Today's blog post is written by Runnymede's director, Dr Rob Berkeley. It was originally posted on Left Foot Forward
Today’s announcement of an integration strategy from Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, marks a dangerous and ill-advised reversion to assimilationist policy, where all differences of ethnicity and heritage are subsumed into a majoritarian ‘mainstream’. Instead of taking the opportunity to further benefit from the diversity of the ethnic and faith backgrounds of its citizens, Pickles seems intent on restoring some notion of Britishness that is frozen in time and fails to take account of the nature of a modern Britain, its citizenry, or its role in the world. While in interviews Pickles points to last year’s Royal Wedding as a unifying moment for the British people, he would do well to also remember this summer’s Olympics, won for a London described as ‘The World in One City’.
His emphasis on ‘British values’ and ‘national unity’ in a series of interviews given to the Daily Mail and Express, suggests that people from minority ethnic backgrounds are somehow a threat to these values or to a unified country. This is despite significant evidence to the contrary and the significant contribution people from minority ethnic backgrounds have made and continue to make to Britain. Pickles seems to be advocating that the government, or perhaps he, or just the white majority, should be the arbiter of these values rather than the citizens of this country in all their ethnic diversity.
Today's blog post is written by Runnymede's head of policy, Omar Khan
There’s been a lot of coverage today of Nick Clegg’s focus on raising the personal threshold of income tax. Given that black and minority ethnic people are disproroprtionately likely to be living in poverty we thought it would be worth considering how this proposed change promotes fairness. While questions remain regarding how the Government can pay for this measure, the wider question of how the tax and benefits system promotes (or undermines) fairness is less well understood. In part this is due to the technical (i.e. boring!) nature of the discussion, though each of the three parties may also have political reasons not to explain the tax and benefits system better.
Put simply, the payment of benefits does much more work in promoting fairness in the UK than the collection of taxes. For example, 49% of the income of the lowest quintile in the UK derives from cash benefits, compared to only 2% for the upper quintile. Overall, benefits are by far the major source of improving fairness in the UK.
Direct taxation generally is somewhat progressive, and in the case of income tax (the target of the government’s proposed policy change), the poorest fifth only pay 3.1% of their income in direct tax, compared to 17.4% for the richest fifth. This suggests that income tax is much less unfair that Nick Clegg’s speech implies.
Posted by Vicki 14 March 2011 : Lib Dem ,
Today's blog post is written by public affairs intern Chris McLaurin
Deputy PM Nick Clegg provided a robust response to multiculturalism in a speech earlier this month. In the speech, he argued that multiculturalism helps to engage isolated communities and create mutual understanding across the country.
Clegg outlined his vision for an ‘open and confident, Britain’ that characterised multiculturalism as “a process by which people respect and communicate with each other, rather than build walls between each other.”
He insisted the key problem in the multiculturalism debate was the issue of different meanings and attempted to reclaim ownership of the term. He stated: “where multiculturalism is held to mean more segregation, other communities leading parallel lives, it is clearly wrong…the meaning of that word, is actually quite the reverse, that it is a means by which we can communicate with each other, seek to reach understanding of each other, share a similar set of values.”
Lord Lester has argued this week that the government’s Public Bodies Bill will threaten the independence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The Lib Dem peer – and co-founder of Runnymede – added that the equality watchdog has been “singled out for…ministerial interference in a big way”.
The Public Bodies Bill – which focuses on abolishing and reforming many of the UK’s quangos – gives Ministers wide-ranging powers to change the EHRC’s powers, functions and constitution by regulation.
Speaking in the second reading of the bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday, Lord Lester stressed that provisions in the bill “include powers to enable Ministers, if they wished, to hobble the commission and to jeopardise its independence”. Calling this a “retrograde step”, he added that threatening the commission’s independence would be “deplored here and abroad”.
He also acknowledged what he called a “widespread view” that the EHRC has been “poorly led”, calling for “a well qualified chief executive, new commissioners and… some administrative controls now lacking to ensure value for money and the effective discharge of the commission's important functions”.
He also stressed that the EHRC’s functions “secure and promote” the UK’s obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights.
The government has stated in response that concerns surrounding the bodies’ independence will be discussed further in the bill’s committee stage which is scheduled for 23 November. More information on the passage of the bill is available here.
Today's blog post is written by our public affairs intern Ashley Burton-Lynch
In the House of Lords earlier last week, the government confirmed their commitment to recording hate crime. This affirmation came in response to a question from Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury asking if the government will “ensure that police forces routinely keep records of the religion or beliefs of defendants and victims in cases of racially or religiously aggravated offences”.
Responding for the government, Earl Attlee stated that the government recognised “the importance of the recording of hate crime”, and this was demonstrated in their present liaising with the police to ensure that the earnest implementation of this commitment begins in April 2011.
The government stated the recording of hate crime data will take the form of five categories – disability, gender identity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. However, the government stated that, in terms of the level of detail, this data recording will only go so far because of their desire to end “Whitehall” imposed bureaucracy on police forces. Therefore, Earl Attlee stated that in the wider context of the government’s work to remove targets and review the data burden placed on police forces, the police will not be required to log the particular religious persuasions of the victims or offenders.
Posted by Vicki 22 September 2010 : Lib Dem ,
Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone expressed her “pride” at the Lib Dems record on equality in her conference speech today. She also criticised Labour for “claiming to be the party of equalities”, adding that policies such as the DNA database exacerbated inequalities across the country.
Highlighting the recently launched consultation on the public sector equality duty, Featherstone added that public bodies have “huge potential” to create a fairer society through the way they deliver their services. She also suggested that under the government's plans such organisations will be “free from centralised targets” whilst being required to be transparent in return.
Elsewhere at conference, Featherstone said that she was “heartened” by the commitment shown to equality by her Conservative coalition partners. Speaking at a fringe event hosted by Liberty, Featherstone argued that both parties are working together effectively to tackle inequality.
Posted by Vicki 22 September 2010 : Lib Dem ,
The Lib Dems today rejected a motion for the compulsory inclusion of Black and minority ethnic candidates on some election shortlists. The motion, which was proposed by Cllr Lester Holloway, would have required there to be at least one BME candidate on a House of Commons election shortlist whenever a sitting Lib Dem MP resigned, in any by-elections, and in any constituency where the Lib Dems required a swing of 5% or less to win the seat.
The party, which currently has no BME MPs or MEPs, instead voted for a weaker motion calling for "targets for [BME] representation in line with national and regional Office of National Statistics data" and more training for potential BME candidates.
The rejection of the motion took place despite Nick Clegg's suggestion that he supported positive discrimination measures in a fringe event earlier in the conference. At the event he said that "a parliamentary party that is unrepresentative of modern Britain and that must change", adding "I have changed my own mind on this quite considerably: I was always quite hostile – for all the good reasons we have heard before – of interventionist ways of changing the representation of our party, even on a one-off basis. I think we are now really in the last chance saloon on this."
Posted by Vicki 21 September 2010 : Lib Dem ,
Newly elected Lib Dem MP Gordon Birtwistle shared his experience of defeating the BNP with a packed fringe event at Lib Dem conference yesterday. Birtwistle, who is MP for Burnley, also outlined how after being replaced by the BNP as the official opposition party on the council in 2004, the local Lib Dem party fought a long and successful battle to convince the people of Burnley that “hatred does not deliver services”.
Birtwistle's comments came at a fringe event on how the Lib Dems can defeat the BNP, hosted by the CST. The event also saw MP Tom Brake raise concerns that the coalition's plans to introduce elected police commissioners could result in the election of BNP candidates in areas with low turnout and existing community tensions. Following a question from Runnymede, Brake also acknowledged that localism could result in more powers for extreme parties at a local level, and argued that it is important to look at ways to counter this possibility.
Hope Not Hate's Nick Lowles drew attention to the rise of the English Defence League, adding that they pose one of the biggest challenges to community cohesion in the UK. He also argued that a strategy to counter the EDL needs to be discussed at a national level.
Posted by Vicki 20 September 2010 : Lib Dem ,
Praising the government's drive to the “big society” Stunell also argued that public services are currently “too centralised” with a “one size fits all approach”. He added that engaging and empowering local communities will help close the “widening” inequalities in the UK.
However he was vague on how service providers will be held to account, adding that the government will not be issuing any codes of practice and stating “you will hold yourself to account”. In addition, with the public sector duties in the Equality Act not applying to voluntary organisations it is not yet clear whether impact on race equality will be taken into account in the new services provided under the “big society”.
Posted by Vicki 19 September 2010 : Lib Dem ,
In the first of our posts of the party conference season, Runnymede this morning attended a fringe event at Lib Dem conference on immigration detention. The event – hosted by the London Detainee Support Group – saw the Lib Dem MP Tom Brake and party activists condemn the current system of immigration detention, calling it a violation of civil liberties.
Brake – who also acts as co-chair of the Lib Dem Backbench Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities – argued that detention is a key area in which he hopes the party can “make a difference” within the coalition with the Conservatives, highlighting its current drive (albeit unsuccessful of late) to eradicate child detention.
Runnymede will be attending all three party conferences this year, and members of the team will be blogging throughout to keep you updated on all the developments.
Keep an eye on The Runnymede Westminster Monitor over the following dates:
- Lib Dem conference (Liverpool): 18th - 22nd September
- Labour conference (Manchester): 26th - 30th September
- Conservative conference (Birmingham): 3rd - 6th October
If you're attending conference this year, be sure to attend Voice4Change's fringe events on equality, fairness and the big society - Runnymede will be speaking at this event across all three conferences. The event will take place on the following days:
Today's blog post was written by Runnymede's public affairs intern Farrah Sheikh
During her maiden speech, the latest Lib Dem addition to the House of Lords - Baroness Hussein-Ece - highlighted severe overcrowding and overrepresentation of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in UK prisons. Currently, this is 27% of the total prison population.
Baroness Hussein-Ece argued that we need to change the way we deal with offenders, focusing on prevention, support, and rehabilitation. She told the House that many offenders suffered from poor mental health and that their issues were only noticed when inside prison. Showing her passion for this issue, she argued that prisons should not be expanded and more meaningful ways of reducing the prison population needed to be looked at. Favouring a more holistic approach, Baroness Hussein- Ece said there needed to be partnerships between mental health trusts and local authorities who ought to allocate proper resources for the treatment of alcohol and substance abuse.
The Baroness declared that budget cuts should not be used as an excuse to avoid this problem, adding that taxpayers currently pay around £40,000 per annum per prisoner. She believes that it is far more financially viable to focus on reducing the prison population by giving people the help and support that they need before entering a life of crime. She added that this is especially important as much of the ethnic minority prison population were found to have untreated mental health problems only when they entered the prison system.
Some of you may have spotted an article in last week’s Society Guardian highlighting concerns in the Gypsy and Traveller community regarding the new government’s housing policy. It highlights that the coalition has reversed policies intending to give incentives to councils to develop land for Gypsy and Traveller communities. As a result of this policy, the article states, all bids to fund new sites and refurbish existing ones across England and Wales have been cancelled.
Furthermore, the new communities secretary Eric Pickles has stated that he wants to revive elements of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act – this may mean that trespass will be turned into a criminal offence rather than a civil one. This could have massive implications for the Gypsy and Traveller community as those who refuse to move from land that is not privately owned by them could be arrested by police or forcibly evicted. In addition, Pickles has previously announced his intention to scrap new rules giving Gypsies and Travellers a "level playing field" in planning disputes with local authorities.
Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt highlighted the issue of Gypsy and Traveller sites in parliament last week where she called for a debate on “how local authorities can protect themselves from Gypsy and Traveller encampments riding roughshod over planning law in green belt areas”. However, she also stressed the need for a “fair system of proper provision of legal campsites for Gypsies and Travellers”.Leader of the House George Young encouraged Burt to raise the issue in the forthcoming communities and local government oral questions, ensuring that this is an issue which will be on the parliamentary agenda for some time to come…
It has now been confirmed that Lib Dem MP and Communities and Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell will hold the race equality and community cohesion brief in the new coalition government. He succeeds former Labour MP Shahid Malik in the post.
Stunell will also focus on the role of the controversial "Prevent" scheme which was set up with the aim of preventing Islamic extremism. His other duties will include building regulations and the "Big Society".
He previously held the post of Liberal Democrat shadow community cohesion minister between 2006-2007 and spent time as the party's deputy chief whip. Stunell - also MP for Hazel Grove - was also one of the five Lib Dem MPs involved in the post-election coalition negotiations with the Conservatives.
Dr Omar Khan, Runnymede's senior policy researcher, posted an article on the well respected Left Foot Forward blog this weekend on the impact of PR on BME representation. In the article he concludes that the electoral system has a limited effect on the proportion of under-represented groups, that AV in particular is unlikely to have much effect, and other measures – including internal political party policies – are more likely to increase BME representation in Parliament. You can read the full post on Left Foot Forward.
Former Shadow Equalities Spokesperson Lynne Featherstone MP has today been appointed as a Junior Home Office Minister with responsibility for equalities.
The Hornsey and Wood Green MP will work under Theresa May MP - the new Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality - although the full details of her role have not yet been made clear.
Featherstone, who was Equalities Spokesperson for two years, wrote a paper for Runnymede in February outlining her party's race equality policies. In the paper she called for the introduction of a "name blank" application policies in employment and accused the Labour government of "badly managing" the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Featherstone also criticised the over-representation of the black population on the DNA database.
Watch senior politicians debate race equality in a 12-minute video of our Norfolk United event.
At the "Question Time"- style discussion a cross-party group of politicians, including Charles Clarke MP and Norman Lamb MP, went head to head on the state of race equality in Norfolk.
Other panelists included Conservative councillor Antony Little, Green Party councillor Samir Jeraj, community activist Gita Prasad, and panel chair and BBC reporter Clive Lewis.
The debate, held on in February 2010 and organised by Runnymede in association with the Norwich and Norfolk Race Equality Council, was the first in a series of regional question time events debating race equality in the UK.
Runnymede would also like to thank CMedia for putting the video together.
Just a quick post to draw attention to the Operation Black Vote rally which took place in Westminster last night. The event – called “Black Britain Decides” – was attended by around 2500 BME voters and focused on a number of issues including representation and the DNA database.
In what looks to be the largest political rally of the campaign, high-profile representatives of all the major parties took part including Harriet Harman, George Osborne and Vince Cable. OBV have frequently pointed out that marginal seats across the country could easily be swung by ethnic minority votes, including Finchley and Golders Green, Solihull, Battersea, Crawley, Harlow, Bradford West, Ealing North, Birmingham Yardley and Hove.
Following Gordon Brown’s post on the Operation Black Vote blog yesterday, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has followed suit with a post on his party’s policies for BME communities.
Arguing that the Lib Dems will ensure that the statute book protects BME communities, Clegg states that his party will uphold the Human Rights Act and support the EHRC.
Highlighting the over-representation of black men in the criminal justice system, he argues that the Lib Dems will make stop and search intelligence led and will remove innocent people from the DNA database. He also labels CLG’s PREVENT programme as one which “alienates” Muslim communities.
Today David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and a number of parliamentary candidates signed up to an asylum election pledge.
Coordinated by Liberty, the Refugee Council and the Scottish Refugee Council ahead of tonight’s second prime ministerial debate, the leaders have agreed to “never play fast and loose with the proud tradition of a nation that must always offer succour to those in genuine fear of persecution”.
In addition to the party leaders, scores of parliamentary candidates up and down the country have signed the pledge which will be open until May 6th. Elfyn Llwyd, parliamentary group leader of Plaid Cymru, and Alex Salmond, leader of SNP, have also signed the pledge.
Those of you who read my posts last week on the party manifestos will have noticed that aside from immigration and civil liberties they included few direct policies on race equality. The notable exception to this rule was of course the Lib Dems who released their own race equality mini-manifesto.
Readers may therefore find it useful to read a collection of papers written for Runnymede by the three main parties specifically on race equality. Released earlier this year, the papers were written by Communities and Local Government Secretary John Denham MP (Labour), Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve MP (Conservative) and Liberal Democrat Shadow Equalities Spokesperson Lynne Featherstone MP.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past few days, you will have noticed that the UK’s first ever election leadership debate took place last night. The first of three such debates over the next two weeks, Brown, Cameron and Clegg went head to head on home affairs issues including immigration, crime, education and the NHS.
Of direct interest to race equality, the three leaders locked horns on the contentious issue of immigration. Defending the government’s record, Brown stated that "we are a tolerant, we are a diverse country, but the controls on migration that I'm introducing - and I will go further - are the right controls, the right policy for Britain."
Cameron outlined his vision for an immigration cap, stating that: "we need to have not just a points system, but also a limit on migration when people are coming from outside the European Union for economic reasons."
Clegg highlighted the need for a regional approach to immigration, saying that under such a system “you only make sure the immigrants who come go to those regions where they can be supported."
The Lib Dems are the only party to release a race equality manifesto ahead of the election. Focusing on key policies from its main manifesto, the Lib Dems directly highlight how these policies could potentially benefit those from BME communities.
First, the race equality manifesto argues that proposals to scrap income tax for those earning under £10,000, the introduction of a pupil premium in schools and renovating empty houses are all policies which will help BME communities.
On the DNA database the Lib Dems argue that children and the innocent will be removed, and second generation passports requiring fingerprints will be scrapped.
Echoing recommendations made in our 2008 report on faith schools, the Lib Dems state that they will ensure that faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy and that they end “unfair discrimination base don faith” when recruiting staff.
The government’s controversial Crime and Security Bill received Royal Assent last week. Of particular interest, the bill allows DNA profiles of convicted offenders to be kept indefinitely and for the profiles of those who have been arrested but not convicted to be kept on database for a fixed period of time.
The bill also introduces a mandatory parenting needs assessment when young people aged ten to 15 are being considered for an antisocial behaviour order (ASBO) and parenting orders where they have breached their ASBOs.
Runnymede recently held an e-conference on ethnic profiling in the criminal justice system, which touched on issues including the DNA database, ASBOs and stop and search. Of particular interest, Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green MP wrote an article as part of the conference calling for a smaller and more targeted DNA database, whilst Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne MP outlined his thoughts on stop and search. You can still access the e-conference on our website.
I recently noticed that Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury has written a letter to the Conservative Party regarding its policy on Gypsies and Travellers. The policy, outlined in a green paper earlier this year, states that the Tories will provide stronger enforcement powers to “tackle unauthorised development and illegal trespass”.
In his letter, Avebury – an ardent campaigner on the rights of Gypsies and Travellers – argues that in its paper the party has expressed "no acknowledgement of the exclusion suffered by Gypsies and Travellers due to a national shortage of sites" and accuses their policy of being under-researched. He also argues that their stance will provoke community tensions in the run up to the election.
Criticism of the policy comes weeks after the government launched guidance encouraging local authorities to use ASBOs against Gypsies and Travellers. The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain wrote to the government criticizing the decision, a letter which was supported by Runnymede.
And they're off! Gordon Brown has confirmed this morning that the election will take place on 6 May 2010. Flanked by his cabinet, Brown made the announcement outside Downing Street where he emphasised his "ordinary background", adding that he will fight hard for families on modest incomes.
Cameron launched the Conservative campaign outside the Houses of Parliament where he argued that the Tories will be fighting for "the great ignored... the young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight".
In the meantime, for coverage of announcements impacting on race equality and the BME community during the election campaign don't forget to keep checking back to this blog!
This week Anne Begg MP introduced a parliamentary debate on the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation. Some of you may remember that the Speaker’s Conference recommended in its January report that more must be done to encourage local political activism and to prevent discrimination against potential parliamentary candidates who do not fit the traditional mould.
In this week’s debate, Begg – who is also Chair of the Equalities All Party Parliamentary Group – argued that diversity in parliament is “fundamental to our democracy” and a “matter of justice”.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Dholakia spoke on ageing and ethnicity in a House of Lords debate last Thursday. In his speech he focused on the high levels of poverty amongst BME older people and highlighted the greater need for specialised care and support.
He mentioned that minority and voluntary organisations are increasingly supplying various supporting services such as home care, day care and social support, adding that they are to some degree acting as primary providers of specialist care, rather than complementing mainstream services.
Runnymede will be launching a research programme on BME older people in the Summer – watch this space for further details.
Harriet Harman MP and the rest of the equalities ministerial team were up for oral questions in the House of Commons yesterday, and faced a barrage of questions on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Following from my earlier post on the EHRC, the equalities watchdog was under further scrutiny from MPs with questions focusing on its expenditure and why the government renewed Trevor Philips chairmanship without putting up the post for open competition. In response to the latter, Harman said that Phillips was retained as chair because she felt “continuity of leadership” was needed.
Also of interest, Lib Dem equalities spokesperson Lynne Featherstone MP echoed comments she made in her essay on the Liberal Democrats and Race Equality, published by Runnymede earlier this month, by saying that the EHRC should devote more time to using its powers to hold businesses and public bodies to account.
The EHRC received some praise however, with Keith Vaz MP welcoming its recent report highlighting the disproportionality of stop and search powers.
The Runnymede Blog
The Runnymede Blog is a space for us to explore issues relevant to race and ethnicity.
We also seek to provide updates of race equality-related issues within the Westminster village.
The blog is written by members of the Runnymede staff team or external contributors, where stated.
Recent Blog Posts
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