Race equality campaigners have dismissed claims in a landmark report that the UK is not an institutionally racist country, saying they are “deeply, massively let down” by one of its central conclusions.
It comes after the government released a summary of the highly anticipated Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities – commissioned by No 10 in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the globe last summer highlighting racism and injustice.
The full 264-page report was later published on Wednesday, and says the UK has become a “more open society” where children from many ethnic communities perform as well, or substantially better, than white pupils in compulsory education.
“The landmark report challenges the view that Britain has failed to make progress in tackling racial inequality, suggesting the well-meaning ‘idealism’ of many young people who claim the country is still institutionally racist is not borne out by the evidence,” the summary claims.
Race advisers did conclude, however, that the UK is not “a post-racial society” and that “overt and outright racism persists”, particularly online.
Dr Halima Begum, the chief executive of the race equality think-tank Runnymede Trust, said she felt “deeply, massively let down” by the Commissions on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ report.
Pressed on the claim that Britain is not institutionally racist, Dr Begum replied: “Tell that to the black young mother who is four times more likely to die in childbirth than her young white neighbour, tell that to 60 per cent of NHS doctors and nurses who died from Covid and were black and ethnic minority workers. You can’t tell them, because they are dead.
“Institutionally, we are still racist, and for a government-appointed commission to look into [institutional] racism, to deny its existence is deeply, deeply worrying.”
She also questioned the suitability of the chairman Dr Tony Sewell and head of the Number 10 policy unit Munira Mirza, who had a role in setting the commission up — both of whom have previously questioned the existence of institutional racism.
“If both these individuals are from the outset denying the existence of institutional racism, then what hope did we have that they were going to look into this in an objective manner, if not follow whatever the government mantra is?” she said.
Patrick Vernon OBE, a prominent equalities campaigner, told The Independent that the report reminded him of the ones conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, which, he said, suggested that “immigrant children can survive the colour bar of their parents if they work and be grateful that they are British”.
“The report, instead of being forward thinking and adding a new debate on race, is actually stuck in a time warp, not facing the true realities of 2021,” he said.
“We are in the middle of global pandemic of Covid -19 and anti -blackness (Afriphobia) which has exposed current inequalities and structural racism in society which we have known for decades from previous independent commissioned reports ranging lack of equality in the boardroom, deaths in custody, impact of hostile environment on Windrush Generation and racism in the criminal justice system.”
David Lammy, who led a review into racial disparities in the criminal justice system in 2017, said the report was an “insult to anybody and everybody across this country who experiences institutional racism”.
He claimed: “Boris Johnson has just slammed the door in their faces by telling them that they’re idealists, they are wasting their time. He has let an entire generation of young white and black British people down.
“This report could have been a turning point and a moment to come together. Instead, it has chosen to divide us once more and keep us debating the existence of racism rather than doing anything about it.”
Responding to a passage in the final report which argues we need to tell a “new story” about the slave trade which highlights cultural transformation of African people, shadow equalities minister Marsha De Cordova said: “The government must urgently explain how they came to publish content which glorifies the slave trade and immediately disassociate themselves with these remarks.”
However, Dr Sewell later issued a statement, saying: “It is absurd to suggest that the commission is trying to downplay the evil of the slave trade. It is both ridiculous and offensive to each and every commissioner. The report merely says that, in the face of the inhumanity of slavery, African people preserved their humanity and culture.”
Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said: “Black and Asian Britons in our society today face less prejudice than their parents or grandparents; they may well fare better than those in many other countries. But such comparisons make little difference to the lives of ethnic minority Britons in 2021.
“There’s an important success story in education that can rightly be celebrated. But if a graduate in Manchester with an ethnic-sounding surname still gets fewer job interviews than a white classmate with the same CV, why should they feel lucky that the odds might be worse in Milan or Marseille?
“Britain probably does put more energy than others into collecting data on race. That shouldn’t only be used to highlight the progress that undoubtedly has been made – it must also identify the gaps so we can take action to address them.”
Speaking ahead of the report being publicly released, Dr Sewell stressed that no one was saying racism doesn’t exist in Britain, but added: “Evidence of actual institutional racism? No, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that.”
Mr Sewell also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the term “institutional racism” was “sometimes wrongly applied” as a “sort of catch-all phrase for microaggressions or acts of racial abuse”.
Pressed on what he believed was wrong with the phrase, Mr Sewell went on: “People declare themselves institutionally racist, so for example, we’ve heard recently of the education system declaring itself institutionally racist when if you look at the evidence behind that it’s not the case.
“We have found the complete opposite in terms of educational outcomes of ethnic minorities. You can’t just go ahead and willy-nilly declare yourself institutionally racist like that.”