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Race Relations Act 1976

The 1976 Race Relations Act expanded on legislation formed by the 1968 Act by updating the definition of discrimination to include both direct and indirect discrimination.

Under the Act, it was unlawful to discriminate either directly or indirectly on racial grounds in the areas of employment, education, housing and the provision of goods, facilities and services. Importantly, the Act concentrated on addressing racial discrimination through legal procedures, something previous bills had failed to do. Workers were now able to take employers to court if they felt they had been treated unfairly on the grounds of race.

Wormwood Scrubs prisonHowever, as with the preceding two Race Relations Acts, the 1976 Act still did not include government services such as the police and prison service. In some cases discrimination was permitted, such as in jobs where belonging to a certain ethnic group was considered a pre-requisite, for example, for an acting role.

Another important facet of the 1976 Act was the creation of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) to replace the Race Relations Board and Community Relations Commission. The CRE was developed to eliminate racial discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and good relations, review the effectiveness of the Act and take cases to court.

The Act was met with criticism and resistance from some sections of the public who felt the legislation was too stringent or unnecessary. For example, insurance companies were concerned that having to provide quotes to clients without regard to race may cause them financial loss; it was argued, for instance, that men of East Asian descent had a shorter life expectancy than white Europeans and so the financial risk was not the same.

Roy Jenkins, the then Secretary of State for the Home Department, argued that immigrants and their children face racial discrimination that 'multiplies and accentuates' disadvantage caused by deprivation, and further legislation was necessary to address this.

Others felt that policies were falling short. Tom Rees, the then Director of the Runnymede Trust, commented:

The Government's proposals go a long way to making the law against racial discrimination as effective as any such law can be. But paper laws are not enough… Above all, it must frame a new and coherent policy for the inner-city areas, where falling employment and urban decay put heavy strains on race relations.

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