Does the government's plans for an ‘Inclusive Britain’ signal a shift on race?
The Government’s ‘Inclusive Britain’ plan outlined today signals a welcome de-escalation from a contrived and divisive culture war.
Indeed, many of its recommendations echo those the Runnymede Trust and the wider race equality sector have been calling for many years. Of course we welcome measures which will begin to address racial and socio-economic disparities. Although this plan for an ‘Inclusive Britain’ doesn't go far enough, it is a good start.
The devil is in the detail, and we look forward to seeing the detail of many of these proposals before we can assess how effective they will be at tackling racial discrimination in practice.
The Government must be the driver pushing an agenda which works to transformatively address racial disparities in Britain. Instead, these proposals outlined are often vague and lack clear targets or accountability measures. They come two years after deep-rooted inequalities were made glaringly clear during the pandemic, and what we now need is transformative change.
Of note is a consistent mention of ‘trust’ (or lack thereof) from ethnic minority communities towards the essential services that should be there to support them. It is imperative that Black and ethnic minority communities are not blamed for mistrust in public services which have let them down. We must also question how significant a role mistrust plays in explaining racial disparities, and where we must look elsewhere to explain these.
We don’t want to see the Government giving with one hand to ethnic minority communities while taking away with the other. Instead, action from the whole of Government is needed to address racial disparities in our society. This means recognising the negative impact of the Government’s own upcoming legislative agenda, which poses the most significant and sustained threat to ethnic minority people’s civil rights in recent memory.
This includes the Police Crimes Sentencing and Courts Bill, the proposed overhaul of the Human Rights Act, and its new draconian immigration plans. This raft of legislation looks poised to set ethnic minority people back from exercising their rights and further entrench already discriminatory practices and policies.
For example, actions to address police powers in the ‘Inclusive Britain’ plan, including a framework for the scrutiny of police powers, are coupled with the introduction of the Serious Violence Reduction Order - a new stop and search power being put in place by the Government.
We also note with alarm, particularly given the abhorrent reports of Child Q’s case, proposals outlined to increase police presence in schools through the introduction of a so-called ‘Mini Police’. Again, the detail of these proposals will determine how effective they could be at tackling racial discrimination in practice.
Real tangible measures to address racial disparities head on would mean first undoing the damage existing policies and legislation have done, and then tackling structural racial and socio-economic inequalities to look towards a positive and inclusive vision for the future.
We are pleased to see the introduction of plans to diversify the history curriculum as well as other education reforms. The Runnymede Trust has been instrumental in calling for changes to the History and English Literature curricula for some time. Such changes are necessary to reflect the accuracy and balance in the teaching of history . Should a diverse panel be set up, which we welcome, such a panel would be expected to not erase the history of colonialism and empire in Britain’s history. These proposals also come in tandem with the recent Government guidance on impartiality in schools which stifle conversations about race, and racism branding these as ‘politically partial’.
Likewise, race and class are not issues that can, or should, be counterposed. Over half of ethnic minority children in the UK are currently living in poverty. Trying to embroil us with politically-charged discussions about terms such as “white privilege” has very little to do with the primary issue of addressing socio-economic disparities in society.
Indeed, should policy makers wish that teaching around the issue of privilege occurs in our classrooms, it should logically be made clear to pupils that many white children face considerable disadvantage. Generally speaking, this will not be due to racial barriers but rather socio-economic. As a result, students may begin to understand what the Government and Runnymede Trust agree to be the intersectional nature of those structural barriers that inhibit equality in society, and may grow up to be the adults who pull down those barriers whether related to socioeconomic, gender, racial or other inequality.
The proposals laid out in ‘Inclusive Britain’ are framed as part of the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda. We cannot forget how ‘invisible’ ethnic minority people, largely concentrated in Britain’s inner cities, have been in the levelling up agenda so far. Of the 17 local authorities with the highest rates of child poverty in the UK, 10 are in London. And in each of these local authorities, Black and ethnic minority children account for over 50% of the youth population.
There are steps the Government could easily take to improve the parameters by which we assess racial equity, and that could quickly lead to positive outcomes. This includes introducing legislation to make ethnicity pay gap reporting mandatory at organisations employing more than 250 staff, as occurred with the gender pay gap back in 2017, and which the Government has signalled some move towards in ‘Inclusive Britain’. We consider this to be a low-hanging fruit and one that the Government can act on quickly, following the lead of private sector firms who are already implementing ethnicity pay gap monitoring.
Until we are able to assess the details of the proposals outlined in Inclusive Britain, we welcome these recommendations tentatively. However, we reiterate that they alone will not go far enough to address the scale of racial disparities. None of us want our Black and ethnic minority children to feel as though they cannot aspire in this country or belong. Equally, we are letting them down if we cannot improve the institutions in which they are likely to be mistreated in the future unless . Individual and institutional racism makes our society worse, and this is why any vision for an ‘Inclusive Britain’ needs a dual focus. The test of an ambitious action plan will be in a roadmap that addresses both of these forms of racism.
We take this opportunity to offer our consultative support to the Government in formulating the detail of these proposals, and look forward to working with them to build the vision of a levelled up Britain we both share.
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