Government must ditch “silo” mentality to tackle racial inequality, says watchdog

Equalities and Human Rights Commission paints stark picture of differing outcomes for ethnic minority groups and urges government to join up disparate initiatives

By Matt Foster

18 Aug 2016

The government must change its “patchwork” approach to combating the stark inequalities faced by people from ethnic minorities, according to a major new report by Britain’s equalities watchdog.

The study into racial equality by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission paints a grim picture of differing outcomes for some ethnic minority groups in the education, justice and health systems, as well as the labour market.

Among its findings, the EHRC finds that Caribbean and mixed white/black Caribbean children in England are around three times more likely to be excluded from school than the school population as a whole. 

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Meanwhile, white boys on free school meals — reserved for children from low-income families — have the lowest education attainment at the age of 16, with fewer than a quarter achieving the GCSE threshold in England, compared to a national average of 57.1%.

And over the last five years, according to the EHRC, the number of young people from ethnic minorities who are long-term unemployed has soared to 41,000 — a rise of 49% since 2010 — compared with a fall of 1% in overall long-term youth unemployment, and a 2% drop among white people aged 16-24.

The report also warns that people from ethnic minorities are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to white people, while black African women are more than seven times more likely to be detained under mental health legislation in England than their white counterparts.

The report says that while the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments have “undertaken a range of activity to improve race equality”, these still “operate in silos”. 

It adds: “A more comprehensive and coordinated approach would have greater and more sustainable impact, so delivering better value for public money. The current patchwork of initiatives can only have limited effect.”

The watchdog points out that the UK government currently has targets across “six areas of economic opportunity and advancement, including apprenticeships, employment and university entry”. Meanwhile, there have been separate reviews into labour market entry, the criminal justice system, and representation on corporate boards.

“Public money currently spent on separate activities could be used more efficiently and with greater impact if this work were brought together" - Equality and Human Rights Commission

But the EHRC — which was established by law and is independent of government — says that addressing issues in a “piecemeal way, without consideration of causes, drivers and levers for change” is unlikely to result in “significant and sustainable change”.

“Public money currently spent on separate activities could be used more efficiently and with greater impact if this work were brought together,” the report says.

“For example, we will not make sustainable progress in reducing the ethnic minority employment gap unless we address the educational attainment gap. 

It adds: “We cannot reduce the disadvantage experienced by people from ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system without considering the role of mental health services in supporting people to have stable lives. 

“And we cannot address the under-representation of people from ethnic minorities in political and civic life without acknowledging the relationship between socio-economic exclusion and political disengagement.”

The EHRC calls on the government to launch a “comprehensive, coordinated and long-term strategy to achieve race equality”, which it says must include “stretching new targets to improve opportunities and deliver clear and measurable outcomes”.

And they say this work must come under the remit of one Cabinet minister, “with clear accountability and governance arrangements in place across departments to drive delivery”, as well as proper contact between Whitehall and the devolved governments.

The government is also urged to improve its data collection practices to ensure that it has a solid evidence base to inform equalities policy.

“The lack of robust data is yet another key challenge to achieving race equality, as it limits the effectiveness of policy interventions and renders some people in the most vulnerable situations invisible,” the EHRC says.

“In doing so, it compounds the disadvantages ethnic minorities already face by hiding them and the issues they face from the decision-makers who set priorities and shape services.”

Launching the report, EHRC chair David Isaac said: “If you are black or an ethnic minority in modern Britain, it can often still feel like you’re living in a different world, never mind being part of a one nation society."

He added: “It is very encouraging to hear the new prime minister's commitment to tackling inequality. In order to achieve this it is vital that the government puts in place a comprehensive and coherent race strategy that tackles these pressing issues and prevents some communities being cut even further adrift from equality of opportunity.”

A government spokesperson said that "real progress" was being made on racial equality, with employment rates for black and and ethnic minority people at their highest levels for 15 years.

"But there is clearly more to do, which is why we are delivering a comprehensive race equality programme on employment, university places, apprenticeships, start-up loans and recruitment to the police and armed forces," they added.

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