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Government Accused of Being in Breach of UN Human Rights Obligations on Race

A new report undermines the Government’s claims that systemic racism is not an issue in the UK and that accusations of white privilege is undermining white boys’ educational attainment

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Government Accused of Being in Breach of UN Human Rights Obligations on Race

A new report undermines the Government’s claims that systemic racism is not an issue in the UK and that accusations of white privilege is undermining white boys’ educational attainment

The Government is in breach of key articles of the United Nation’s treaty on the elimination of racial discrimination, according to a new report.

Published by the Runnymede Trust, in collaboration with 150 other organisations, it reveals how racism in the UK is systemic, and points to how legislation, institutional practices, and societal customs combine to harm black and ethnic minority groups.

It follows accusations that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary were “stoking the fire” of racist abuse directed at black footballers following England’s Euro 2020 defeat by refusing to condemn fans booing the players for taking the knee to recognise systemic discrimination.

The report will be submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and is intended to be submitted alongside an equivalent report authored by the Government. However, the Government is now more than a year late in doing this due to the Coronavirus crisis.

Today’s report’s findings contradict the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, led by Tony Sewell. It also flies in the face of claims made in the Education Select Committee’s report on left-behind white working class school pupils last month. 

The Education Select Committee claimed that using terms such as “white privilege” in schools was contributing to white, working class children being left behind educationally. Conservative Committee chair Robert Halfon explained how we “need to move away from dealing with racial disparity by using divisive concepts like white privilege that pits one group against another”.

However, the report finds that, by the end of secondary school, black Caribbean pupils are 11 months behind their white peers; while children from the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community are three years behind their white British counterparts. Black children are also more likely to be in prison than white school-aged children. 

Black and ethnic minority children are more likely to be studying in schools in the most deprived areas and therefore disproportionately affected by disruption caused by the Coronavirus crisis. Teachers in the most deprived areas are three times more likely to report that their pupils are months behind their learning than teachers in the least deprived schools. They are also less likely to have regular access to suitable digital devices to enable them to study remotely.

Lord Simon Woolley, of Operation Black Vote, criticised the “the divisive, and  dishonest Sewell report into race inequality”, which he said “represents the biggest lost opportunity to effectively tackle systemic racism in the UK”. In contrast, he said that the Runnymede Trust’s report “offers a number of strategic recommendations which together present a sorely needed comprehensive race equality strategy fit for the 21st Century”.

“Our report shows that racism is systemic in England and impacts black minority ethnic groups’ enjoyment of rights,” it states. “As a result, in England, black and minority groups are consistently more likely to live in poverty, to be in low-paid precarious work and to die of COVID-19.”

The Runnymede Trust’s evidence suggests that inequality on racial lines has worsened over the last five years. 

Systemic Racism Revealed 

The report looks at racial equality across a range of metrics, including health outcomes, economic equality, housing, treatment in the criminal justice system, education, employment and civil rights. Its findings offer a stark warning about racial inequality in the UK today. 

The report found that, if the white population had experienced the same risk of death from COVID-19 as black groups, a further 58,000 people would have died in the first few months of the pandemic. Other health inequalities include the 26-year life expectancy gap between black and ethnic minority people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and white people with the same conditions. From the start to end of life, black women have worse health outcomes than white women – they are four times more likely to die in childbirth; and the health of a white British woman in her 80s is equivalent to that of a Black Caribbean woman in her 70s.

Experts believe that the gap in survival during childbirth is linked to the impact of socio-economic inequalities, poor housing conditions and occupational risk. Black and ethnic minority people are more likely to be homeless, living in poor housing, or facing discrimination when looking for a home – all of which is linked to health inequality.  

In the criminal justice system, black people are around 18 times more likely to be searched than their white counterparts; with black men disproportionately targeted by the police under new lockdown laws during the Coronavirus crisis. At the most extreme, black and ethnic minority people die disproportionately as a result of use of restraint or force by police.  

Dr Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, said: “Progress has been made. But race has become a needlessly fractious issue in the national discourse, and many members of our black and minority ethnic communities continue to experience stark disproportionate outcomes in their life chances.” 

She add that “this report provides further evidence that taking a colour-blind approach to equality will not be the most effective way to achieve social mobility” – a reference to the approach of the Sewell report and recent interventions by the Equalities Minister Liz Truss.

In her landmark speech on equality, Truss promised to “move beyond” a focus on “protected characteristics” in favour of “individual humanity”. The report’s authors expressed concern that such an approach “signals a de-prioritisation of racial inequality” and warns the Government “not to use this approach to diminish action to tackle structural and institutional racism throughout society”.

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