Is the recent Race report a missed opportunity to address systemic racism?

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The Government’s recent report on Race and Ethnic Disparities has concluded that there is no evidence to suggest the existence of institutional racism in the UK, and that Britain should be regarded as “a model for other White-majority countries”. This report from the Commission, which was established in response to the protests resulting from the murder of George Floyd, has failed to even acknowledge persistent racial inequalities, let alone provide any solutions to the unequal outcomes faced by ethnic minority communities across all facets of society.

For example, whilst the educational achievements of particular minority groups should be highly applauded, their achievements should not be used as a means to silence the disadvantages of their counterparts that form other ethnic communities in Britain. It is troubling that the fact that high levels of attainment amongst ethnic minority students, are not being referenced in a genuinely celebratory manner, but as a way to create division and downplay the challenges and barriers facing other ethnic minority groups (for example lower attainment or higher exclusion rates).

If race inequality is not perceived as a significant factor in terms of educational experience and employment outcomes, then what is contributing to students (from each single ethnic minority group) being less likely to receive a ‘1st’ class degree, being more likely to face higher rates of bullying and harassment on campus, being less likely to be in full-time employment (one year after degree completion), and being more likely to earn less in the same job, as their White British counterparts.

In the employment market, jobseekers from ethnic minority backgrounds are 47% more likely to be on zero-hours contracts, have to send 60% more applications to receive a positive response from an employer, and the ethnic minority unemployment rate was more than double the rate of White British workers in the final quarter of 2019 (9.5% vs 4.5%). The report highlights that in terms of professions such as Medicine, there is a high level of ethnic minority representation. However, when examined further, this diversity does not automatically result in ethnic minorities being able to reach the most senior levels in these professions, or be on an equal playing field in terms of earnings. For example, for consultants nationally, the median pay gap for White consultants is 3.5% higher than Black consultants, 4.3% higher than Asian consultants, and 6.2% higher than Mixed heritage consultants. In conjunction with receiving lower pay, ethnic minority doctors also have higher rates of complaints made against them, and trainees are more likely to fail their MRCGP Clinical Skills Assessment (CSA) – with a 63.2% pass rate compared with 75.8% for White British trainees.

Additionally, the report refers to “historic cases” of racism that “haunt” ethnic minority communities, when the protests which led to the formation of the Commission, were in relation to George Floyd’s very recent racist murder in May of last year. Less than a year ago, stop and search figures from GOV.UK indicated that those from Black backgrounds were 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched than those from White British backgrounds.

In 2019, the Lammy Review outlined that the odds of ethnic minority offenders receiving prison sentences (for the same drug crime) were 1.5 times higher than their White counterparts. Moreover, the same report outlined that 25% of the adult prison population, and 51% of young offender institution populations are from ethnic minority backgrounds respectively, despite ethnic minorities accounting for 14% of the UK’s population. The link between systemic racism and poorer healthcare outcomes, is also not acknowledged, in spite of ONS research previously indicating that even when socio-economic factors and geographical location are adjusted, Black and South Asian men, are significantly more at risk of contracting COVID-19.

The opportunity to develop interventions and policies to address the longstanding institutional racism that has existed for many years prior, and still exists, has been overlooked in order to divide the various groups that form the UK’s ethnic minority community – promoting some as ‘model minorities’ whilst simultaneously neglecting, and denying the lived experiences of other groups who do not fit within this ideal.

Karun Maudgil is the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Project Lead at SOAS.

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