mr Ouseley, a former chief executive of Lambeth Borough Council, also called for an increase in the 'derisory' level of awards which could be made to people who have suffered racial discrimination.

He said it was unfair that the most someone could be awarded for racial discrimination in Great Britain was pounds 10,000 while those who were discriminated against on religious grounds could be awarded as much as pounds 30,000 in Northern Ireland.