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LABOUR MPs, campaigners and trade unionists lined up today to slam the “insulting” and “gaslighting” government-commissioned report which claimed institutional racism did not exist in Britain.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report said that Britain was no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities.”
Yet it said that geography, family, socio-economic background, culture and religion are stronger influences on life chances than race.
Commission chairman Dr Tony Sewell sparked anger after he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No-one in the report is saying racism doesn’t exist. We found anecdotal evidence of this, however, what we did find was the evidence of actual institutional racism, no, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that in our report.”
Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova labelled the report “insulting” and warned that it “downplayed the institutional racism” that has seen more black and ethnic minority people die or lose their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic compared with their white counterparts.
Ms de Cordova also accused Dr Sewell of “putting a positive spin on slavery and empire,” highlighting a paragraph in the foreword.
He wrote: “There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering, but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain.”
Labour MP David Lammy said the report was an “insult to anybody and everybody across this country who experiences institutional racism.”
He tweeted: “For my own mental well-being I am not doing media interviews on the race commission today. Like so many in Britain’s Black community I’m tired!
“Tired of the endless debate about whether structural racism exists with little desire to actually address it. We are being gaslighted.”
Trade unionists condemned the report, with Unite the union’s national officer for equalities Harish Patel calling it a “huge disappointment” and a “window-dressing masquerading as a serious blueprint for the future — but fools no-one.”
GMB union national secretary Rehana Azam warned that it was “completely irresponsible and immoral” and ignored the concerns and worries of black and ethnic minority people.
She said: “Institutional racism exists, it’s the lived experience of millions of black and ethnic minority workers.
“We’re paid less, we’re more likely to be in high-risk jobs during the pandemic, we’re more likely to die from Covid, we’re more likely to be stopped and searched, to be arrested and to go to prison.
“How can we ever tackle the problem if the government [is] not prepared to accept it exists?”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Institutional and structural racism exists in the UK, in both the labour market and wider society.
“Black and minority ethnic workers are far more likely than white workers to be in low-paid, insecure jobs – such as temporary and agency jobs or zero hours contracts.
“Black and minority ethnic workers have been far more likely to be exposed to Covid infection and far more likely to die – because they are far more likely to be in front-line roles.
“This is institutional racism.”
And Stand Up to Racism’s Weyman Bennett said: “Racism, [the report] argues, is about ‘narrative not about reality’, about perception not about fact. It celebrates victories which none of the authors fought for and barely understands the impact of policing on black communities, at a time when the powers of the police are being extended not limited.”
Race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust chief executive Dr Halima Begum also questioned the suitability of Dr Sewell and head of the No 10 policy unit Munira Mirza, who had a role in setting the commission up, as both have previously queried the existence of institutional racism.
The 264-page report’s 24 recommendations, which the commission says are aimed at disadvantaged people regardless of their race, include increased scrutiny of body-worn police footage of stop and searches, and more local recruitment within police forces.
A pilot scheme should be developed in four police areas where young people with low-level possession of class B drugs should helped by public health services and diverted away from the criminal justice system, it also suggests.
The report also recommends that an Office for Health Disparities be established to tackle health inequalities, and for a review on action to address the underlying issues families face.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government “remains fully committed to building a fairer Britain” and will consider the recommendations.
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