Attention to Race is all over the place – by Karen Chouhan

Last week it was announced that the budget of the EHRC would be slashed again, to £45m. The Government cut the EHRC budget from £60 million to £53 million in 2010, and it has been suggested that its budget may be reduced to £22.5 million over the course of the Parliament[1]. A speech by Trevor Phillips, Chair of the EHRC, to Policy Exchange suggests that there may be a rebalancing of responsibilities between the EHRC and government departments[2]. There have been suggestions that some of the EHRC’s functions may be handed to government departments, or even the private and voluntary sectors.

 

So much for an independent Human Rights body which is supposed to abide by the UN Paris Principles of independence, autonomy from government, sufficient resources and adequate powers of investigation[3].

 

So much for the promises when the CRE was abolished in 2007 that there would not be a dilution of attention to race equality.  Not only has there been a continuous diminution of  resources but race and racism are almost dirty words replaced by an emphasis on ‘integration’ and ‘cohesion’.

 

These are not the core problems in Britain today. Survey after survey, and several research projects have shown that by and large (85% of people in the last Place Survey) believe we get on well together and that people integrate as fast as they can, given limiting economic circumstances. The elephant in the room is racialised structural and systemic disadavantage. For example:

  • 25% of white children, 56% of African Caribbean, 60% of Pakistani and 72% of Bangladeshi children live in poverty in the UK[4]. That is staggering and angering that we don’t shout more about it.
  • Currently Black people are nearly eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people; there are four times more arrests of Black people per head of population than of white people; and there are five times more Black people in prison per head of population than white people.
  • The Annual Population Survey figures also show that ethnic minority unemployment has been rising (national average is 8.3%); from 10.6 per cent in the 12 month period ending September 2008 to 12.4 per cent in the period ending September 2009. Over the same period, unemployment increased for all ethnic groups apart from people of Mixed ethnicity. The biggest increase was for Black/Black British people, where unemployment rose from 13.5 per cent to 17.2 per cent[5].

 

How will these raw race inequalities be addressed now when there is less money, less regulation and enforcement power and confusion about race equality and integration?

 

There are even more signals that the government is in total disarray with regard to race equality.

 

  1. Last week Equanomics UK, the Runnymede Trust, ROTA and the Centre for Local Policy studies gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on race and the Governments new Equality Strategy. Read the full article on this in the Equanomics news section. It told the committee it had serious concerns about:

 

a) the adequacy of current structural arrangements for the promotion of equalities and race equality;

b) Leadership from Government and its strategy in relation to race equality, particularly concerns about the apparent re-emergence of a one size fits all philosophy and a race neutral or blind approach;

c) The future and role of the EHRC;

d) Failures by Government and public bodies to comply with the existing public sector equality duties including the race equality duty;

e) The disproportionate impact of the proposed public sector cuts on voluntary and community organisations especially the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) sector which may undermine the promotion of equality of opportunity;

f) How the combined impact of these changes reduces the ability of people from BAME communities to access justice and challenge discrimination;

g) The approach of the Home Office and longstanding concerns in relation to criminal justice and policing issues; and

h) The adverse impact of aspects of the Localism Bill and the Public Bodies Bill.[6]

 

  1. On Thursday 18th May a coalition of Black and Minority organisations met with Andrew Stunell to discuss concerns about persistent disproportionate inequalities in Education, poverty, employment, health and criminal justice[7]. Andrew Stunell repeatedly mentioned the government’s integration strategy to be published in May – further reinforcing the confusion of integration with race equality. Read the full article on this in the Equanomics news section.

 

The Government’s Equality Strategy identifies Andrew Stunell MP as the Minister for Race Equality, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). However the DCLG website identifies that race is one of the minister’s 4 responsibilities[8] and we understand that the title ‘Minister for Race Equality’ is not a formal title. Whereas Theresa May has a title of Minister for Women and Equalities but the Government Equalities office is in a different place than CLG where race seems to be located under Andrew Stunell MP.

 

  1. On the previous day there was an announcement that the regulations to go with the new Equality Act would be stripped down to avoid a burden on public bodies. The removal of key legal tools, at this crucial stage, used by voluntary and community organisations to hold public bodies to account is a matter of serious concern and at variance with the concept that equality is at the heart of the Coalition’s agenda and the various references made in the Equality Strategy.

 

  1. In October 2010, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community[9] (APPGRC) and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Equalities[10] (APPGE) met with Theresa May MP, Minister for Women and Equalities. The minutes note that no details were ‘given on whether the government plans to do any specific work on race equality.’ Attendees raised concerns that were not answered by the Minister including: a) the absence of race in the government discourse around equalities and whether this would be addressed

Prior to the establishment of the EHRC in 2007 many BME organisations were sceptical of what it could deliver for race equality. They argued that the CRE which was to be scrapped along with the Equal Opportunities Commission (for equality between men and women) and the Disability Commission, was an important symbol and tool for addressing race equality and a new replacement single equalities body would dilute a focus on race.  At the time I said:

‘We all want equality but our histories and perspectives are different, not interchangeable. (Such a) Commission will inevitably mean an equalities mush – a commission that struggles to do anything right’.

This was reinforced by the levels of resourcing the new body was to have – to cover 6 areas of equality and human rights it would have a budget of £70m, whereas the CRE struggled on a budget of about £20m for race alone.  Yes there would be some efficiencies of shared administration but it was not credible that the new body would cope with enforcement and regulation plus promotion for 3 brand new (sexual orientation, religion and belief and age) protected characteristics and the ‘old’ ones  (race, sex and disability).

So today when 3 more protected characteristics (gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnerships and pregnancy/maternity) have been added to the legislation, and the budget is likely to fall to £45m it seems we will be left with little more than a nod to the original European directives designed for greater protection for all those discriminated against because of who they were.

Race Equality doesn’t stand a chance unless until we realise that government policy defaults to being whimsical, populist and more often than not for race equality works on short-term efficiencies with long-term damage to a just society. This is only changed substantively when there is a concerted voice for change.


[2] What may change is the balance between what we do and what the government does itself. There’s no settlement on that issue yet, and it may take some months to get there. But we intend to ensure that the outcome will interfere as little as possible with our core mission in this new world.’ Why Equality and Human Rights Are Essential To Economic Recovery, Chair EHRC 8th February 2011, speech to the Policy Exchange

[3] 1991  UN gathering of Human Rights bodies

[4] CRE 2007  ‘A lot done, a lot still to do’

[5] BME VCS position paper – http://www.equanomicsuk.org/news

[6] Full document available from http://equanomicsuk.org/news/

[7] The organisations’ position paper and the of the Minister’s response are available on the Equanomics website.

[8] Andrew Stunell OBE MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State: The 4 responsibilities – a) Community cohesion (incl. future of Prevent), b) Race equality; c) Building regulations, and d) Big Society, housing and regeneration.

[9] The All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community (APPGRC) was formally re-established 16th June 2010. The Runnymede Trust took over the secretariat at the start of 2010.

[10] The remit of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Equality (APPGE) is to address discrimination based on all equality grounds and seek to advance equal opportunities for all. It is serviced by the Equality and Diversity Forum.

 

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~ by jonathanure on March 28, 2011.

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