Human rights watchdog calls for urgent action on Britain's 'deep-rooted' inequality

Equality and Human Rights Commission warns UK risks greater social division and racial tensions from ‘systemic unfairness’

Britain can expect widening social divisions and increased racial tensions unless the government takes urgent action to tackle deep-rooted inequalities, the new chair of the UK’s equalities watchdog has warned.

David Isaac, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said that for many ethnic minority groups – especially young black people – life had got worse in a number of areas over the past five years.

A wide-ranging review by the commission of racial equality in a number of areas, including education, jobs, pay and health, revealed a worrying combination of post-Brexit hate crime and entrenched long-term systemic unfairness, he said.

“We must redouble our efforts to tackle race inequality urgently or risk the divisions in our society growing and racial tensions increasing.”

He added: “If you are black or an ethnic minority in modern Britain, it can often still feel like you are living in a different world, never mind being part of a one nation society.”

Isaac said he was encouraged to hear commitments to tackle inequality made by Theresa May in her first prime ministerial statement last month but warned that the government must back this up with a comprehensive race equality strategy.

Previous efforts to address race inequality had been “piecemeal and stuttering” and had amounted more to “one nation platitudes” rather than policies, he said.

“So far the government’s economic plan since 2010 has not been paralleled by a race inclusion plan that prevents cutting some communities even further adrift from equality of opportunity.

“We agree with the government that we must urgently lift our ambitions and are determined to work with the new prime minister to redouble our efforts to build a fair society.”

Findings from the commission’s report, which it called the biggest ever review of race equality in Britain, include:

• Black people are much more likely to be victims of crime and be treated more harshly in the criminal justice system, and are three times more likely to be prosecuted than whites.

• Life chances for young minority ethnic people have got worse over the past five years and are “the most challenging for generations”. They were more likely to live in poverty than white people, and more likely to live in poor housing.

• White working-class boys had the worst GCSE results overall – while conversely Chinese and Indian educational achievement was improving. Just 6% of black school leavers attended a Russell Group university compared with 12% of mixed and Asian students and 11% of white school leavers.

• Unemployment rates among ethnic minorities (12.9%) were twice as high as those for white people. Black workers with degrees earned 23% less on average than white workers with equivalent qualifications. Ethnic minorities were “hugely underrepresented” in positions of power such as judges and police chiefs.

Responding to the report, Farah Elahi, policy and research analyst at race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust, said the extent of the unfairness revealed in the report showed that lives were being ruined and talent held back on grounds of race.

“We hope this acts as a wake-up call to government, decision makers and the media to focus on the issues of systemic discrimination that keep Britain divided socially and economically,” Elahi said.

“The race inequality gap is not sustainable or acceptable, and the colour-blind approach is not working. We call on Theresa May to back up her words outside 10 Downing Street and take personal responsibility for driving forward this work, starting with a comprehensive race equality strategy and appointing a dedicated cabinet-level race equality minister.”

Isaac, a City lawyer and former chair of the the LGBT rights charity Stonewall, was appointed to chair the equalities watchdog by the government in April.

His appointment attracted opposition from some MPs over fears that as a £500,000 a year partner in Pinsent Masons he would face potential conflicts of interest because the law firm carried out significant amounts of work for the government.


Patrick Butler Social policy editor

The GuardianTramp

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