No 10 rejects investigation into n-word row

A scandal over the use of racial slurs by British institutions erupted this week after The Independent ‘s revelations over use of the term ‘N*****d’ to describe Black people

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
,Adam Forrest
Thursday 06 July 2023 15:18 BST
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will give evidence to the inquiry on July 26 (PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will give evidence to the inquiry on July 26 (PA) (PA Wire)

No 10 has refused to launch an investigation into the use of racist slurs in official documents following mounting calls for an inquiry.

A scandal over the use of racial terms by British institutions erupted this week after The Independent revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Met Office used the term ‘N*****d’ to describe Black people in its guidance for staff members.

The weather forecaster’s use of the offensive word, in a report about the impact of solar radiation on human health, emerged as the Department for Work and Pensions launched an investigation into the use of the same term in official guidance.

A government spokesperson said it is “confident” that there aren’t any other ministerial documents which contain the slur, though a number of politicians and organisations are calling for an investigation across all government departments.

Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s women and equalities spokesperson, said: “It is deeply troubling that this offensive language continued to be used until recently and was only withdrawn once it had been highlighted by the Independent’s investigation.

“Racism and racist terms have no place in our society, especially in our healthcare system. It is shameful that overtly racist language was used in DWP documents which were sent to doctors to assess disability benefit claims.

“All UK government departments must commit to undertaking an urgent review of all documents being distributed and the language used within them. The UK government must also explain how and why this document was approved by the Department of Work and Pensions, why it was in circulation for 13 years and issue an urgent apology to those affected.”

DWP paperwork, first issued in 2010 to help doctors assess disability benefit claims but still in use until just days ago, referred to Black people as being of the “N*****d race”, the Independent revealed this week.


The Met Office study – Monitoring of Mean Radiant Temperature for Man – was published in 2012 and was also publicly available until now.

Both documents have now been removed online after they were highlighted by The Independent and the Met Office has apologised for any offence caused.

The Green Party is calling for a “root and branch review” of policy documents across Whitehall departments.

Green Party co-leader, Carla Denyer, said: “Racial slurs in official documents are totally unacceptable. Greens believe that all departments should carry out a root and branch review to ensure that policies are not written in a way that perpetuates discrimination.

“It is also important that institutions, organisations and the departments within them deliver effective anti-racism training to help address entrenched structural discrimination. Employing a diverse and representative workforce, working in a safe environment where they can thrive, is also key to tackling discrimination.”

Clive Lewis, Labour MP, told The Independent: “It’s utterly shocking. I’m aghast that this kind of language could find itself in a document used by [the] government or by a science-based institution. It’s the sort of thing that you would see in an imperial census and speaks to racist 19th-century modes of thinking.

“Race is a social construct – it’s a pseudo-science to classify people. Use of that phrase is indicative of a deeper culture still relying on certain racist assumptions, which is alarming. I would like all departments to make sure they stop using that kind of language, and reflect on their internal culture and structures.”

The widely condemned DWP guidance was signed off by the department before being distributed to health professionals employed by Atos, a contractor that runs disability benefit assessments on behalf of the government. A DWP spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday that a probe into its use of the word has been launched.

“We do not condone the offensive and unacceptable language used in this 13-year-old document, which was produced by an external contractor in 2006 for use by their health professionals,” they said. “It is no longer in use and we have commissioned an investigation led by the government Internal Audit Agency.”

The Met Office said that “there must be zero tolerance to any form of racism or discrimination”, adding that it was “taking steps” to improve.

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