New n-word slur found on government website

Exclusive: A parliamentary question has been submitted calling for a government-wide investigation into official documents

Kate Devlin,Nadine White,Adam Forrest
Friday 07 July 2023 19:17 BST
MPs have called on the Cabinet Office secretary to carry out a review of government documents
MPs have called on the Cabinet Office secretary to carry out a review of government documents (AFP via Getty)

A racial slur has been visible on the government’s official website for the past eight years, The Independent can reveal.

The use of the word “N*****d” to describe Black people on the site is set to intensify the growing row.

After this newspaper revealed that the term had been included in both a report by the Met Office and guidance used to assess benefit claims, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson denounced the word as “inappropriate and offensive”.

Downing Street added that it was “confident” that the word did not appear in any other documents – but it has been clearly visible in the comment section of a page on the government’s own website since 2015.

The word was removed after its presence was highlighted by The Independent, raising questions about the way the government scans its website for offensive terms.

As anger grows over the use of the slur, cross-party MPs renewed their calls for a government-wide review of official documents across all government departments.

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton, submitted a parliamentary question on Thursday to Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for the Cabinet Office, calling for a statement and an investigation into official documents to ensure that no slurs or prejudiced terms are being used.

The question reads: “To ask the SoS Cabinet Office, with reference to the recently withdrawn DWP guidance on social security assessments containing racist terminology, if he will require all Government departments to assess the documents for which they are responsible to ensure that no other Government documents contain a) racist b) other prejudiced terms; and if he will make a statement.”

The latest slur had been on the website since 2015. It was included in a comment under a blog titled ‘Equality in the Civil Service: talking about race’.

The third comment underneath the article read: “Talk about race? The idea of race is that humanity is divided into various distinct groups that we call racial groups, N*****d (black), Caucasian (white) and a couple of others. It seems that we both want to talk about race and not talk about it.”

Alongside it, there was an invitation to “link to this comment”.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The language highlighted was within a comment on a publicly accessible page, on which anyone is able to comment. We do not tolerate racist, homophobic, sexist or any similarly unacceptable language on our pages, and the comment has been removed."

A Labour spokesperson told The Independent: “It is appalling that another document containing racist language is still in widespread circulation within a government agency.

“The minister for women and equalities must launch an urgent audit of all government departments, agencies and arms-length bodies to find out whether there are any other documents that contain this or any other racist terminology, and see that they are withdrawn immediately.

“Swift action is needed from a Conservative government that has previously refused to accept structural racism even exists. Labour is serious about rooting out the structural racial inequality that scars our society, and will introduce a landmark Race Equality Act to tackle it at source.”

Kim Johnson MP
Kim Johnson MP (UK Parliament)

Labour MP Kim Johnson, a member of the all-party parliamentary group on race, said it was “utterly outrageous” that such language had been allowed to remain in official government documents.

“It’s astounding that it has taken this long for this to surface. If evidence was needed that the British state is structurally and endemically racist, we have it here in black and white,” she said.

“The use of the n-word by governmental departments in the 21st century shows how Black people are still treated as second-class citizens. Yet this government still chooses to deny the existence of institutional racism.”

Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for the Cabinet Office, has been called upon to address the matter
Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for the Cabinet Office, has been called upon to address the matter (PA Wire)

She added: “The responses from the DWP and the Met Office have been lacklustre, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. From the Windrush scandal to the rollout of strengthened racist powers for the police, including stop and search, this government is continuing the colonial mentality of divide and rule to distract from their disastrous record ... I will be pushing them for answers in parliament at the earliest opportunity.”

The offending 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 Met Office study – titled 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 the language they contained was highlighted by The Independent. The Met Office has apologised “for any offence caused”, while the DWP has launched an internal inquiry into how its document remained in circulation for so long.

Political activist Professor Gus John told The Independent: “N*****d ... does not connote a geographical place or region, but a people whose standing in the human realm has been defined as primitive, undeveloped, backward and not as human as the rest of humanity, thus qualifying to be used as chattels, or for experimentation by eugenicists.”

Christine Jardine, the MP for Edinburgh West and the Liberal Democrats’ equalities spokesperson, said: “These revelations are truly shocking. Racist terms and racism in any form has absolutely no place in our society or our government.

“The government must now urgently review and investigate its departments to make sure we see no other occurrences.”

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