How to heal a divided Britain

Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have produced a strong report that describes race inequality in Britain.

What is particularly refreshing is that the report argues against piecemeal responses which focus on only one part of people’s lives. For example, it reinforces the point that we’ll struggle to make a significant dent on inequalities in the criminal justice system unless we also look at how ethnic minorities are treated by mental health services. This is important stuff. Public agencies often struggle to coordinate their efforts on issues like this and the EHRC have asked us to step back and look at the bigger picture.

The report also makes a strong case for better intelligence and monitoring of race inequality. It’s really positive that the EHRC are stressing that the profile of race inequality issues in Britain needs to be raised, something that central government has been reluctant to do since 2010. It’s also good that the EHRC is focusing on equality of concrete outcomes (such as access to jobs and wages) rather than the lighter-touch ‘equality of opportunity’ discourse on race inequality favoured by government at the present time.

We've been arguing many of the things the EHRC outline in this report for many years, so we’re happy that information about the systematic nature of race inequality is getting more air-time. Today, we’ve been helping a national news team speak directly to some of the people who are directly affected by race inequality in Birmingham. But what we’re less likely to hear about in the news today is the limits of what the EHRC are proposing.

The key recommendation is for the creation of a new race equality strategy and more government accountability/responsibility for how this is implemented. Unfortunately, we’ve been here before. The Government introduced a similar strategy in the late 2000s led by the Department for Communities and Local Government which quietly went away. There’s no shortage of paper on this topic. We’re very good at creating new policies and this has been a standard response to race inequality for decades. The key sticking point on this agenda has always been implementation. What we would have liked to see in the EHRC report today is creative suggestions for how responses to race inequality will be implemented by those with the power and resources to do so and how they will be consistently evaluated over time.

We have a remarkably short institutional memory on this topic. Often doing something, anything, or at least being seen to be doing something to respond to race inequality is enough. We rarely take the time to think about whether we’re doing the best things to make the most impact on race inequality. As the reach of the state and resources available to public sector agencies dwindles in the face of austerity we need to work smarter than that. With central government distancing itself from the day to day activities of local authorities on issues like integration and equality, localities need to know what is working to address race inequality and why so they can focus their efforts cleverly.

With central government distancing itself from the day-to-day activities of local authorities on issues like integration and equality, communities and cities need to know what is working to address race inequality and why so they can focus their efforts cleverly. Unfortunately, the establishment of a named government minister to drive this, whilst useful, is unlikely to result in the changes required if localities under significant financial stress are consistently told they're on their own. But resource issues aside, based on our experience of supporting employers and public services to respond to race inequality, one of the biggest gaps in implementation that needs to be addressed is how employers and those providing public services behave in their day-to-day work. Typically when we conduct reviews of race inequality we ask these communities what it is about them that results in inequality and their decision not to access public services or apply for jobs rather than turning the gaze on ourselves. Instead, we should be asking what it is about how we operate that leads to unfairness. What is it about the values that drive our businesses and organisations? What is it about us all that sustains racial bias and prejudice and prevents us from treating some ethnic minority people the same as other human beings?

brap have found answers to some of these questions through our training and research work. It's why we choose to pioneer practical, behavior-based activities focused on key transition points for ethnic minority people and other disadvantaged groups that sustain inequalities. As an example, we're starting working with mental health colleagues to help their staff behave in their day-to-day work in ways that promote the universal human rights of patients irrespective of their ethnic identity. This focus on the implementation of public services and attitudes of those in positions of power is critical to the future of race equality in Britain. 

A call for a strategy is an important start, but this time let’s get on with the action too.