Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report: The key points

31 March 2021, 14:06 | Updated: 31 March 2021, 16:04

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was published in full on Wednesday
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was published in full on Wednesday. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Britain is no longer a country where the "system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities", a landmark review has argued.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities says geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion all impact life chances more than racism.

The report was published in full at 11.30am on Wednesday, after the Government Equalities Office previously revealed selective highlights.

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It criticises the "confusing" way the term "institutional racism" has been applied, saying this should only be used when deep-seated, systemic racism is proved and not as a "catch-all" phrase for any microaggression.

While acknowledging that overt racism still exists, particularly online, the commission says there is much evidence to suggest different experiences of family life can explain many disparities in education outcomes and crime.

Britain is not a "post-racial" society, and racism persists - but issues around race and racism are becoming "less important", it claims.

It follows wider discussions around racism following the death of George Floyd last year, subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, elite sports stars taking the knee before football matches, and a claim by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that a member of the royal family made a racist comment about their son Archie.

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The report found that children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than white pupils in compulsory education, with black Caribbean pupils the only group to perform less well.

The commission says education is "the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience" and the most important tool to reduce racial disparities.

Success in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy "should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries", it adds.

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Diversity in workplaces

Unemployment differences between ethnic groups have been declining, although they remain significantly higher for younger people, according to the report.

It found employment rates for white British and Indian ethnic groups were 77% and 76% respectively in 2019, 69% for black people and 56% for people in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic group.

Ethnic minorities have been making progress up the professional and occupational class ladder, including in law and medicine, although there remains under-representation at the very top, the study indicates.

Workers from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely than those from a white British background to say that experiencing discrimination contributed to their failure in achieving their career expectations.

The research also found that just under one in 10 senior civil servants comes from an ethnic minority background, an increase from around 4% a decade ago.

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Pay gap

The pay gap between ethnic minority and white workers is falling and at its lowest level in almost a decade, at 2.3%, according to the report.

It suggests employees from the white Irish, Indian and Chinese ethnic groups on average had higher hourly earnings than the white British ethnic group.

It found for employees under 30 the pay gap is not significant.

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Communities ‘haunted’ by historic racism

The report notes that some communities continue to be "haunted" by historic racism, which is creating "deep mistrust" and could be a barrier to success.

But it says issues around race and racism are becoming "less important", and in some cases are not a significant factor in explaining inequalities.

Different outcomes are complex and involve social class and family structure along with race, it says.

The report states: "We found that most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism."

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‘Some evidence of bias’

Commission chairman Dr Tony Sewell says the review found some evidence of bias, but often it was a perception that the wider society could not be trusted.

Dr Sewell wrote: "Put simply, we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities.

"The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism.

"Too often 'racism' is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined.

"The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism.

"That said, we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK."

The report says there is an "increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of white discrimination".

This, it says, diverts attention from other reasons for disparities of outcome.

The report notes that the Black Lives Matter protests last year saw many young people in Britain calling for change.

While it understands the "idealism" of these "well-intentioned" young people, it questions whether a narrative claiming that nothing has improved "will achieve anything beyond alienating the decent centre ground".

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The report "rejects the common view" that ethnic minorities in the UK have worse health outcomes than the white population.

It claims that for some key health metrics, including life expectancy and overall mortality, ethnic minority groups had better outcomes than the white majority population.

This evidence "clearly suggests" ethnicity is not the "major driver" of health inequalities in the UK, it says.

Instead, it suggests that deprivation, geography and differential exposure to key risk factors, including obesity, smoking and alcohol use, were indicators for worse health outcomes.

The report suggests that for Covid-19 and many other health conditions, there is a "complex interplay" of socio-economic, behavioural, cultural and in some cases genetic risk factors which lead to disparities.

It has called for more work into why "some ethnic minority groups are doing better than others" and whether this is due to differences in family structures, social networks or health behaviours such as alcohol and smoking.

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Stop and search

The public is not given enough information about why police use stop and search, with politicians putting the emphasis on violent crime when it is more often linked to drugs, the report found.

The commission says successive Home Secretaries Amber Rudd, Sajid Javid and Priti Patel put the focus on knife offences, when the key driver for police was drugs.

It says: "Several police services cited drugs and hard drug county lines as a key driver for the use of stop and search, and the data shows that the majority of searches are based on suspicion of drugs.

"More needs to be done to bridge the gap between how the purpose of stop and search is communicated, and how this legal power is actually being used in practice."

The report also says that, with claims that black people are nine times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched, figures should be examined in the context of local area to avoid them being skewed.

"The national relative rate is not always accurate and stop and search rates should be analysed at smaller geographic levels," it says.

It uses the example of the Metropolitan Police, where officers make nearly half of all the stops and searches in England and Wales, including 80% of those involving black people.

The commission says the capital is also where nearly 60% of black people live.

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The 264-page report makes 24 recommendations, which the commission says have "tried to account for the messy reality of life" and are aimed at all disadvantaged people.

In education, it calls for extended school days to be phased in, starting with disadvantaged areas, to help pupils catch up on missed learning during the pandemic.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds should also have access to better quality careers advice in schools, funded by university outreach programmes.

And it is calling for more research to examine the drivers in communities where pupils perform well, so these can be replicated to help all children succeed.

The report also recommends for an Office for Health Disparities to be established to tackle health inequalities, and for a review on action to address the underlying issues facing families.

The Commission says the acronym BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) should no longer be used as differences between groups are as important as what they have in common.

And it calls for organisations to stop funding unconscious bias training and for the Government and experts to develop resources to help advance workplace equality.

Other recommendations include calls for increased scrutiny of body-worn police footage of stop and searches, more detailed, publicly available data, more local recruitment within police forces, and improved training to help officers interact with the communities they serve.

A pilot should be developed in four police areas where young people with low level possession of class B drugs should helped by public health services and diverted away from the criminal justice system, the report says.