Is Britain Fairer? Race in Britain

by Colin Douglas

Published: 19 Nov 2015

Attitudes towards race have changed over many years along with the laws that protect us all from direct and indirect discrimination. Despite the many improvements, it would take a brave or naïve person to suggest that racism in Britain is dead. 

Is Britain Fairer? reports many of the key changes experienced by people of different racial backgrounds over the past five years. In our report, we can trace the meandering path towards racial equality as it touches all aspects of our life journey. We start at the beginning, with infant mortality figures. These fell for a number of ethnic groups – particularly for Pakistanis/Bangladeshis and African/Caribbean/Black people, resulting in the gap with mortality rates for White babies reducing. 

In education, we see that all ethnic minorities now outperform White students in terms of the proportions entering universities. In 2013, 26.8% of White people had a university degree compared to people who were African/Caribbean/Black (34.7%), Mixed (36.6%), Indian (49.5%), and ‘Other’ (40.2%). All ethnic minorities now enjoy greater levels of university participation than the White population, with the exception of the elite universities (including the Russell Group of universities) where several ethnic minorities are under-represented. 

But despite the improvements in educational performance, people from almost every ethnic minority group suffered higher rates of unemployment and received lower pay than their White colleagues. Over the five year period to 2013, African/Caribbean/Black people had the largest drop in hourly pay (a fall of £1.20), bringing their pay down to £10.20 compared to £10.60 for White workers.

While there was an overall fall in the level of relative poverty across the entire population, all ethnic minorities had higher rates of poverty than the White population. African/Caribbean/Black people experienced a 10 percentage point increase in the proportion who were in poverty (rising to 39.4% by 2013). And while the Pakistani/Bangladeshi population saw a 10.5 percentage point fall in poverty over the period, it still ended with the highest rate of poverty at 43.8%.  

In the criminal justice system, stop and search continued to present a big divide in the experience of different race groups. In 2010/11, 3.6% of Black people reported being stopped and searched by the police, as did 3.8% of Asian people or those who defined themselves as ‘Other’. This compared to 1.1% of White people.

This is why we have repeatedly highlighted our concerns about the disproportionate use of stop and search against ethnic minorities through our high profile reports over recent years. We continue to work closely with the police to ensure fairness in the service they provide. This includes developing a new training course with the College of Policing to help police officers use stop and search more fairly and effectively, and investigating discrimination against employees in the Metropolitan Police.     

In the world of politics, the Westminster Parliament is more ethnically diverse than it has ever been with 6.3% of MPs now coming from ethnic minorities compared to 4.2% at the 2010 general elections. 

The picture, therefore, is a nuanced one. For some ethnic minorities, great improvements have been made over recent years. This is particularly the case for the Pakistani/Bangladeshi populations, but such improvement was desperately needed since they started at the bottom of most indicators and even with these improvements are still far behind on several. Some groups have seen backward moves – African/Caribbean/Black people in terms of average pay and levels of poverty, Indian people in terms of standard of accommodation, and almost all groups in terms of local influence.

Better evidence allows for better discussion and better decision making. The power of Is Britain Fairer? is that it is an accurate, authoritative and impartial review that can help public bodies identify and tackle the major concerns of ethnic minority communities. Based on our analysis, we have set eight key challenges for government and statutory bodies. These are major areas requiring urgent action in order to improve fairness. Although they all have a race dimension, the four that are most worth highlighting are:

  • Encourage fair recruitment, development and reward in employment – vital to tackle the persistent, and in some cases increasing, gaps in pay and employment rates and the lack of race diversity at senior levels in organisations
  • Support improved living conditions in cohesive communities. This is about tackling poverty and material deprivation, inequalities in the housing, and care and support structures available to allow people to live productive lives.
  • Improve access to mental health services and support for those experiencing (or at risk of experiencing) poor mental health. 
  • Tackle targeted harassment and abuse of particular groups of people (for example, based on race, sexuality, religion or disability). Although we have seen a reduction in race motivated hate crime, there are still too many such crimes and Black people are the most likely to be affected by this. And whilst hate crimes motivated by race have reduced, those motivated by religion have risen with increasing reports of Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks.

In many areas of our lives, things have got better and fairer but are we fair enough as a country? No, we still have a long way to go and, more worryingly, in too many areas we have slipped back. This is why we at the Equality and Human Rights Commission will continue to drive progress forward by following up this report with one focused specifically on race next year increasing our work identifying and tackling race issues.

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