Leading article: A nation divided by more than race


Related Topics

In many respects, Britain in 2012 is a far better country than it was in 1993, when Stephen Lawrence was murdered. At least as far as race is concerned, non-white people get a fairer deal from the education system; it has become less acceptable to express racist views in public – including on the football pitch – and there are more non-white people on television and in Parliament. Apparently contrary statements can both be true: that Britain, always a relatively open-minded country, became more tolerant over the past 19 years; and that racial prejudice is still a serious problem.

In our special report today, we detail the statistics that spell out how different life still is for non-white citizens, whose outcomes at every stage in life tend to be worse than for their white counterparts. There are still too few non-white faces at the top of the City and the professions, including the media, and indeed this newspaper.

That said, the long story of the search for justice for the Lawrence family helped to change the Metropolitan Police, and other police forces. The outcry over the murder, and the shock of the Macpherson report on the Met's failings in investigating it, forced the pace of change in attitudes and recruitment. But we have a long way to go before our criminal justice system treats all citizens equally.

As we report today, non-white people are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, more likely to be given custodial sentences if found guilty, and likely to be given longer sentences than white people convicted of the same offences.

The nature of racism has changed, however. The growth of the Muslim population, and the prejudice against them since 9/11, has clouded the picture, as has the the arrival of white immigrants from central Europe to expand the workforce since the enlargement of the European Union in 2004.

Recently, however, something else has happened. Hard economic times have exposed the extent to which some problems that were seen through the prism of race are as much questions of class and inequality. As Paul Vallely writes today, the Lawrence case is similar to that of Rhys Jones in 2007 and of Anuj Bidve on Boxing Day, in that they were respectable boys killed by thugs, regardless of colour. It is no excuse, although it is sometimes a partial explanation, to say that racism can be an expression of white working-class alienation.

For a long time, it was easier to make progress against racism – and to push the class issue aside – because the long boom allowed all levels of society to feel that they were getting on, and because it meant that the bill for benefit dependency was affordable. That is why this newspaper has repeatedly criticised the coalition Government for its failure to follow through on its "all in this together" rhetoric. David Cameron, with the insight of a public relations professional, realised that it was important to be seen as wanting the burden of sacrifice at a time of austerity to be shared fairly. But he has failed lamentably to match words with actions.

Last week, the Prime Minister sounded weak and unconvincing in his New Year Radio 4 interview when pressed on what he intended to do about excessive executive pay. He accepted that "people are not satisfied" and hastened to add "I'm not satisfied", but, when asked what he proposed to do, he mentioned the bank levy that has already been imposed, and spoke vaguely about greater transparency.

Whatever else Ed Miliband may be failing to do as Leader of the Opposition, he at least managed to outflank the Government yesterday with specific proposals to curb unjustified high pay. By contrasting the difficulties of the "squeezed middle" with the apparent impunity of the richest 1 per cent, Mr Miliband has rightly put Mr Cameron under pressure.

Whether the threat to the social fabric is framed in terms of race, class or culture, inequality is the underlying challenge for 2012. Not just the gap between Mr Miliband's squeezed middle and the very rich: this may also be the year when Iain Duncan Smith's cuts to welfare benefits start to bite.

The summer's riots suggested that the alienation of poor urban youth is already serious. The stakes are high. Unless the implied social contract that holds us together can be renewed by this Government, the danger is that what progress has been made in improving the lot of the poorest in society – black or white – over the past 19 years will be reversed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee CAD Technician

£12800 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee CAD Technician is req...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000+

£15600 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This renewable energy installat...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Now’s the time to bring back Top Of The Pops

David Lister
Amanda Knox will learn today if her conviction for murdering British student Mereditch Kercher has been upheld  

Amanda Knox: A retrial, two films and endless speculation - will the fascination with Meredith Kercher's murder ever end?

Peter Popham
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss