The government’s race audit is an example of the statistics confirming what many of us already knew: that ethnic minorities face huge disparities in different areas of life. The audit collects official government statistics to show the influence of ethnicity on 130 areas – including health, education, employment, and the criminal justice system.
Black people are more than three times likely to be arrested as their white peers, and black men face the highest likelihood of being found guilty in court. Less than two-thirds of people from ethnic minority backgrounds are in work, compared with three-quarters of white people. Amongst the poorest demographics, white children do much worse in school than ethnic minority children with similar levels of disadvantage, but Roma children fare worst of all. Black children are three times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than their white counterparts.
The statistics lay bare deeply ingrained inequalities across the UK. They show not only that race affects your life outcomes, but also the impact of social class, of poverty, of the postcode lottery for health and education. We knew much of this already, but taken together, the statistics paint a powerful picture that is difficult to ignore: of an unequal and disunited country. The audit does not seek to investigate why these disparities exist, merely to provide unequivocal proof that they do. In an era where far right voices such as those of Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage are given large platforms to negative the existence of racial inequality, this is useful. (Of course, not everyone is convinced. Munira Mirza, who was deputy London mayor to Boris Johnson, wrote to the Times expressing concern about the figures “promoting a culture of grievance”.)
Ethnic minority women are worst affected; disproportionately hit by cuts to public sector jobs
Theresa May, as home secretary and now as prime minister, has been responsible for a large number of policies that directly impact minority communities in a negative way – not least harsh and arbitrary immigration rules. Let’s not forget she was responsible for an era of “go home” vans and mass deportations. Yet she sounded a considerate note in response to the report, which she commissioned soon after becoming prime minister: “People who have lived with discrimination don’t need a government audit to make them aware of the scale of the challenge. But this audit means that for society as a whole – for government, for our public services – there is nowhere to hide.”
However, this does not change the fact that government policy since 2010 has almost certainly exacerbated the situation. Another report to come out this week, by the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group, shows that black and Asian households have faced the biggest drop in living standards as a result of austerity. Black households faced a real-terms loss of around £8,407 annually, and Asian households an average of £11,678. Ethnic minority women are worst affected; disproportionately hit by cuts to public sector jobs.
There is certainly a value in providing solid evidence of the gaping inequalities in Britain – but the question now must be: what will be done about it? Since becoming prime minister, May has given several high-profile speeches about social justice and making the country “work for everyone”, yet action towards these goals has been lacking. There is a risk of the audit acting as a symbolic gesture for ministers to show that they care while failing to translate into any real action. After all, many of these inequalities were well known long before they were published on a public website. Do ministers really need to be shamed by the publication of their figures to take an interest in racial justice? It seems that they do.
Although the report did not focus on policy, May has announced a range of measures. These include Department and Pensions “hotspots” to help people from ethnic minorities get jobs, and traineeships for 16-24-year-olds. The Ministry of Justice also plans to adopt some recommendations from David Lammy’s review into prisons (which found – unsurprisingly – that the justice system was biased and discriminatory in its treatment of ethnic minorities).
These measures are welcome, but they merely scratch the surface. The problems in Britain, which span race, class and region, are so deep-rooted that they require more than “hotspots”. The Conservatives like to talk about meritocracy – but we need a serious discussion about the fact that social mobility is desperately lacking in Britain.
Information is power. It can provide the basis for action. Let’s hope we see that action now, where in the past it has been lacking. Unfortunately, there is little to suggest we will.