Video report by ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand
Britain is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”, a landmark review commissioned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement has argued.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities said that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion all impact life chances more than racism.
In a foreword to the report, Commission chairman Dr Tony Sewell said some communities are haunted by historic racism and there is a “reluctance to acknowledge that the UK had become open and fairer”.
He said the review found some evidence of biases, but often it was a perception that the wider society could not be trusted.
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Dr Sewell wrote: “Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities.
“The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism.
“Too often ‘racism’ is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined.
“The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism.
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“That said, we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK.”
Boris Johnson said “the entirety of government remains fully committed to building a fairer Britain and taking the action needed to address disparities wherever they exist” following the publication of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report.
Many were highly critical, however.
Shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said: “To downplay institutional racism in a pandemic where black, Asian and ethnic minority people have died disproportionately and are now twice as likely to be unemployed is an insult.”
Labour MP David Lammy said the report was an “insult to anybody and everybody across this country who experiences institutional racism”.
NHS Providers said it disagreed with the report’s conclusions and said there is “clear and unmistakable” evidence that NHS ethnic minority staff have worse experiences and face more barriers than white counterparts.
Commissioned in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, the review said there have been improvements such as increasing diversity in elite professions and a shrinking ethnicity pay gap, although disparities remain.
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It also found that children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than white pupils in compulsory education, with black Caribbean pupils the only group to perform less well.
And it said the pay gap between all ethnic minorities and the white majority population has shrunk to 2.3%, and is not significant for employees under 30.
The commission said education is “the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience” and the most important tool to reduce racial disparities.Success in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries”, it added.
It also said that issues around race and racism are becoming “less important”, and in some cases are not a significant factor in explaining inequalities.
Different outcomes are complex and involve social class and family structure along with race, it said.
The report states: “We found that most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism.”
However, it notes that some communities continue to be “haunted” by historic racism, which is creating “deep mistrust” and could be a barrier to success.
The 264-page report makes 24 recommendations, including for extended school days to be phased in, starting with disadvantaged areas, to help pupils catch up on missed learning during the pandemic.
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds should also have access to better quality careers advice in schools, funded by university outreach programmes.
And it is calling for more research to examine the drivers in communities where pupils perform well, so these can be replicated to help all children succeed.
The Commission also recommends that the acronym BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) should no longer be used as differences between groups are as important as what they have in common.
And it calls for organisations to stop funding unconscious bias training and for the Government and experts to develop resources to help advance workplace equality.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said she had not yet read the full report but that action is needed.
She told ITV News: "I haven’t read the report and I will read it carefully but the way this has been briefed overnight is really, deeply disappointing.
"It seems to downplay the structural experiences of discrimination, racism and inequality that a lot of people simply face on a day to day basis.
"At a time when black Caribbean boys are three and a half times more likely to be excluded from school, far more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts, it’s absolutely crystal clear that we’ve got structural problems and that means that we need to make institutional changes.
"The government knows this, they’ve had report, after report, after report that’s sitting on their shelves, the recommendations gone unimplemented.
"What we need to see from this government is less of this sort of briefing and much more action to actually change this."
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said racism exists in this country and "we need to tackle it", highlighting "inequalities and injustices that need to change."
However, he added: "No, I don't think the UK is an institutionally racist country, I think we are broadly speaking a tolerant, open society that's made huge steps forward in recent decades.
"But racism remains, we see that in a number of aspects of our lives, not least on social media, and we need to make further changes so that we can move forward as a country and towards the modern, post-racial society that we'd all like to live in."
Commission chairman Tony Sewell said: “The report highlights the significance of education as the single most powerful tool in reducing ethnic disparities. The effect of education is transformative on individuals but also their families and their communities, sometimes within a generation.
“Another revelation from our dive into the data was just how stuck some groups from the white majority are.
“As a result, we came to the view that recommendations should, wherever possible, be designed to remove obstacles for everyone, rather than specific groups.”
Dr Sewell added: “Creating a successful multi-ethnic society is hard, and racial disparities exist wherever such a society is being forged. The Commission believes that if these recommendations are implemented, it will give a further burst of momentum to the story of our country’s progress to a successful multi-ethnic and multicultural community – a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world.”
The full report can be read here.