Race coalition warns government bills will ‘disenfranchise’ ethnic minority groups

Exclusive: Mandatory Voter ID and Policing Bills threaten to “disproportionately disenfranchise” Black and ethnic minority voters, the group fears.

Nadine White
Thursday 13 May 2021 11:33 BST
<p>‘Following a turbulent year which has shone a light on glaring racial injustices, exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis,  disparities cannot be ignored’</p>

‘Following a turbulent year which has shone a light on glaring racial injustices, exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, disparities cannot be ignored’

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A coalition of equality organisations has urged the government to “take meaningful action” in tackling race disparities following its pledge announced in the Queen’s speech.

The group have issued a statement warning ministers that mandatory Voter ID plans threaten to “disproportionately disenfranchise” Black and ethnic minority voters, many of whom lack any form of photo ID.

Signatories include Runnymede Trust, Operation Black Vote, Race Equality Foundation and Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The ID legislation is accompanied by recent proposals in the Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which carries with it profoundly worrying implications for Black and ethnic minority people, particularly Gypsy Roma Traveller groups, and will widen disparities in the criminal justice system, the coalition argues.

“If the government is truly committed to addressing racial inequality, it must heed warnings of the potentially damaging impact this proposed legislation would have on our communities,” the statement, released to The Independent, reads.

“Following a turbulent year that has shone a light on glaring racial injustices, exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, such disparities cannot be ignored.

“Racial inequalities are a matter of life and death, and it is extremely important that detailed and considered measures are taken to address structural and institutional racism in the UK.”

The group, consisting of over 20 organisations, added: “We urge the government to take meaningful action that gets to the heart of racial disparities in the UK, the result of which is disproportionate poverty and barriers in access to decent housing and healthcare.

“Such action includes tackling deep-rooted racial discrimination across employment, the criminal justice system, education, and the immigration system, as well as steps to ensure the equal enjoyment of political, civil, social, and economic rights.”

This comes after civil liberties groups, electoral reformers and senior MPs on both sides of the Commons condemned plans to introduce a requirement for voters to prove their identity before casting their ballot.

Downing Street has defended the move as an attempt to combat electoral fraud, but Tory former Cabinet minister David Davis said it was an “illiberal solution for a non-existent problem”.

Less than half of Black and Asian people do not have a form of photo ID.

Mr Davis told The Independent on Monday: “It’s yet another unnecessary ID card approach from the government ... There’s no evidence that I’m aware of that there is a problem with voter fraud at polling station.”

The government’s own data shows that white people are most likely to hold one form of photo ID with 76 per cent holding a full driving licence.

By contrast, 38 per cent of Asian people, 31 per cent of people of mixed ethnicity, and 48 per cent of Black people do not.

According to the most recent data from the Electoral Commission, 595 cases of alleged voter fraud were investigated by police in 2019, with just four leading to a conviction and two individuals given a police caution.

The watchdog concluded in the same year that the UK has “low levels of proven electoral fraud” and that there “remains no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud”.

Meanwhile, the Policing Bill contains a number of proposals that the government has conceded will have a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in equality assessments.

The coalition says there is an urgent need to offer a positive vision that not only makes full use of existing equalities laws, but goes further to include a real plan to eliminate racial disparities across the public and private sectors, backed up by regulatory enforcement.

The path onwards should include disregarding the widely contested report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, published last month, the signatories suggest.

“We urge ministers to go beyond the recommendations outlined in the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

“We are clear that this report falls drastically short of the changes that are urgently needed to deliver the vision for society outlined in the Queen’s Speech,” the statement reads.

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