‘Institutional racism doesn’t exist,’ government’s race commission suggests in landmark report

Commission says ‘overt and outright racism persist’ but says UK should be example to other ‘white majority’ countries

Nadine White,Ashley Cowburn
Wednesday 31 March 2021 00:23 BST
Robert Jenrick says UK a successful multi-ethnic society following landmark report

The government’s highly anticipated race report commissioned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests has rejected suggestions that Britain is still an institutionally racist country.

The 264-page report concludes that the UK has become a “more open society” where children from many ethnic communities perform as well or substantially better than white pupils in compulsory education.

The independent review – which is published on Wednesday – argues that issues around race and racism are “becoming less important” and, in some cases, are not a significant factor behind explaining disparities. 

Race report news - live: Government investigation branded ‘an insult’

However, race advisers have warned that Britain is not “a post-racial society” and that “overt and outright racism persists in the UK”, particularly online.

Ahead of the report’s release, a government summary states: “The landmark report challenges the view that Britain has failed to make progress in tackling racial inequality, suggesting the well-meaning ‘idealism’ of many young people who claim the country is still institutionally racist is not borne out by the evidence.”

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It comes after numerous reports published last year cited evidence of structural inequalities including the Public Health England (PHE) review of disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid (2020), the Lawrence Review (2020), and Windrush Lessons Learned Review (2020).

The PHE probe found that: “Given the limitations of the PHE review, work was especially called for on the socio-economic, occupational, cultural and structural factors (racism, discrimination, stigma) influencing Covid-19 outcomes in Bame communities within and outside the health sector.”

While the Lawrence Review, commissioned by the Labour Party and led by Baroness Doreen Lawrence, concluded that “decades of structural discrimination led to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minority ethnic communities”.

In the Lessons Learned Review Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, noted that “these failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation within the department, which are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism”.

Following her Race Disparity Audit in 2017 which revealed the widespread impact of discrimination in the UK, former prime minister Theresa May said the data “will provide the definitive evidence of how far we must still go in order to truly build a country that works for everyone”.

Tony Sewell, chairman of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, who has previously made comments denying the existence of institutional racism, said: “The report highlights the significance of education as the single most powerful tool in reducing ethnic disparities.

“The effect of education is transformative on individuals but also their families and their communities, sometimes within a generation.

“Another revelation from our dive into the data was just how stuck some groups from the white majority are. As a result, we came to the view that recommendations should, wherever possible, be designed to remove obstacles for everyone, rather than specific groups.”

The former education charity boss and one-time colleague of Boris Johnson, added: “Creating a successful multi-ethnic society is hard, and racial disparities exist wherever such a society is being forged.”  But, he added, the country should be an example to other “white majority countries”.

“The commission believes that if these recommendations are implemented, it will give a further burst of momentum to the story of our country’s progress to a successful multi-ethnic and multicultural community – a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world.”

In 2019 Black African pupils performed above their white British counterparts on average in GCSE exams, while Black Caribbean pupils were the only ethnic group who performed lower than white British pupils, new research commissioned by the group found.

The commission has suggested that some communities continue to be “haunted” by “historic cases” of racism, creating “deep mistrust” in the system which prevent them from being successful.

The report makes 24 recommendations including the commissioning of further research into the drivers in “high performing pupil’s communities” to see what can be replicated to support all children to succeed.

Last summer, Boris Johnson announced the cross-government inquiry into “all aspects” of racial inequality in Britain in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that swept across the globe, highlighting endemic racism and widespread injustices”.

“We have to acknowledge that when thousands of people march peacefully for Black Lives Matter, you can’t ignore that,” the prime minister said at the time. “I, as a leader, as someone in government, I can’t ignore the strength of feeling.”

But in a scathing attack at inaction from successive governments, David Lammy claimed the promise to hold a commission – first announced in a comment piece for The Daily Telegraph – was “written on the back of a fag packet to assuage the Black Lives Matter protesters”. Speaking in June, the shadow justice secretary demanded: “Get on with the action, legislate, move. You’re in government – do something.”

Referencing a previous report he led in 2017 into racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the Labour frontbencher said: “I made 35 specific limit recommendations in the Lammy review. Implement them. 

“There are 110 recommendations in the Angiolini review into deaths into police custody. Implement them. There are 30 recommendations in the Home Office review into the Windrush scandal. Implement them. There are 26 in Baroness McGregor-Smith’s review into workplace discrimination. Implement them.”

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