Civil service diversity training to be reformed – and guidance to advise ‘impartiality in language and practice’

Government unveils strategy to tackle racial inequality in Inclusive Britain report
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch says inequality will not be solved by getting "civil servants to read books on white privilege". Photo: civil servants to read books on white privilege

By Tevye Markson

17 Mar 2022

The government will develop new diversity and inclusion guidance for the civil service as part of its new strategy to tackle racial inequality.

The Inclusive Britain report, published on Wednesday, responds to recommendations from Tony Sewell, chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, made last year.

New guidance for civil servants will include “clear advice on impartiality in language and practice”.

The report – led by equalities minister Kemi Badenoch – said the government will also reform training around diversity and inclusion in the civil service and public sector workforce, “embedding what works into management and leadership, and putting an end to the proliferation of unproven training materials and products”.

“We are also placing much greater emphasis on trusting individuals to use common sense, shared values and rigorous evidence and to encourage diversity of opinion,” the report adds.

“It is important that the people who shape and lead our national institutions and public services encourage tolerance and genuine diversity for both the people who work in their organisations and the citizens who rely on them.”

The response’s nod to impartiality and “common sense, shared values and rigorous evidence” echo previous comments by Badenoch that critical race theory is “political” and is “getting into institutions that really should be neutral – schools, NHS trusts, and even sometimes the civil service”.

The “proliferation of unproven training materials” appears to be a reference to initiatives such as unconscious bias training, which Badenoch has argued does not work and has said should not be used in the civil service unless its impact can be proven.

To mark the publication of the government’s response to Sewell’s report, Badenoch wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Mail in which she argued that “the answer to ethnic minority disadvantage is not to get civil servants to read books on white privilege or worry about statues in Oxford colleges”.

“It is to get ministers to run public services, like education and housing, which are responsive to the root causes of disadvantage,” she said.

“We certainly won’t achieve greater equality if we fall for the narrative that this country and its institutions are fundamentally racist, that the lack of opportunity experienced by people from ethnic minorities is all due to racial prejudice and we won’t achieve equality until we decolonise this, tear down that and put our entire history and every person of ‘privilege’ in the dock for crimes of commission and omission,” she added.

New standards on recording ethnicity data

The Inclusive Britain report sets out more than 70 racial inequality reform actions, including several actions tasked to the Race Disparity Unit to improve the work done by government departments.

The RDU will consult on new standards for government departments and other public bodies on how to record, understand and communicate ethnicity data, to make reporting on race and ethnicity more responsible and accurate.

It will also lead a new, cross-government analytical work programme to identify issues that immigrants face in the UK and understand the lessons the government has learned about policymaking in this area.

The unit will also look into online misinformation and provide data and policy recommendations to strengthen the government’s understanding and ability to tackle online abuse.

The Department for Education has been given responsibility for more than a third of the actions, including opening up access to apprenticeships, developing a new Modern History curriculum and reforming teaching qualifications.

One of the actions recommended by Sewell’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, creating a new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, has already been completed, with the OHID set up in October.

The OHID will aim to improve life expectancy across all groups and to reduce health inequalities.

The Department of Health and Social Care has also been given responsibility for reducing health inequalities – it will publish a new health disparities white paper.

Taking a more focused approach, a new Maternity Disparities Taskforce, which met for the first time on 8 March, will work to improve maternal health outcomes for ethnic minority women.

In areas where responsibilities are devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, these actions will only apply to England.

The government’s report has sidestepped many of the more controversial recommendations in Sewell’s CRED report, such as how slavery should be taught and the claim that the country is no longer institutionally racist.

The CRED report was criticised by politicians, charities and equality campaigners, with the United Nations calling it an “attempt to normalise white supremacy”.

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove said: “The Inclusive Britain action plan is fundamental to our ambitions, helping us tackle the root causes of racial disparities and ensure equality of opportunity for all.”

He said equality is central to the government’s flagship levelling up agenda, launched in February, which includes missions to reduce health life expectancy outcomes, close gaps in wellbeing and improve literacy and numeracy.

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