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Boris Johnson’s government has done something important for a world that would regain or retain freedom from the serfdom of the socialist left. When challenged with Black Lives Matter and other Marxist front groups posing as social justice warriors, PM Johnson had a serious commission, comprised almost entirely of ethnic/racial minority members, dig into the real facts, conducting a deep dive into extensive data. The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, issued its report on March 31, 2021.* This report, at 258 pages, is written in clear English, not leftist academic jargon. You must read at least the foreword, introduction and recommendations, as they speak just as clearly to contemporary America as to the United Kingdom.
In response to the massive leftist street violence and claims of systemic white racism, the Johnson government announced the membership of a Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities on 16 July 2020.** It is a credit to Boris Johnson, and the politically and culturally brave members of the commission, that this report has been put before the British public and the world after only 9 months. No American panel or commission could do as well in twice the time, based on our history of blue-ribbon committees, commissions, and panels. You may be sure that the U.S. Department of Defense reports from the supposed studies launched in June 2020 will be embarrassing pseudo-research by comparison.
Written in the first person, in the voice of the Commission chair, Dr. Tony Sewell, the Forward, introduction, and full recommendations are compelling. What follows is an extensive excerpt, with emphasis added [and a few parenthetical comments by me]. Note the absence of poisonous race-baiting and white-shaming. Note how Dr. Sewell and the commission speak the hard truth about poor whites, especially poor white boys, being in some of the very worst, least “privileged” or powerful positions in Britain. This is likely also true here in the United States.
Last summer, the Prime Minister asked if I would be willing to chair a Commission to investigate race and ethnic disparities in the UK. He felt that the UK needed to consider important questions about the state of race relations today, and that there needed to be a thorough examination of why so many disparities persist. We needed to work out what can be done to eliminate or mitigate them. I readily agreed: I have spent all my working life as an educationalist, dedicated to this cause.
The Commission was established with 10 of us drawn from a variety of fields spanning science, education, economics, broadcasting, medicine, and policing. And, with one exception, all from ethnic minority backgrounds. Tasked to look at race and ethnic disparities in education, employment, crime and policing and health, we first met virtually in July. Like so many of you in your own family and work situations during this time of COVID-19, the Commission has never met face to face.
Our diverse group, with our different areas of expertise, enabled us to challenge conventional approaches. The debates around the table were invigorating and led to stimulating discussion. Collectively, over the past few months, we have put our shoulders to the wheel and pushed this endeavour forward.
All the while we have been supported by the Cabinet Office’s Race and Disparity Unit (RDU) which was set up in 2016. It has accumulated all the important data on race and ethnicity, in one database. For the first time we have been able to use this dataset to understand the impact of ethnicity and other factors on outcomes. That also means, unlike previous reviews focused on particular issues such as the workplace or criminal justice, we have been able to look more widely and investigate the deeper underlying causes of key disparities.
Sifting through a mass of data, reading the evidence from experts and speaking to communities, we soon realised, given the time constraints or the limitations of available data, we could not address every subject and every issue. We also identified individual ethnic minority groups that have a significant presence and separate identity, though not large enough for their own categories like Sri Lankan, Somali or East African Asian. We acknowledge the work that has been done on anti-Muslim prejudice and antisemitism – even though it is beyond the scope of this report.
The word mistrust was repeated often as some witnesses from the police service, mental health, education and health services felt that the system was not on their side. Once we interrogated the data we did find some evidence of biases, but often it was a perception that the wider society could not be trusted. For some groups historic experience of racism still haunts the present and there was a reluctance to acknowledge that the UK had become open and fairer.
The data also revealed many instances of success among minority communities. These have often been ignored or have been seen to be of little interest (to the media). But we wanted to understand the reasons for the success and whether there were any lessons to be drawn.
This is also the first government-commissioned study on race that seriously engages with the family.
In many areas of investigation, including educational failure and crime, we were led upstream to family breakdown as one of the main reasons for poor outcomes. Family is also the foundation stone of success for many ethnic minorities.
[Compare Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” (1965), a readable 35 pages. See the more recent book-length studies on the crisis in poor white America.]
Another revelation from our dive into the data was just how stuck some groups from the White majority are. As a result, we came to the view that recommendations should, wherever possible, be designed to remove obstacles for everyone, rather than specific groups.
It has been quite a journey of discovery. As we met with people in round table discussions, in our versions of the ‘Moral Maze’ and listened to people from all sections of society, we were taken by the distinctions being drawn between causes that were external to the individual and those that could be influenced by the actions of the individual himself or herself. As our investigations proceeded, we increasingly felt that an unexplored approach to closing disparity gaps was to examine the extent individuals and their communities could help themselves through their own agency, rather than wait for invisible external forces to assemble to do the job.
Poet and activist Linton Kwesi Johnson describes the early mass Black presence in the UK as having 2 phases or eras. The first was the 1950s Windrush arrival from the Caribbean, this he called the ‘heroic’ period, when literally doors were closed in the faces of the new Black settlers who heroically battled in the face of adversity. The children of those settlers, my generation, who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s he calls the ‘rebel’ generation, this featured running battles with police and a breakdown in community relations, which continues to have a negative legacy. The spirit of rebellion continued last summer during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. This was a revolt that engulfed the world. We have to acknowledge the spirit of BLM was the original trigger for our report.
But this report speaks to a new period, which we have described as the era of ‘participation’. We can only speak of ‘participation’ if we acknowledge that the UK has fundamentally shifted since those periods in the past and has become a more open society. We have spoken in this report about how the UK is open to all its communities. But we are acutely aware that the door may be only half open to some, including the White working class. In this regard we have pointed out how in education, employment, health and crime and policing the UK can be a more inclusive and fairer landscape.
Participation, however, is not just about fully opening the doors, we also speak to the need for communities to run through them and grasp those opportunities. We have found that some ethnic minorities have been able to ‘participate’ better than others. We were impressed by the ‘immigrant optimism’ of some of the new African communities. They are among the new high achievers in our education system. As their Caribbean peers sit in the same classrooms, it is difficult to blame racism in education for the latter’s underachievement.
The new challenge of ‘participation’ is best illustrated in the policies that face police recruitment. The police need to demonstrate that they are truly a more welcoming organisation and Black communities need to overcome the legacy of mistrust. We have put forward recommendations that will hopefully bridge this gap. Our findings on Black youth homicide are distressing reading, with young Black men 24 times more likely to die of homicide than their White counterparts. It is this data that has led us to supporting a reconceptualised idea of stop and search.
[See American data on homicide and see “stop and frisk.”]
In health, we need more Black and Asian people to participate in health trials so that medical research will be based on data that comes from the whole population. Our new Office for Health Disparities will be tasked to respond to the specific health and wellbeing of ethnic groups.
The ‘Making of Modern Britain’ teaching resource is our response to negative calls for ‘decolonising’ the curriculum. Neither the banning of White authors or token expressions of Black achievement will help to broaden young minds. We have argued against bringing down statues, instead, we want all children to reclaim their British heritage. We want to create a teaching resource that looks at the influence of the UK, particularly during the Empire period. We want to see how Britishness influenced the Commonwealth and local communities, and how the Commonwealth and local communities influenced what we now know as modern Britain. One great example would be a dictionary or lexicon of well known British words which are Indian in origin. There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain.
I wanted to call one of the chapters ‘The end of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic)’. The term ‘BAME community’ feels like a group that is held together by no more than what it is not. The Commissioners were not impressed by those companies that pointed to their ‘unconscious bias’ training as proof of their progressive credentials. We were impressed by more conscious attempts to foster talent from a wide range of backgrounds.
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 Commission was keen to gain a more forensic and rigorous understanding of underlying causes of disparities. However, we have argued for the use of the term ‘institutional racism’ to be applied only when deep-seated racism can be proven on a systemic level and not be used as a general catch-all phrase for any microaggression, witting or unwitting.
[ . . . ]
Creating a successful multicultural society is hard, and racial disparities exist wherever such a society is being forged. The Commission believes that if these recommendations are implemented, it will give a further burst of momentum to the story of our country’s progress to a successful multicultural community – a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world.
This report comes at a pivotal moment for our nation’s race debate. We need to place that debate on objective and democratic foundations – ones that include people of goodwill, of all races and ethnicities.
The purpose of this report is to lay the ground for a country built on the full participation and trust of all communities. We envisage a country more at ease with itself because it can recognise where progress has been made. One that is confident that, where unequal access to opportunity persists, whether among inner city ethnic minorities or the left-behind from the ethnic majority, it is being addressed.
We do not believe that the UK is yet a post-racial society which has completed the long journey to equality of opportunity. And we know, too many of us from personal experience, that prejudice and discrimination can still cast a shadow over lives. Outright racism still exists in the UK, whether it surfaces as graffiti on someone’s business, violence in the street, or prejudice in the labour market. It can cause a unique and indelible pain for the individual affected and has no place in any civilised society.
But we have ensured our analysis has gone beyond these individual instances, to carefully examine the evidence and data, and the evidence reveals that ours is nevertheless a relatively open society. The country has come a long way in 50 years and the success of much of the ethnic minority population in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy, should be regarded as a model for other White-majority countries.
There is a salience and attention to race equality in the UK in policy-making, and in the media, which is seldom found in other European countries. And there is an expectation of ethnic minority voices at the top of politics – across the political parties, and in law, education, medicine, business, media and culture – that did not exist a generation ago and is still too rare elsewhere.
Yes, there are still some ‘snowy white peaks’ at the very top of the private and public sectors, and not all of that can be accounted for by the fact that members of the ethnic minorities have not, by definition, been embedded in the country’s human networks and institutions for as long as the White majority.
But some of that snow is melting. Consider the greater presence of ethnic minorities in the current government and opposition, this time occupying top positions such as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Attorney General, Business Secretary and Home Secretary. Or the onward march of minorities into positions of power and responsibility in professions such as the law and medicine. Ethnic minorities are also now well represented in the highest social class and ethnic minority students represented nearly a quarter of those from the UK offered a place at Oxford in 2019.[footnote 1]
In addition, our enquiries have also underlined to us that the roots of advantage and disadvantage for different groups are complex, and often as much to do with social class, ‘family’ culture and geography as ethnicity. We have tried to understand the drivers of ethnic difference in the UK and, where necessary, propose ways to address them. The data collected over 5 years now by the government’s Race Disparity Unit has given us a new opportunity to be led by the evidence.
Multiple reviews relating to racial and ethnic disparity have been commissioned by successive governments since 2010, covering a range of topics relevant to the areas of focus for this Commission. They have tended to look at specific problems, and sometimes have sought swift fixes. Successive governments have made – and continue to make – sincere efforts to implement those recommendations where they have been accepted. This Commission has taken a different starting point: to look at the underlying causes of disparities to better understand why they have come about, and what can be done to address them over the long run.
We have sought to build upon the detailed work that those reviews have done, and discussed the findings with each reviewer. Many we broadly agreed with, and all should be acknowledged and recognised for the significant contributions they have made to the national conversation and growing the evidence base.
These reviews, which we refer to in the relevant chapters of this report, include:
- The Timpson Review of School Exclusion
- The Children’s Commissioner’s ‘Best beginnings in the early years’ report
- The McGregor-Smith Review: Race in the Workplace
- The Parker Review: Ethnic diversity of UK boards
- The Lammy Review: An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System
- The Angiolini Review: Deaths and serious incidents in police custody
- The Marmot Review: Fair Society, Healthy Lives
- The Wessely Review: Modernising the Mental Health Act
In the main chapters of this report, we look at 4 key areas:
- education and training
- employment, fairness at work and enterprise
- crime and policing
We examined the intersection of some of the most pertinent causes holding back equality of opportunity, namely:
- socio-economic background
- culture and degree of integration
We found that most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism.
Racism has become one of the most potent taboos in the UK, which was not the case 50 years ago. Some argue this has just driven it underground where it operates as powerfully as ever to deny equality to ethnic minorities. That assumption is at odds with the stories of success that this report has found, together with survey evidence of dwindling White prejudice.
It is certainly true that the concept of racism has become much more fluid, extending from overt hostility and exclusion to unconscious bias and microaggressions. This is partly because ethnic minorities have higher expectations of equal treatment and, rightly, will not tolerate behaviour that, only a couple of generations ago, would have likely been quietly endured or shrugged off. The fact that this generation expects more is a positive aspect of integration.
However, there is also an increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of White discrimination. This diverts attention from the other reasons for minority success and failure, including those embedded in the cultures and attitudes of those minority communities themselves.
There is much evidence to suggest, for example, that different experiences of family life and structure can explain many disparities in education outcomes and crime. Early years experiences, including stability and security at home, matters to children more than anything else. There are many different family structures that can provide a happy childhood, including millions of single parents doing a loving and effective job in difficult circumstances. It is clear, however, that there continues to be a need for more explicit public policy promotion of parental and family support. We reject both the stigmatisation of single mothers and the turning of a blind eye to the impact of family breakdown on the life chances of children.
The work of the Commission has been carried out under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the evidence that some ethnic minority groups have faced a disproportionate impact from the virus. As the analysis of why this is the case has emerged, the significance of a wide range of interlocking factors (including geography, occupation, deprivation and pre-existing health conditions) has become clear. However, when examining the overall health of the UK population, it is also evident that there is more than one story to tell. As we report in the Health chapter, life expectancy or overall mortality shows that ethnic minorities do better overall than the White population and actually have better outcomes for many of the 25 leading causes of death.
This report seeks to approach the issues of racial and ethnic disparities in a balanced way, highlighting both the success stories that the data reveals as well as delving into what lies beneath some of the most persistent and enduring ones. As such, its findings and recommendations may be surprising to some and thought-provoking to others. Either way, we have gone as far as the available evidence and time would allow.
[ . . . ]
What lies behind disparity?
The idea that all ethnic minority people suffer a common fate and a shared disadvantage is an anachronism.
Yet both the reality and the perception of unfairness matter. The nationwide BLM marches last year were catalysed by a shocking case of police brutality in the USA that resulted in the death of George Floyd. Many British citizens – particularly young adults – felt compelled to protest and call for change here too. The countries are different, and face different race-related challenges. But in some places in the UK, especially in Black inner-city communities, historical wrongs by the state and police have left a deep legacy of mistrust too.
We understand the idealism of those well-intentioned young people who have held on to, and amplified, this inter-generational mistrust. However, we also have to ask whether a narrative that claims nothing has changed for the better, and that the dominant feature of our society is institutional racism and White privilege, will achieve anything beyond alienating the decent centre ground – a centre ground which is occupied by people of all races and ethnicities.
‘What lies behind disparity?’ is a key question to answer. We recognise the lived realities, and sometimes trauma, of racial disadvantage. Our thinking also looks hard at the evidence and the multiple causes in play, and seeks to come up with relevant measures, for example, to deal with the disproportionate effect of our Class B drug laws on young Black people or problems in mental health provision for those ethnic minority groups that struggle to access services when they need them.
This Commission finds that the big challenge of our age is not overt racial prejudice, it is building on and advancing the progress won by the struggles of the past 50 years. This requires us to take a broader, dispassionate look at what has been holding some people back. We therefore cannot accept the accusatory tone of much of the current rhetoric on race, and the pessimism about what has been and what more can be achieved.
[ . . . ]
When the current reality changes, so too must our approach. All the data tells us that the UK is far more open to minority advancement than 50 years ago. And while some doors at the top remain hard to lever open, people from some minority backgrounds are successfully taking up opportunities. In fact, as of 2019, the ethnicity pay gap – taking the median hourly earnings of all ethnic minority groups and the White group – is down to just 2.3% and the White Irish, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups are on average earning notably more than the White British average.[footnote 4]
Professor Yaojun Li[footnote 5] undertook bespoke research for the Commission on ethnic minority social mobility. Going back 50 years he found that, while many groups experienced a first generation downward mobility, “the second generation have been making rapid progress and have caught up with and, in some cases, surpassed, White people”. Additionally, there is no evidence of the blocking of ethnic minority advancement into professional-managerial positions in Britain “as was the case in the USA in the 1960s against African Americans”.
Much of this advance has only happened in the past 2 or 3 decades, and the story remains imperfect and mixed. Until COVID-19 struck, the vast majority of people aged under 25 from all ethnic backgrounds were in permanent employment, although those from minority groups were more likely to be unemployed and on zero-hours contracts. Additionally, it’s clear that job opportunities and labour market conditions vary based on where you are in the UK. One advantage that ethnic minorities have is that they are disproportionately based in London – around 40% of the UK’s ethnic minority population live in London (compared with just 9% of the White British population) and this mitigates the country’s significant challenges with regional inequality.[footnote 6]
This is one reason why we believe it is important to look beyond race to other causes of disadvantage, even when considering issues of race and ethnicity. The life chances of the child of a Harrow-raised British Indian accountant and the child of a Bradford-raised British Pakistani taxi-driver are as wide apart as they are, partly because of the UK’s economic geography. Meanwhile, the numerically largest disadvantaged group is low income White boys, especially those from former industrial and coastal towns, who are failing at secondary school and are the people least likely to go to university. Unlike many other reports on race and ethnicity we have included the White group in our deliberations. For a range of outcomes, White working-class children trail behind their peers in almost all ethnic minority groups, although the extent of these disparities vary by area.
Perceptions and realities
[ . . . ]
The gravitational force of dominant narratives tends to point our attention in negative directions, such as racist abuse on social media, and away from positive ones, the fact, for example, that 40% of NHS consultants are from ethnic minorities.[footnote 8]
And too much of public debate is ill-informed or uninformed – hate crime being an example. It is widely believed that hate crime is worsening. Some argue that it is because of Brexit, others that it is exacerbated by the prevalence and visibility of racism online. Every case is unacceptable and a body-blow struck against a decent society, especially the small proportion of cases involving physical violence.
But police-recorded hate crime figures are rising because of improved police recording processes, and a greater awareness of what constitutes a hate crime.[footnote 9] The total of police recorded race-related hate crime for England and Wales has leapt up in recent years, increasing by 131% in the 9 years to March 2020.[footnote 10]
By contrast, responses to the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), which is considered more reliable than police-recorded crime, show that the number of racially-motivated hate crimes reduced from 149,000 (in the years ending March 2010 to March 2012) to 104,000 (in the years ending March 2018 to March 2020) .[footnote 11][footnote 12] This is still far too many incidents, and the trends are subject to change, but it does suggest that hate crime, like racist attitudes, is on the decline.
Another example of overly pessimistic narratives, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, has been on race and health. The increased age-adjusted risk of death from COVID-19 in Black and South Asian groups has widely been reported as being due to racism – and as exacerbating existing health inequalities.[footnote 13]
[ . . . ]
Also, if it were true that Black and South Asian groups were suffering from systemic racism throughout their lives – adversely affecting their health, education, income, housing, employment (the key determinants of health) – this would be reflected in overall mortality figures across the life-course.
In fact, Black and Asian groups have had lower mortality rates from all causes,[footnote 15] and data for Scotland suggests Asian ethnic groups groups have higher life expectancy than White ethnic groups.[footnote 16] This is particularly surprising as ethnic minority groups are more likely to live in the most overall deprived neighbourhoods in England.[footnote 17] Even over the course of the pandemic, despite the higher COVID-19 death rates, overall mortality in Black and South Asian groups has not been higher than for White groups.
So, instead of focusing solely on race and ethnicity, we need to consider the key underlying risk factors (which are mainly socio-economic) that are causing the higher death rates, and which will therefore reduce the risk of death in all ethnic groups – including White groups.
The Commission has also been particularly concerned to understand how it is that as outcomes have been improving for ethnic minority groups, and majority attitudes have become increasingly open-minded, that a more fatalistic narrative – which claims that nothing has really changed – seems to have gripped popular perception.
Sunder Katwala, the head of the British Future think tank, says that “Britain is doing much better on race than on class”. The reason why this does not seem more apparent is because:
there is now a split between academic, media and political environments and the lived experience of the rest of the country … the problem is that the race discourse is dominated by people who spend all their time on it, we don’t hear enough from people who just get on with their everyday lives and are not defined by race.[footnote 18]
However, he also notes that many disadvantaged Black and Muslim groups do feel defined by their race, whereas fewer middle-class professionals from Indian and Chinese ethnic groups feel the same.
We suggest that pessimistic narratives about race have also been reinforced by a rise of identity politics, as old class divisions have lost traction. Well organised single-issue identity lobby groups also help to raise the volume. These organisations can do good work protecting the vulnerable, but they also tend to have a pessimism bias in their narratives to draw attention to their cause. And they tend to stress the ‘lived experience’ of the groups they seek to protect with less emphasis on objective data. It is not surprising therefore that mainstream public debate about race sensitises minorities to discrimination, but does less to highlight minority self-reliance and resilience.
We commissioned new research from the University of Oxford[footnote 19] that explores the range of factors that combine to influence educational outcomes in ethnic groups. These factors include sex, ethnicity and socio-economic status. Our analysis defines socio-economic status as parental education, occupation and family income.
It is the Commission’s belief that educational success should be celebrated, replicated and used as an exemplar to inspire all pupils across the UK. Evidence shows that certain ethnic groups such as Black African, Indian and Bangladeshi pupils perform better than White British group, once socio-economic status is taken into consideration. This outstanding performance is in part due to what is termed ‘immigrant optimism’: a phenomenon where recent immigrants devote themselves more to education than the native population because they lack financial capital and see education as a way out of poverty.[footnote 20]
In practice, this means there are significant factors at play that can help groups overcome their socio-economic status and succeed.
Research by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies and the Runnymede Trust also finds higher aspirations among ethnic minority children at 14 years old compared with White children.[footnote 21] White boys gave themselves an average probability of going to university of 60.9%, while for White girls the estimation was higher, at 68.3%. This compared starkly with the Black African (boys, 81.7%; girls 88.8%), Indian (81.3%; 85.3%), Pakistani (74.9%; 82.4%), and Bangladeshi (77.8%; 80.2%) ethnic groups. Black Caribbean boys were the only group with lower expectations than the White boys group at 58.5%, while Black Caribbean girls gave themselves a 73.3% probability of going to university.
There are conflicting views on what drives immigrant optimism, whether it is an internal drive or a response to external discrimination. However, it is evident that ethnic minority groups have agency to overcome obstacles and achieve success.
Why ‘BAME’ doesn’t work
Use of the term BAME, which is frequently used to group all ethnic minorities together, is no longer helpful. It is demeaning to be categorised in relation to what we are not, rather than what we are: British Indian, British Caribbean and so on. The BAME acronym also disguises huge differences in outcomes between ethnic groups. This reductionist idea forces us to think that the principle cause of all disparities must be majority versus minority discrimination. It also allows our institutions and businesses to point to the success of some BAME people in their organisation and absolve themselves of responsibility for people from those minority groups that are doing less well. Like the UK’s White population, ethnic minority groups are far from monolithic in their attitudes towards British social norms and their inclusion in different walks of life.
It is time we dropped the term and talked about people from particular ethnic backgrounds and if we do sometimes need to distinguish between all White and non-White populations we should use the term ‘ethnic minority’, ‘ethnic group’, or ‘White ethnic minorities’ where appropriate, which we have used throughout this report wherever the data enables us to do so. Indeed, the use of ‘White’ as a standalone term is as unhelpful as other aggregated labels, as it masks the diversity of groups within – such as White Irish, Gypsy, Roma and Travellers and Eastern Europeans – and the unique experiences and outcomes they also face.
[ . . . ]
The language of race
The public debate on race is sometimes hampered by the fact that there is no consensus on the meaning of even fundamental words like racism and discrimination. The word racism can apply to such a wide a range of human behaviour, from the stereotyping of a stranger to the horror of genocide. It is used so differently in debate that people will often argue at cross purposes.
We have sought to examine the practical causes of undesirable disparities between groups and put forward how to narrow them. However, we have also looked at the way disparities are discussed in mainstream discourse and have been concerned with the use of imprecise and often misleading language around race and racism.
The linguistic inflation on racism is confusing, with prefixes like institutional, structural and systemic adding to the problem. It is a sad reality that racism still exists in every country, but we cannot afford for the term to become misunderstood or trivialised.
In the call for evidence, the Commission noted a tendency to conflate discrimination and disparities; whilst they sometimes co-exist they often do not. The Commission believes this is symptomatic of a wider, repeated use and misapplication of the term ‘racism’ to account for every observed disparity. This matters because the more things are explained as a result of racial bias, the more it appears that society is set against ethnic minorities, which in turn can discourage ethnic minority individuals from pursuing their goals. If more precise language does not become a feature of our national conversation on race, we can expect to see tensions increase across communities – despite determined action by government and civil society to reduce discrimination.
The Commission was especially concerned with the way the term ‘institutional racism’ is being applied in current discourse on racial disparities. We noted the evolving definitions of institutional racism during the 18 years between the Scarman Report in 1981 and the Macpherson report of 1999.[footnote 23]
[ . . . ]
The term is now being liberally used, and often to describe any circumstances in which differences in outcomes between racial and ethnic groups exist in an institution, without evidence to support such claims.
The Commission therefore feels that misapplying the term racism has diluted its credibility, and thus undermined the seriousness of racism, where it does exist, in contemporary Britain. Where ‘institutional racism’ is used too casually as an explanatory tool, it can also lead to insufficient consideration of other factors which are also known to drive such differences in outcomes.
If accusations of ‘institutional racism’ are levelled against institutions, these should – like any other serious accusation – be subject to robust assessment and evidence, and show that an institution has treated an ethnic group differently to other groups because of their ethnic identity.
[ . . . ]
Another term that is highly controversial and contested is ‘White privilege’. The phrase, coined in the USA, is undoubtedly alienating to those who do not feel especially privileged by their skin colour. Phrases like ‘White privilege’ and ‘White fragility’ imply that it is White people’s attitudes and behaviours that primarily cause the disadvantage experienced by ethnic minorities. It also reinforces the perception that being an ethnic minority in the UK is to be treated unfairly by default. The evidence we have studied does not support this. The Commission rejects this approach, believes it fails to identify the real causes for disparities and that it is counterproductive and divisive.
[ . . . ]
Geography, class and ethnicity
The UK suffers from acute geographical inequality. That is hardly news. But the scale of the gulf in opportunity is seldom appreciated. According to Professor Philip McCann of Sheffield University about half the population in the UK live in areas where prosperity is no better than the poorest parts of the old East Germany or the poorest states in the USA, like Mississippi or West Virginia. For 30 years, says McCann, the country has been decoupling. London and the South East plus pockets of affluence and dynamism elsewhere have been pulling away from the rest.[footnote 24]
The core cities outside London, with the exception of Bristol, have been underperforming, but it is the ex-industrial and mining areas, and towns on the coastal periphery, which are the poorest and least productive places. Towns like Barnsley in South Yorkshire, Dudley in the West Midlands, Middlesbrough in the North East or Blackburn in the North West.[footnote 25]
In simple numerical terms, this is overwhelmingly a White British problem.[footnote 26] But it is also the case that ethnic minority Britons are more likely to live in persistent poverty and overcrowded housing,.[footnote 27][footnote 28] Geographical inequalities also afflict a significant section of the South Asian population who live in the former mill towns and ex-industrial Midlands.[footnote 29]
The most concentrated pockets of deprivation are found among ethnic minority groups, particularly Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black groups.[footnote 30] And in many aspects related to quality of life, ethnic minorities, particularly among the latter groups, are placed below the White British group – due in part to the lack of a substantial affluent group for those minorities.
However it is the poorer White people, outside London, who are the largest group to be found in areas with multidimensional disadvantages, from income to longevity of life. The English region with the worst life expectancy is one of the Whitest – the North East. And the number of years people can expect to live in good health is generally lower in the northern parts of England compared with the south.[footnote 31]
The most recent Index of Multiple Deprivation for England finds that the local authorities with the highest number of deprived neighbourhoods are all in the north: Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Knowsley, Hull and Manchester. All except Manchester have a disproportionate representation of the White British population. The proportion of deprived neighbourhoods in London is falling.[footnote 32]
The overall percentage of White British people living in the 10% of most deprived neighbourhoods is 9.1%, which is disproportionately low and below several groups, most notably Pakistani (31.1%), Bangladeshi (19.3%), Mixed White and Black Caribbean (17.4%) and Black African (15.6%).[footnote 33] But it is also worth noting that the White British percentage translates into nearly 4 million people. The Pakistani ethnic group is the next highest group, with 346,000 in absolute numbers.
There is a sense of stagnation about the fate and life chances of poorer White groups, which is less the case with ethnic minority groups. Until the recent focus on the ‘left behind’ towns and ‘levelling up’, there was no national narrative encouraging the advancement for this group in the way there has been for ethnic minorities. White children on free school meals lag behind every other group in Progress 8 attainment levels at secondary school.[footnote 34] They are also least likely to progress to university. Poor White groups, and especially poor White boys, do badly in the education system everywhere, whereas in some areas at least, especially London, poor ethnic minorities are improving rapidly.[footnote 35]
[This was core to Boris Johnson winning in 2019, campaigning for the “left behind,” just as it was core to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, and likely in 2020. It is at the core of the institutional, American upper class (social not economic) unified “conspiracy” to ensure these people, and ethnic minorities who dared cross over to vote Trump 2020, were firmly put back down in the 2020 election machinations.]
The Social Mobility Commission has a Social Mobility Index which looks at education attainment from primary level to university for those from poor backgrounds; and then adds in adult opportunity in terms of incomes, availability of professional jobs, prevalence of low pay and so on.[footnote 36]
Nearly 70% of all the social mobility ‘hotspot’ success stories are in London and the South East. There are none in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the West Midlands. The top 65 worst performing local authority areas are almost all overwhelmingly White British places. Of the worst performing local authorities, Nottingham at 15, Oldham at 31, Bradford at 48 and Wolverhampton at 62 are the only local authorities with significant ethnic minority populations.
It is a similar story with the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) score. The worst 5 areas with IDACI scores of around 30% are all overwhelmingly White British places: Middlesbrough, Blackpool, Knowsley, Liverpool and Hull.[footnote 37] And in those areas further down the list with significant ethnic minority populations the minority performance on Progress 8 attainment is in almost all cases far ahead of the White British.[footnote 38]
The figures on Progress 8 educational advancement are startling, and underline the significant divergence between the poor White British and poor ethnic minorities. Poor White people score between minus 0.6 and minus 0.8 in each of the 9 major regions of England. For ethnic minorities only one region, the South West, is slightly worse than minus 0.4. Most other regions are only just in minus – apart from London which is plus 0.2.[footnote 39]
The ‘opportunity areas’ announced by the Department for Education combined the Social Mobility Index with the department’s own ‘achieving excellence areas’, aimed at those places with underperforming schools.[footnote 40] 12 locations came up which are, with the exception of Oldham and Bradford, overwhelmingly White places: West Somerset, Norwich, Blackpool, North Yorkshire coast, Derby, Oldham, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Bradford, Stoke on Trent, Doncaster and Ipswich.
When considering this data, and noting the profound disparities that it highlighted, the Commission was even more firmly of the view that its recommendations should focus on improving outcomes for all – not centre on specific ethnic groups alone.
[ . . . ]
Cultural traditions, family and integration
If it is possible to have racial disadvantage without racists then we need to look elsewhere for the roots of that disadvantage. Racial disadvantage often overlaps with social class disadvantage but how have some groups transcended that disadvantage more swiftly than others?
There has been a revolution over the last half century in the family structure. Much of this has been welcome; more accepting attitudes towards divorce and more autonomy for women has increased human freedom, and we know that many variations beyond the traditional nuclear family can work. However, as these freedoms have grown, there is also greater stress on families and the prevalence of breakdown has increased.
The Commission is not passing judgement about how people live their lives, nor is it saying ‘two parents are always better than one’. Lone parent families may face greater strain but, if they have the right resources and support available, they can provide just as good a start in life. The support, nurture and care that family networks provide are something that no government intervention can match in practical or emotional power. But the need for support is inevitably greater amongst lone parent families. In those ethnic minority groups where family breakdown is more prevalent, the need for support from either extended family or community groups is even greater.
During the course of its work, the Commission noted with great concern the prevalence of family breakdown. In 2020, 14.7% of families in the UK were lone parent families (2.9 million).[footnote 45] 63% of Black Caribbean children were growing up in lone parent families, as were 62% of children in the Black Other ethnic group. High instances of lone parenthood were also experienced by Mixed ethnicity Black children. Black African people have a lower rate of single parenthood but at 43% are still well above the average. South Asian and Chinese ethnic groups are much lower than other groups with the Indian ethnic group the lowest at just 6%.[footnote 46]
Lone parent families have become more common since the 1970s, a result of an increase in divorces as well as an increase in never married lone mothers.[footnote 47] There may be a number of underlying reasons for this: cultural change relating to male responsibility, the welfare state and growing affluence making it possible to bring up children alone. The lower rate of family breakdown among Asian families is notable, pointing to different cultural values or expectations.
[ . . . ]
To repeat: this is not about allocating blame, but simply pointing out that children require both time and resources, and that is more likely to be available when both parents play active roles in their upbringing. Governments cannot remain neutral here. We would urge the government to investigate this issue further and look at initiatives that prevent family breakdown.
Another area where cultural traditions may play an important role is in attitudes to integration and mixing with other ethnic groups. Baroness Casey’s ‘Review into Opportunity and Integration’ (2016)[footnote 53] looked at issues of integration and segregation, particularly through the lens of gender and language. Here, she confronted some uncomfortable truths about behaviour and attitudes among some ethnic minority groups that actively hold back integration, a theme first raised by Trevor Phillips in his lecture ‘Sleepwalking into Segregation?’ in 2005. Casey noted that more than half of women in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups are economically inactive, compared with a quarter of White women. This helps explain why Pakistani and Bangladeshi families are disproportionately represented in lower income deciles.
The Race Disparity Audit also revealed that in England, adults from a Bangladeshi and Pakistani background were the most likely not to speak English well or at all. Among 45 to 64 year olds, 17.4% of Bangladeshi women and 9.0% of Pakistani women were unable to speak English at the 2011 Census.[footnote 54] This clearly is an obstacle to economic advance and broader integration. One reason for this issue being most pronounced among people from Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic backgrounds is that they tend to live somewhat more separately from the mainstream, both physically and in terms of social norms, and are 2 of the groups most likely to bring in spouses from their ancestral homes, especially the Pakistani group.[footnote 55]
This produces the so-called ‘first generation in every generation’ issue, with full integration constantly being restrained by one parent with a foot in another country.
[ . . . ]
Racism is both real and socially constructed. Society has ‘defined racism down’ to encompass attitudes and behaviours that would not have been considered racist in the past. This is one reason for the rising sensitivity, the language of microaggressions and safety, and stretching the meaning of racism without objective data to support it.
[ . . . ]
Although the continued presence of discrimination gives cause for concern, it is important to see how the UK has improved race relations more rapidly than in other countries. The fact that the UK is more active in collecting data on ethnicity and discrimination suggests a willingness to address racial inequalities compared with the rest of Europe, where data-gathering is less comprehensive, ad hoc, or even illegal.
Yet despite the UK comparing well internationally there is still a powerful current of unease and even anger that bubbled up in last summer’s BLM protests. Minorities, even after several generations, often feel a detachment and unease relative to majorities and tend to remain sensitive to their group’s relative status in the society. Notwithstanding what we have argued about the relative openness of British society, the Commission accepts the scholarly consensus that a ‘psychological asymmetry’ unavoidably characterises majority-minority relations across different cultures, including in the UK.[footnote 67]
Younger ethnic minority people in the UK may identify more strongly with their ethnicity and heritage than older generations, reflecting a new desire to adopt multiple identities rather than ‘to assimilate’. This needs to be understood and factored into ongoing British race relations strategies. Strong ethnic identities should also not be considered in and of themselves as an inherent obstacle to British nation-building. People are evidently capable of juggling multiple identities in their everyday lives. What matters is for the British identity to evoke positive emotions of trust and affection in the country’s minorities.
In the UK, the best way to build trust is to emphasise to every ethnic group that we treat individuals fairly, and not on the basis of their ethnicity. We respect ethnic identities but also share a common, unifying, civic identity as British citizens.
We must continually reflect on how to reinforce the symbols of Britishness which signal to minorities that they are considered full members of the British family while retaining their own distinctive identities.
This country has never been reluctant to collect data on people’s self-declared ethnic, racial and national identities. It is one reason why this report is able to make with confidence the sometimes controversial arguments that it does – both about ethnic minority progress, and the highlighting of continuing areas of concern. Arguments about discrimination almost always start with data but how that data is framed and selected is crucial, and differences in outcomes need understanding and explaining. Differences – or ‘disparities’ – are not always sinister and do not always arise from discrimination.
Throughout the report we express various concerns about the way that data is collected and used by public authorities. One concern is the lack of precision in some data collection. The Census has gradually increased its granularity of ethnicity over recent decades and for 2021 has 19 tick-box categories for ethnic self-identification, with Roma added since 2011. Yet too much data continues to be collected at the level of the so-called ‘big 5’ classifications: White, Black, Asian, Mixed and Other – and this is further compounded by small sample sizes, which make meaningful analysis at lower granularity unviable.
We know that broad categories like Black or Asian hide hugely different outcomes between different sub-groups and can therefore be very misleading.
[ . . . ]
Then there is the broader issue of the way data is presented. We should, where possible, be reporting net disparities not gross disparities. So, for example, most ethnic minority groups are on average younger and more likely to live in inner city areas than the White population, and because crime is disproportionately committed by young people and people in big cities this needs to be adjusted for when looking at the raw data on crime.
This would use a regression analysis – meaning adjusting for relevant factors to get a more realistic comparison on a like for like basis. This is used by the ONS, for example, in its analysis of pay and wealth by ethnicity.
There is also the issue of relevant benchmarks for ethnic minority representation. The general population benchmark often presents a more negative picture of minority achievement than is justified. Different groups have different histories, periods of residence in the country, class and educational backgrounds, average ages, so there are many reasons, apart from discrimination, why you would not expect that representation in a given profession, say, should match a group’s share of the general population. This is especially the case for representation in elite jobs. Around 16 per cent of the UK population belong to ethnic minorities.[footnote 69]
We would also ask for a more responsible use of statistics in general in the sometimes emotional field of race and ethnicity. The reporting of hate crime figures, which is touched on more than once in the report, should, for example, make clear that recent increases are in incidents reported to the police and more reliable national survey evidence suggests that actual hate crime incidents are falling.
[ . . . ]
Fixing the problem for everyone
Finally, a word on our approach to policy solutions. In the past, the analyses of racial disparities have tended to follow a 3-part formula:
- binary White and BAME distinction
- the idea that all racial and ethnic disparities are negative
- the idea that policy formulation should be focussed on targeting aspects of minority disadvantage
However, as previously noted, we think that, with some exceptions, the best and fairest way to address disparities is to make improvements that will benefit everyone, targeting interventions based on need, not ethnicity.
[ . . . ]
If not enough young Black people are getting the professional jobs they expected after graduating, then we need to examine the subjects they are studying and the careers advice they are receiving. If you improve the careers service for everyone then all groups will benefit. This approach is not only seen to be fair, it would be more effective than diversity training for teachers.
Similarly, if diversity and inclusion training is only focused on White discrimination this risks alienating the very people whose behaviour may need to change. The Commission wants inclusive workplaces, but training which focuses narrowly on behaviour around race can run counter to that. Far better to focus on the biases, nepotism, in-group favouritism and motivated reasoning that people of all races are susceptible to. The Commission does, however, recognise the role that diversity and inclusion training has had in moving the dial and creating a space for conversations in organisations to redress actual and perceived discrimination. It is important to build on this, whilst focusing on interventions that produce concrete outcomes.
The model for this ‘aim at everyone’ approach is spelled out in a paper ‘Diversity is Important. Diversity-Related Training is Terrible’ by Musa al-Gharbi.[footnote 70] Diversity training, according to al-Gharbi, should not be focused on avoiding and policing misunderstandings or conflict, but on helping people build relationships and collaborate despite inevitable disagreements, and on leveraging divergent perspectives in order to advance collective goals. The same might be said for the UK’s entire race conversation.
[ . . . ]
This also means that an open climate of debate must be encouraged in which it is as legitimate to question explanations based on discrimination as it is to make them.
In a sporting match, we care about penalties, but we also care about referees who call too many fouls or players who claim they have been fouled when they have not been.
Equalities policy has traditionally focused on giving additional help to historically marginalised groups. This made sense when ethnic minorities were heavily disadvantaged in all spheres and virtually all prejudice came from White people. Yet times have changed, and the picture, as we show, is now more complex. Some ethnic minority groups are doing better on average than White people. Discrimination in favour of one group, as with the use of quotas, would mean discrimination against other groups. It is hard to see how this would foster a more unified and fair society that all groups could trust.
* Thanks to John Hinderaker of Power Line Blog for calling attention to this important report in “On Race, Britain Leads.”
** Excerpt of statement by the Johnson government:Published in
The Commission will be chaired by Dr Tony Sewell, an international education consultant who is Head of Generating Genius, a ground-breaking charity which works to ensure that talented students from disadvantaged and diverse ethnic backgrounds are positioned to excel in STEM careers. Amongst his accomplishments Dr Sewell has been an international consultant in education for the World Bank and Commonwealth Secretariat, a board member of the Youth Justice Board for England & Wales, and in 2013 he led the Mayor’s Education Inquiry into London Schools which resulted in the creation of the London Schools Excellence Fund, a programme which has helped London schools achieve top grades for their students. Dr Sewell was awarded a CBE in 2016 for his extensive work in Education.
The Commission is independent and will be comprised of esteemed representatives from the fields of science, education, broadcasting, economics, medicine, policing and community organising.
Full list of commissioners:
- Dr Tony Sewell CBE (Chair), Head of charity Generating Genius
- Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, Space Scientist and Educator. Experienced broadcaster including co-presenter of BBC’s ‘The Sky at Night’
- Keith Fraser, Chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales and former police superintendent
- Dr Samir Shah CBE, CEO of Juniper TV, former BBC journalist and former chair of the race relations think tank, The Runnymede Trust
- Lord Ajay Kakkar, Professor of Surgery at University College London, Director of the Thrombosis Research Institute, chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission, chair of the King’s Fund
- Dr Dambisa Moyo, internationally renowned economist and author, board member of Chevron Corporation and the 3M Company
- Martyn Oliver, Chief Executive Officer of Outwood Grange Academies Trust, one of the largest multi-academy trusts operating in the North and Midlands
- Naureen Khalid, experienced school governor and co-founder of the dedicated online national school governor forum, UkGovChat
- Aftab Chughtai MBE, Businessman, co-founder of the campaign group Muslims for Britain, member of the Grenfell Tower Taskforce and Chair of West Midlands Police Independent Advisory Group
- Mercy Muroki, Senior Policy Researcher, Commentator, and Columnist.
Co-opted members to attend meetings relevant to their work on the Windrush Working Group:
- Kunle Olulode, Director, Voice4Change, a national membership organisation championing the voice of the BAME voluntary, community and social enterprise sector
- Blondel Cluff CBE, Chief Executive of the West India Committee and Chair of the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s London Committee
In addition to the membership announcement, the Commission’s terms of reference have been published and can be found online, along with full bios for Commissioners.
The Commission will aim to report its findings on the priority areas of health, education, criminal justice and employment by the end of this year.
The work of the Commission will report to the Prime Minister. The Sponsoring Minister for this work is Kemi Badenoch, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Equalities Minister.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:
“Today I am establishing an independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. This cross-government Commission will examine inequality in the UK, across the whole population.
“I am thrilled we have assembled a group of ten talented and diverse commissioners, who each bring a wealth of experience from across a range of important sectors.
“This new Commission will be led by Dr Tony Sewell CBE. Tony has supported many young people from diverse backgrounds into STEM careers. I know well how his work has improved access to education across London, and I am confident that he shares my commitment to maximising opportunity for all.
“The Commission will be inclusive, undertaking research and inviting submissions where necessary. It will set a positive agenda for change.”