Black South West Network has a track record of campaigning for race equality both locally and on a national level. During the months of December 2017 and January 2018, we contributed to the national debate around race quality on two occasions;
05.12.2017 RACE DISPARITY AUDIT: SO, WHAT'S NEW?
Speakers included Helen Grant MP (Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald), Marcus Bell (Director, Race Disparity Unit at the Cabinet Office), Libby McVeigh (Director of Programmes at the Equality and Human Rights Commission) and Dr Omar Khan (Director of the Runnymede Trust).
BSWN is a member of Race Equality Matters (REM) - a national forum of Human Rights Lawyers, Race Equality Campaigners and Journalists which was set up in about 2011 to raise the profile of the fight for race equality which had disappeared from the national agenda. You can examine what it does by looking at its website:- www.raceequalitymatters.org. As part of our national contribution to race equality campaigning, we attended this event in order to observe and contribute to the discussion.
The most important points emerging from the discussion that were particularly relevant to BSWN’s current campaign for Economic Inclusivity in the South West are:
1. Encourage employers to set aspirational targets appropriate to local demographics, take concrete actions and monitor progress to improve diversity at all grades in their organisations, including at board level where applicable. This should include reviewing recruitment and promotion processes, using positive action and effective talent pipelines to help tackle ethnicity employment and pay gaps and ensure diversity in succession planning.
2. Encourage employers to introduce quality apprenticeship schemes rather than relying on low-paid or no-paid internships, enabling a higher proportion of ethnic minority applicants to access these opportunities.
3. Set stretching local targets appropriate to local demographics, and encourage the use of positive action to the fullest extent possible, to improve the participation, progression and completion rates of underrepresented groups in quality apprenticeships.
4. Implement local strategies to tackle high unemployment rates for ethnic minority groups, driven by Job Centre Plus in collaboration with local partners, and require Local Enterprise Partnerships to adopt inclusive growth strategies with specific actions to tackle ethnicity employment and pay gaps. This should include investment in training in sectors and industries where ethnic minorities are over-represented in low-paid and low-skilled jobs.
The overall impression from the addresses of the speakers at the meeting was that while it was welcome that the Prime Minister had highlighted the racial inequalities in Britain in this way, the Racial Disparity Review did not tell us anything we did not know already and what was now incumbent upon the Government was to devise strategies effectively to address these inequalities.
17.01.2018 BSWN GIVES EVIDENCE AT WESTMINSTER TO HOUSE OF COMMONS WOMEN’S & EQUALITIES COMMITTEE
BSWN Director Sado Jirde was invited to give evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Women and Equalities on 17th January 2018. The members of the committee are: Mrs Maria Miller (Conservative) – Chair- Tonia Antoniazzi ( Labour), Angela Crawley (SNP ), Philip Davies ( Conservative ), Rosie Duffield ( Labour ), Kirstene Hair ( Conservative), Eddie Hughes ( Labour ), Jess Phillips (Labour), Gavin Shuker ( Lab.- Co-op), and Tulip Siddiq ( Labour ) who was absent.
The Commons Committee’s remit is to hold the Government to account for its actions and in this case it was the Cabinet Office that was being scrutinized on the publication by the Government in August 2017 of the Race Disparity Audit which disclosed widespread racial inequalities adversely affecting every aspect of life in England and Wales. The extent of the disparities can be examined in full on the Government’s Ethnicity Facts and Figures website (www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/). The website is not just a snapshot in time but will be maintained and updated for the next 12 months at least.
Sado was one of a panel of four witnesses called to give evidence to the Committee which included Sunder Katwala from British Future , an independent Think Tank, Nicola Braganza , Barrister –at-Law, from the leading Human Rights Legal Chambers Garden Court Chambers and David Green from the Right of Centre Think Tank, Civitas.
Sado was the first to be called to give evidence and open the discussion. She said that the figures had always been out there. The Audit told us nothing new and indeed BSWN had co-hosted not long ago in Bristol an event scrutinizing racial inequalities in the Bristol area based on existing figures. Nevertheless BSWN saluted the Prime Minister’s initiative in calling for the Audit as it highlighted the issue of racial inequality which had fallen from the public agenda. The important thing which followed from the Audit which consisted of bare statistics was to develop strategies to tackle the disparities which the Audit disclosed and the Government should now act itself to develop plans to address the racial inequalities which were endemic throughout our society. When asked to identify key areas of inequality Sado answered that it was important to understand that almost always racial inequality in one area could not be tackled in isolation: for instance inequality in employment was strongly linked educational and other issues. Sado said the first step for BSWN as a grass roots organisation acting as the Voice for the BAME communities in Bristol and the South West was to use the statistics provided in the Audit to distil from the figures information in a South West Regional context and to develop with our partners in the statutory and voluntary sectors strategies to address key areas of racial inequality – but the government must realize that, if such action were to be effective, government resourcing would be key.
"Who should be responsible for ensuring action on the race audit is taken forward?"
"Leadership from the top is needed." - Sado Jirde
Sunder Katwala from British Future was asked by the MPs whether the idea of separating the narrative of the Audit from the Ethnicity Facts and Figures on the website was a worthwhile tactic and he said in principle –yes: but the narrative in the Audit was rather sparse and readers needed more help in understanding the figures which were complex. Generally he commented that the most surprising thing about the Audit was that people were surprised at the disparities disclosed – which was a comment on how race had slipped from the agenda and he complimented the Prime Minister for calling for the Audit. Commenting on the evidence of David Green from Civitas ( see later ) he emphasised the complexity of the figures : it is the case that Asians perform well as far as educational attainment is concerned but while it was true that some of the professions held a high proportion of Asians at the top level , other areas of employment did not and this could not be put down just to a choice of profession. It was now important for the government, having published the statistics to make it possible for the disparities to be acted upon.
Nicola Braganza from Garden Court Chambers said that the UK had pioneered equality legislation and British jurisprudence had developed the concept of direct and indirect discrimination yet here we were - sixty years and more after the passing of the Race Relations Act 1965 with the high levels of race discrimination apparent from the Race Disparity Audit 2017. Something was clearly amiss. Since the Audit had been aimed at ensuring that the statutory sector was practising race equality it was a telling criticism of government departments that, although the Civil Service certainly recruited a fair quota of BAME people, they were mostly clustered around the lower ranks. In answer to David Green’s point that Asians had an aptitude for professional careers and for entrepreneurship but not for public service and so performed badly in Civil Service Assessment examinations she found this a bizarre argument and even if it were true, she said it begged the question why this should be? Nicola commented on the lack of use of the Public Sector Equality Duty enshrined in the Equality Act 2010 and this led to the issue of access to justice for BAME people. Using the PSED entailed gathering evidence to make a case and then having the resources to pursue legislation through the Courts. This was just one area where BAME people lacked access to justice due to cuts in legal aid which adversely affected a section of the population which tended to fall into the poorest end of society.
David Green from Civitas has been left to last in this account of the Hearing on 17th January. This is because his evidence was idiosyncratic and displayed unfamiliarity with the whole area of race inequalities in society. Basically his evidence was that the entire exercise of the producing the Race Disparity Audit was a pointless exercise and waste of public money. In his view, the inequalities disclosed by the audit were nothing to do with race but were brought about by poverty and lack of opportunity which were things which cut across ethnic divisions. Poor white working class boys, for example did badly as far as educational attainment and access to work just as poor BAME youngsters did as both sections of society suffered from dysfunctional families and lack of a stable learning environment. Also different people had different abilities and he posited the argument referred to above about how Asians excelled academically and as entrepreneurs and rose to high positions in certain professions but failed to excel in civil service jobs. It was clear from the reaction of the members of the Committee that Dr Green’s evidence was not highly regarded and served to strengthen the evidence of Sado, Nicola Braganza and Sunder Katwala.
The full video of the hearing can be accessed on this site:-http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/eed607db-df1d-47ab-87a3-56c3760b8de3?in=10:48:10. Alternatively google House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee and click on the Hearings Section where you can read ‘ Race Disparity Audit’