Race in Britain 2012: Has life changed for ethnic minorities?

Some things have improved for the black and Asian communities since the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, but Britain still has a long way to go before it can call itself a colour-blind country

Jane Merrick,Brian Brady,Kate Youde
Sunday 08 January 2012 01:00 GMT

Last week, as Gary Dobson and David Norris's 19-year escape from justice finally came to an end, the distraught parents of another young ethnic minority man visited the scene of their son's death.

Anuj Bidve, a 23-year-old Lancaster University student who was shot dead on Boxing Day, was killed for the apparent crime of not being white.

Nearly two decades after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, has anything changed? And what is life really like for young black and ethnic minority people in Britain today?

In the high-visibility worlds of the establishment, entertainment and sport, there are signs of progress: there are more than four times as many black and ethnic minority MPs in Parliament as there were in 1993. A Muslim woman takes her seat at the cabinet table every Tuesday. An African-born man is in charge of a FTSE 100 company. Black and Asian actors regularly take leading roles in prime-time TV series.

The population has changed since 1993: then ethnic minorities accounted for 5.1 per cent in England and Wales; the latest figure is 8.7 per cent.

Some would argue that the major dividing line in Britain today is not race but class, and that Stephen's killing captured the nation's interest only because he was from a "nice" middle-class family and had aspirations to be an architect.

But the statistics for ethnic minorities are bleak: black men are 26 times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped and searched by police, while black men and women in their early twenties are twice as likely to be not in employment, education or training as white people. And black and Asian defendants are still more likely to go to jail than their white counterparts when convicted of similar crimes – and they serve longer sentences. A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) analysis of tens of thousands of cases found that in 2010, 23 per cent of white defendants were sent to prison for indictable offences, compared with 27 per cent of black counterparts and 29 per cent of Asian defendants.

The report, Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System, also found that ethnic minority defendants received longer sentences in almost every offence group. For sexual offences, white defendants received an average of just over four years in jail, but black defendants were sent down for more than five years. For violence against the person, the average breakdown was 16.8 months for whites, 20 months for blacks and almost two years for Asian defendants. The MoJ insisted that "the identification of differences should not be equated with discrimination", claiming that the disparities between ethnic groups could be explained by the seriousness of the offences, the presence of mitigating or aggravating factors and whether or not a defendant pleaded guilty.

Yet Lee Jasper, chairman of the London Race and Criminal Justice Consortium, said: "Nothing can so starkly illustrate the industrial scale of racism in the judicial process than these figures."

Last summer's riots paradoxically suggested something in society has changed for the better. The ingredients for widespread inter-racial violence were there, but it never materialised. However, Gurbux Singh, who was chair of the Commission for Racial Equality when Oldham and Bradford were torn by race riots in 2001, warned yesterday: "With the recession taking hold, when you have disaffected young people who feel they are right at the bottom competing with another community, I am fearful that the tensions can easily arise again."

In March 1993, a month before Stephen's murder, Stoke City player Mark Stein was called a "short, ugly, black, bean-headed twat" by an opponent on the football pitch. On Friday, Tom Adeyemi, the 20-year-old Oldham defender, was left in tears after alleged racist abuse was hurled at him from Liverpool's Kop. A 20 year-old man from Aintree was arrested last night in relation to the incident.

Last Tuesday, despite a plea from Stephen's mother Doreen not to rejoice, there appeared to be collective back-patting when Norris and Dobson were found guilty, as if the verdicts had cleansed Britain of racism.

Yet reminders of racial hatred were never far away. Yesterday, Subhash and Yogini Bidve, having flown to Salford to visit the scene of his kiling, were back in Pune for his cremation. Mourners watched a flower-filled open coffin carried through the streets.

There is nothing that can comfort them in their loss. But perhaps the prominent coverage of Anuj's death, and the impact the Lawrence trial has had, show that one thing has changed for the better since 1993, and that is ultimately because of one young man from Eltham: our public horror at racism has increased.

Case studies...

Meet two friends who live in Eltham, south London, where Stephen Lawrence died. They share the same hopes. But the national figures suggest the prospects for any black person are much less favourable than for someone who is white...

Mimi Olaide, 19, lives in Eltham with his sister, Christana, 22, mother, a mental health nurse, and father, who can't work for health reasons. They rent from a housing association. They moved there in 2010. Mimi is in his second year studying sports science and PE at St Mary's University College in Twickenham.

"I want to be a PE teacher. Whatever grade I get in the third year will determine what I do. I want to go on and do a PGCE [Postgraduate Certificate in Education] or GTP [Graduate Teaching Programme] and you need a minimum of a 2.1. Have I been affected by racism? Not me directly, I don't think so. There's maybe just local gang rivalry, but that's non-racial. Eltham used to be really racist. Obviously I was at uni last week, people were asking how Eltham is, because they know Stephen Lawrence was killed there. There are lots of multicultural people around now, compared to how Eltham used to be. It's not as racist now as people say it was then."

Luke Kimberley, 21, has always lived in Eltham. He lives with his mother, who works in student finance at South Bank University, father, a taxi driver, and sister Elle, 18. He is in his third year studying PE at St Mary's University College in Twickenham

"I want to be a PE teacher. If I want to go into that I'll have to do a PGCE. That's really my main ambition at the moment. Buying a house, that's my main goal, a normal lifestyle really, nothing extravagant. Mum and Dad own a house and I'd like to follow in their footsteps. Mimi plays in the same football team as me at uni. We don't meet up when we come back here, only at uni. Racism is quite a talking point at the moment. I have a range of friends from different ethnic backgrounds. As far as I know they haven't experienced any racism. Probably there is racism in Eltham, but not as much as everyone makes out there is. Obviously the attack on Stephen Lawrence was a racist one, but I don't think Eltham in itself is racist."


Crime continues to be one of the most controversial sources of racial tension between the police and local communities. Disproportionate use of stop and search remains widespread – with a massive difference in how different ethnic groups are treated. Black men are 26 times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped and searched under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Black people also have a higher chance of being arrested and imprisoned than their white counterparts. They even face stiffer sentences for the same crimes – black offenders are 44 per cent more likely to be given a prison sentence for driving offences.

Serious inequalities remain within the police, with the Met having almost no senior ethnic minority officers above the rank of superintendent. The ongoing tensions in communities were highlighted when the shooting by police of a young black man in Tottenham sparked last summer's riots.

Millions of Britons are denied justice by the persistence of racism, Lord Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, said last Friday. Describing racism as a "tubercular virus lurking in the shadows" he added: "We should not deny those millions of people for whom the comfort of social justice is still not constantly there, those people who still live, through no choice of their own, outside its embrace and protection."

The disproportionate number of black people stopped and searched by the police continues to be a "national scandal", said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, last week.

Dr Aisha K Gill

Reader in criminology, University of Roehampton

"There is strong evidence that black people are over-represented throughout the criminal justice process. In the last two decades we have seen a punitive trend in criminal justice policy, and the changes in police practice that accompany it have negative consequences for BME communities. Indeed the growth in the expansion of proactive policing and in police and prosecutorial powers have disproportionately affected BME communities."


The Prime Minister rattled Oxford University last year when he described its low intake of black students as "disgraceful". He was wrong to claim it only accepted one black student in 2009 – it actually took one "black Caribbean" person out of a total of 27 black students for undergraduate study that year. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to agree with his assertion: "We have got to do better than that."

In fact, there is no shortage of ethnic minority undergraduates: nearly one in five in 2010, an increase of almost a third since 1994.

But look at the number of ethnic minorities at "good" universities and a different picture emerges. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, fewer than 10 per cent of black students are at Russell Group universities, compared to a quarter of white students. Head teachers in England's schools are also overwhelmingly white – some 95 per cent in 2010, with less than 1 per cent from black Caribbean or African backgrounds.

But when it comes to pupils achieving five GCSEs above grade C, progress has been made. The best school performers in 2010 were the Chinese, with 90 per cent getting these grades. Asians were next, followed by mixed-race pupils. Almost two-thirds of black students got the grades, only 1 percentage point behind their white contemporaries. But black Caribbean boys continue to lag.

Tony Sewell

Chair of the London inquiry into schools and founder of the charity Generating Genius

"During the 1990s, I used to teach Doreen Lawrence [Stephen's mother] at an adults' college in Woolwich. Then, education was thought to be how you got a better life. The stumbling block now is aspiration. This is not a problem of race, but of class and caste. There has been a long period of anti-racism education, but I am not convinced it's had much impact on black children. The fastest improving group is Nigerian girls; two groups standing still are black Caribbean boys and working-class white boys."


In 1993, the British economy was emerging from the end of a recession that hit most of the population, but the ethnic communities were still suffering disproportionate levels of unemployment. A TUC survey in that year estimated that, while the jobless rate had risen to nearly 12 per cent for whites, the figure for black people was twice that number. A period of growth improved employment and narrowed the gap between ethnic groups – although the latest 13.3 per cent unemployment rate among non-whites is still almost double the figure recorded for whites.

A new recession has triggered fresh concerns that any progress could be reversed: for example, council cutbacks are likely to have a disproportionate impact on the high numbers of black and minority ethnic (BME) workers at local authorities. Activists have complained that groups have been lagging behind in crucial areas of the labour market even during the boom years.

Black people in their early twenties are twice as likely to be not in employment, education or training (Neet) as white people; although 14 per cent of the working-age population in England are from ethnic minorities, only 7 per cent of apprenticeships were filled by BME candidates. BME workers, even many graduates, are generally paid less than white counterparts. Rates of self-employment among black workers are significantly lower than the national average.

For some, this is compelling evidence of institutionalised racism in the labour market. But others point to an equally troubling development: self-imposed limits on aspirations.

Jeremy Crook OBE

Director, Black Training and Enterprise Group

"Things are still pretty bad in the labour market. Young black people in particular have a negative portrayal which damages their chances of getting jobs – and, I think, their own expectations. We were involved in the Reach programme two years ago, which gave young BME people role models, and the feedback we had was that coming into contact with black people in the professions and other areas raised their aspirations.

"But it is still hard for them to succeed when they are not getting a fair chance from employers, from training schemes or from banks that are not lending enough to black-run businesses."


The media are rarely shy to shout out "racism", and rightly so, but it wasn't until Greg Dyke called the BBC "hideously white" more than 10 years ago that pundits began to look inwards.

In 1996, less than 5 per cent of staff in Carlton TV newsrooms was from minority ethnic backgrounds; by 2010, the number of ethnic minorities at ITV was 10 per cent – higher than the 7.9 per cent UK average. BBC and Channel 4 have a 12 and 13 per cent minority ethnic workforce respectively, but this drops to 6 per cent in BBC senior management.

Just over 5 per cent of adverts in 2010 used actors from a non-white background, while ethnic minorities represent about 13 per cent of the population. In 2002, the Journalism Forum found that 96 per cent of journalists were white. Ethnic minorities are chronically underrepresented in national newspapers. The IoS has a small staff, of whom two come from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy

Channel 4 News presenter

"TV has changed massively in 18 years, in terms of diversity. Portrayal is also much better than when I was a kid, but in many ways things haven't changed. After a couple of decades of very well-intended initiatives, we have failed to deliver people from diverse backgrounds at the top. There are reasonable numbers of middle-class people from Indian origin, like me [in broadcasting], but it's much harder to encourage working-class Bangladeshis, or African Caribbeans, or Chinese. It's straightforward what we need: ways to benchmark success and sanctions when you don't achieve the diversity you want to."


When Diane Abbott provoked a storm on Twitter over her "white people love playing divide and rule" comment last week, we were reminded that she was the first female black MP in the House of Commons, elected in 1987. At the time of Stephen Lawrence's death in 1993, she was one of just six ethnic minority MPs in Westminster.

This has increased more than four-fold to 28; the most recent addition was Labour's Seema Malhotra when she won Feltham and Heston by-election last month. There are 17 Labour MPs and 11 Conservatives – but not a single ethnic minority candidate has won a seat for the Lib Dems at a general election. Only Parmjit Singh Gill, who won the Leicester South by-election in 2004 only to lose it at the 2005 election, has represented the third party in the Commons.

In government, the numbers are bleaker: in 2002, Paul Boateng made history by becoming the first black cabinet minister. But progress has stalled. The only ethnic minority person with a seat at the cabinet table is Baroness Warsi, despite David Cameron's promise to make his party more reflective of British society.

David Lammy

Labour MP for Tottenham

"On the face of it, Parliament is changing. But we should not rejoice just yet. We live in a age of dangerous political apathy. The fact that Parliament looks and sounds completely different from the modern Britain it is supposed to represent is a further obstacle. Does British politics feel any more relevant to the black man in Moss Side, the Muslim lady from Sparkbrook or the Turkish family in Dalston today than it did in 1993? Sadly, the answer is no."


Despite claims of strenuous attempts at change from within, the upper echelons of the legal profession remain predominantly white. To a degree, the stereotype that judges are white, male, privately educated and from the Home Counties is often not far from the mark. Things are improving, but at a very slow pace. In 1998, 1.6 per cent of the judiciary was not white; now that figure is nearly 5 per cent.

The first non-white High Court judge, Justice Linda Dobbs, was not appointed until 2004. She had said: "While this appointment might be seen as casting me into the role of standard bearer, I am simply a practitioner following a career path. I am confident, nevertheless, that I am the first of many to come." But since then, only one more person from an ethnic minority background has been brought into the senior judiciary.

Among solicitors and barristers the picture is slightly more optimistic. Where once you would have struggled to find a black or Asian face in a wig and gown, now about one in 10 barristers are from an ethnic minority.

Courtenay Griffiths


"When you go into a court like the Old Bailey on any one day, some 90 per cent of the defendants will be black, and yet you'll find it hard to find a black face prosecuting. I think it's a shame that we have only two non-white judges and not enough women. But one has to realise that it takes 20 to 25 years to grow a judge. The vast majority of black and ethnic minority entrants to the bar have just not spent enough time within the profession to reach this position, so no amount of pushing will achieve that until we have a cadre of black lawyers that reach that level."


Local and national campaigns have tried to push up educational opportunities and job prospects for black and minority ethnic communities around the country. As a result, the proportion of BME councillors in town halls in the UK is inching up slowly after years of stagnation at a low level.

Attitudes have changed, but progress has been mixed. Reports of racist incidents have soared over the past two decades, from around 11,000 nationwide in 1993-94 to more than 51,000 last year.

The increase is, to some extent, explained by a greater willingness to report incidents – and an obligation on the police to record them as crimes. But underlying tensions still have the potential to explode into violence – from isolated race attacks to the "race riots" in the north, centring in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford, in 2001. Investigations into the flare-ups identified widespread poverty and segregation as long-term causes of the disturbances.

Gurbux Singh

Former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality

"When I was growing up in Wolverhampton in the 1960s, discrimination was very much in your face. But the Stephen Lawrence affair and the Macpherson report changed attitudes to race across the country. Things are better now. But situations like the 2001 riots showed that, in particular places in particular circumstances, there is the potential for tensions and violence. When you have disaffected young people who feel they are right at the bottom competing with another community, I am fearful that the tensions can easily arise again."


The upper echelons of the City remain dominated by white, middle-aged, comfortably padded men.

However, just over two years ago, the first black person took charge of a FTSE 100 company. Born in the Ivory Coast, Tidjane Thiam is the man who finally broke through the glass ceiling.

He is still chief executive at the Prudential, but is an unwilling standard-bearer, frustrated that his race attracts as much commentary as his abilities. But he is still one of the few senior black business figures.

The difficulties for black people in business were highlighted by Nick Clegg in November. He pointed out that more than a third of people of black African origin are shown to have wanted to start businesses but suggested the reason only a handful do is due to outdated lending policies. "Unleashing black and ethnic minority talent is the banks' duty, too."

Waseem Shakoor, a consultant, thinks there is an "elite club" of directors who look after each other. This does not mean they are racist, he says, but that it is hard for outsiders to make a breakthrough.

Zafar Khan

Managing director and head of aerospace & defence equity research at Société Générale in London

"In my first City interview in 1985, I sat before a panel of four men. I got the job, but I later found out that one of the older interviewers had said to a younger one: 'How would our clients relate to this man's face?' He replied: 'Maybe you haven't seen the faces of some of our clients recently: they're more likely to relate to him.' US banks, oblivious to colour, and the Japanese coming to the UK made the City more meritocratic. Today, there are Asian people in senior positions. But, in my view, the black population is still under-represented."


Black athletes outside football see relatively little racism, but Britain's biggest sporting money-spinner is another matter altogether. Just months after Stephen Lawrence was killed, a campaign to kick racism out of football was launched with some fanfare. At that time, black players were routinely abused or spat upon by "fans". The increasing number of black players in the game, along with action by clubs and anti-racist groups, have combined to drive out the public racism that used to characterise football.

But a series of recent incidents, most notably the suspension of Liverpool player Luis Suarez for racist behaviour to Man Utd's Patrice Evra, and the decision to prosecute England captain John Terry for alleged racism towards West Ham's Anton Ferdinand, highlights how racism remains under the surface.

And while black players are a common sight on the pitch, there are hardly any black faces to be seen in club boardrooms – with just two black managers in the entire football league.

Social networking sites are now being used by racist fans. Northumbria Police yesterday began an investigation after ex-Premier League star and football pundit Stan Collymore was allegedly the victim of racist abuse on Twitter. It is believed the tweets in question were sent by someone in the Tyneside area. A 21-year-old has been arrested in connection with the matter.

Some 18 years after the launch of Let's Kick Racism Out of Football, the issue is put in context by news that Oldham player Tom Adeyemi was reduced to tears this weekend by racist abuse from fans during an FA Cup game away at Liverpool.

Lord Ouseley

Chairman of Kick It Out and former head of the CRE

"Going to watch football in the early 1990s was an unpleasant experience. You had to be very careful. If you weren't with people who would look after you and weren't in parts of the ground where it was safe to go, you just wouldn't go. At that time black footballers active in football, like John Fashanu, would say their families would stop going because the abuse was so extensive – being spat at, booed, all sorts of unbelievable behaviour... There have been huge strides forward since then, and the nastiness and the worst excesses of both abuse and violence have to a large extent gone."


On the face of it, the entertainment industry appears to be an area where there has been progress in racial equality. From singers such as Rihanna and Dizzee Rascal to award-winning film and TV stars like Dev Patel and Sophie Okonedo, our screens seem less whitewashed than two decades ago. But while more than half of last year's top-20 music artists were not white, most of the people managing them still are.

Some of our most talented actors still feel they need to move abroad to find fulfilling roles. Actors such as Idris Elba – best known for Luther and The Wire – have decamped to the US after finding the parts he was offered in the UK were too few and too one-dimensional. David Harewood, star of Blood Diamond who was made an MBE in the latest honours list, said in a recent interview that he was "slightly conflicted" about winning the award: "Although it is a great honour, I still feel there is a hell of a lot of work to be done here... Looking at the TV schedules over Christmas, I did not see many black faces in dramas."

Non-white actors – on stage and in film and TV – still struggle. Just 0.7 per cent of members of Equity describe themselves as "Black Caribbean", 0.4 per cent as Indian, 0.1 per cent as Pakistani and none as Bangladeshi.

While a quarter of London's workers are from an ethnic minority background, only 7 per cent of those who work in the capital's film industry are. The figure was 3 per cent 30 years ago, and the broadcasting union Bectu says it will take 120 years at the current rate for it to reflect the demographics of the London workforce.

Jazzie B

Founder of Soul II Soul, music producer and entrepreneur

"In 1987 I only saw one black person in the music industry on the other of the fence. She was called Sandra Scott and worked for Virgin 10 records. We're still friends. Now I've met a few black managers and black people working in the background, but I've yet to see one of them sign a cheque. On television, I actually think it's weird that there's no programming on any station that truly represents us in a positive light. Everyone thinks it's all great, but I don't know if there are any black people working in commissioning. We should be light years ahead of this now."

Reports by Brian Brady, Paul Cahalan, Emily Dugan, John Houghton-Brown, Mark Leftly, Jane Merrick, Sarah Morrison, Jonathan Owen, Omar Shahid, Kate Youde

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