The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has recently published a major report on equality and fairness in Britain. The report entitled 'Is Britain Fairer? is an assessment ten years after the closure of the Commission for Race Equality (CRE) and the establishment of the Commission itself and five years after the introduction of the 2010 Equality Act.
First a little bit of background information on the Commission itself set up in 2004.
The EHRC was supposed to advance the cause of equality, bringing together all of the separate equality commissions into single umbrella organisation.
Introduced by the then Labour Government, the Commission was driven by the likes of Trevor Phillips, then Chair of the CRE and Deputy Prime Minister Harriet Harman, with the fulsome support of the Liberal Democrats, and of course the famous human rights and Lib Dem lawyer Anthony Lester who argued strongly for change.
Black communities were told that this amalgamation of equality commissions would significantly advance the cause of race equality and make real the promise of race equality in our life time.
The equalities campaigning organisations, such as Stonewall, Womens and Disabilities campaigning organisations argued at the time, that race equality was greater political and legislative priority for Government, than were the issues of homophobia sexism or disability discrimination. This was a basic error of assessment of the actual objectives realities of that time and a reflection of the lack of understand that these equality organisations had about the prominence of race equality. I don't believe that such misunderstanding can be solely laid of the door of ignorance. I believe there was real 'political' hostility and professional jealousy of the public profile of attached to the issue of racism post the publication of the Stephen Lawrence McPherson Inquiry.
In reality whilst race issues had a higher visibility in the media, the idea that this translated into racism being effectively tackled, was risible. The equality organisations were supported in this delusion by Sir Trevor Phillips. He claimed large scale, institutional racism in Britain was now largely a thing of the past, despite solid and compelling evidence presented by black organisations at the time that demonstrated growing levels of racial inequality,. Equality organisations continued to support this line.
We were told that levelling up all equalities strands could only be a good thing. We were told that the litmus test for this assessment was the fact that 'Today (2006) whilst it's completely unacceptable to call a black person a nigger, its still acceptable to call a woman a bitch.'
I was one of many at the time, who argued vociferously against the proposal. Not only was it manifestly untrue that racism is a thing of the past. I cited our fear that once the CRE was gone, race equality would struggle to compete with other equality strands and that gains made my the publication of the McPherson Inquiry Report into The Death of Stephen Lawrence were in real danger of being lost.
I was attacked by both the London Evening Standard, The Daily Mail and Telegraph for criticising Phillips and commissioning research at the Greater London Authority to disprove his essential premise that racism was in decline.
My political calculation back then, was that without a laser like focus on race equality and a robust EHRC using its full range of legal powers in the manner pioneered by the CRE we would be in real danger of being relegated into a new equalities hierarchy where race would come last.
Since the establishment of the ECHR we have seen race equality drop off the political agenda like a hot brick.
First we saw in 2010 the substantive weakening of the Equality Act, the slashing of budgets and in 2012 the removal of Simon Wooley, the only Commissioner with lead responsibility for race along with Baroness Meral Hussien-Ece, the only Muslim on the Commission.
Head of the Commission Trevor Phillips was also dismissed having served his purpose
The Commission has been a train wreck and not just for black people.
People with disabilities have seen this Government target them through welfare reform that has left many hankering for the old days of a powerful independant Disability Commission. Meanwhile the EHRC has seen it budget slashed, its Commissioner replaced by Tory appointees most of whom are people who have no track record of delivering substantive equality or campaigning insights.
Back to the EHRC Is Britain Fairer report the aim of which is to 'analyse' how much progress has been made in achieving the goal of delivering a fairer Britain.
The first thing that struck me on reading this report is this disclaimer in the introductory chapter,
' We have looked at the protections and rights afforded by legislation in place during the period of the review. We do not speculate on the impact of proposed future legislative or policy changes. Nor do we try to explain why there are differences in experienceand outcomes for some people who share a characteristic protected by law, or propose policy solutions.'
The fact that this report fails come to any conclusions about differential outcome is frankly staggering and constitutes an act of supreme political cowardice.
It explains why the words 'racism' and 'institutional racism' are nowhere to be found in this report, except in reference to existing international legislations and conventions.
There was some good news with GCSE 5* education attainment gaps closing for Black and some Asian groups plus the fact that Black and some Asian groups were more likely to enter higher education.
However this progress is brutally undermined by the economic reality that Black and Muslim groups still suffer hugely increased rates of youth and adult unemployment.
Whilst we are more likely to go to university, the top Russell Group of Universities still discriminate against black students.
The reports cites evidence that overall school exclusion have declined and while it points out that Black children are still more likely to be excluded from school, the report gives us no indication of the figures.
The report then states that for some ethnic minorities the number of people with no qualifications - but declines to comment on the fact that this has not translated to higher rates of employment.
Not only is unemployment high among our communities but pay is decreasing.
In addition to high unemployment rates child poverty in our communities also increased.
Accessing child care was also significantly much more difficult for Black and Asian people.
In terms of health the report notes a decrease in the rate of infant mortality but doesnt state by how much or how this compares to other ethnic groups.
In regards mental health here again we find racial inequality is getting worse.
The reports notes, that 4.4% of Black people had contact with specialist mental health services compared to mixed ethnic group 3.3%, Asian 2.9% and 3.5% for white adults.
In relation to compulsory mental health detention the report states...
Interestingly, the Stop & Search figures have increased in the London area despite the rare legal intervention of the EHRC in 2010 led by former Commissioner Simon Wooley and recent interventions by the Home Secretary . This illustrates the weakness of the EHRC in delivering real change. Whilst the Home Secretary's Deaths in Custody inquiries is mentioned in the report, issues of disportionality in bail applications, criminal charging for like for like, first time offences, disproportionate sentencing of Black/Asian peoples and incidents of racism in prisons, all are ignored.
In terms of Hate Crime the repot had this to say...
There are other sections such as Housing and homelessness, palliative care for the elderly and civic particpation that show evidenced of worsening rates of discrimination. However the report takes 'pick and mix' approach to its focus on particular issues and as a result one is left with then overwhelming impression that this is a consequence of a political decisions taken by the EHRC.
The most glaring example of this is in relation to Fairness in the Justice System where the reality of wholesale discrimination and institutional racism is largely ignored .
Its clear for the evidence contained within this report and elsewhere that racial inequalities are indeed widening for the majority of Black and Muslim communities in the UK. Yet there is no substantive response offered by the Commission.
There is virtually no reference to race equality campaigning groups research such as the Runnymede Trust, Black Mental Health UK, Black Training and Enterprise Group, Operation Black Vote to name a few and no mention of the link between Immigration policy, political and media commentray and the huge rise in hate crimes for example.
Whilst a link is suggested in relation to the murder of Fusileer Lee Rigby and the rise inAnti Semitism and Islamophobia.
Some statistics provide a comparitive trend analysis over time, others do not.
There is no mention or comprehensive assessment of the Governments own equality performance nor any reference to an overarching race equality strategy.
The reports recommendations, such as they are, appear bland and unenforceable without legal force and although the Commission has the power to act, in its current enfeebled state it has chosen not initiate ore even threaten legal action even where there is evidence of persistent or rising inequality.
In relation to the question has racial inequalities increased or declined over the last five years the answer has to be yes, even when one looks at the anaemic and chaotic approach to the use of evidence set out in this report.
There can be no other conclusion than that and what the EHRC should now do is to demand answers from Government instead of seeking to leave the public confused and patronising some of us with recommendations such as 'the need to collect more statistics and improve monitoring'.
Racism and racial inequality is on the increase and the EHRC seems to have nothing to say about it. Further illustration of the extent to which the issue of race inequality has fallen of the political agenda.