Boris Johnson has announced plans for a new ‘Commission of Race and Ethnic Disparities’ in order to review racial discrimination in the UK. This has been proposed in the wake of weeks of protest after the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in the US.
The new review is seen as a recognition by Number 10 that enough is enough, and that the UK has to do more to tackle racism. The commission will examine all aspects of racial inequality in our country, including in employment, health and education. The hope for the Prime Minister is that such a commission will enable future action instead of hollow positive words, on what is an extremely pressing issue in modern Western society. The review’s aim is to set out a “new positive agenda for change”, said Mr Johnson.
It all sounds wonderful. At face value, ensuring funding and investigating how to correct racial discrimination is impossible to criticise. However, the announcement has been predictably questioned by opposition parties.
Shadow Equalities Secretary Marsha de Cordova has argued that this committee is too little too late, that inequalities have been exposed by coronavirus and that this announcement is solely a way to get the government “off the hook”.
The idea that the government has taken far too long to act on racial discrimination in the UK is a common criticism. Much of the political opinion towards these new proposals is of distrust and frustration because we’ve been here before. This issue has been the subject of seven other recent reports, each producing specific recommendations that the government must implement in order to address racial inequality in a range of areas in public life. However, racial inequalities and systemic issues, as we have seen ruthlessly exposed by Covid-19, still remain unchanged, if not unchallenged. How do we know that words will become action this time, and not be left partially implemented or, in some cases, not implemented at all?
Reports take a long period of time to complete. Thus, a new report can be seen as the suspension of action, or ‘kicking the can down the road’ in more colloquial terms. This is simply unacceptable. Will this report uncover anything new that other numerous and detailed reports have failed to discover? If not, the argument goes, why spend months researching, when we can implement potentially society-changing recommendations from previous reports now?
One such report is the Lammy Review (2017) which found clear evidence of bias and discrimination against ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system. Among the 35 recommendations suggested by the report, was the proposal of ‘deterred prosecutions’, whereby low-level offenders would be able to opt for a rehabilitation programme before entering a plea. Such a proposal would aid BAME groups the most as they are disproportionately represented in this group.
The Prime Minister has confirmed that he has agreed with and recommended this proposal. He has acted on this review – in fact, according to Mr Johnson, 16 of the recommendations have been met so far. However, according to David Lammy MP, the man who chaired the report, only six have been properly implemented. That’s not enough. Why not commit to implementing these proposals that have already been properly researched and suggested, rather than funding another report producing similar conclusions, which will inevitably become stagnant again?
Similarly, the McGregor-Smith Review (2017) produced 26 recommendations into how to increase ethnic diversity in the workplace. Once again, the government failed to fully commit to action. The review was ‘agreed with’ but private sector businesses were left to implement the changes for themselves.
However, despite past failures to implement key recommendations to address racial discrimination in full, there are positive signs of change from Mr Johnson’s government. For instance, it has recently announced that details on how all 30 recommendations from the Windrush Review will be implemented, will be made available by the end of July.
Moreover, it is important to realise that recommendations from all reviews will take decades to be embedded, implemented and realised successfully. Centuries of racial inequality will take more than 2 or 3 years of societal reform to reverse. The government deserves time to act – however, we must see action.
Will the ‘Commission of Race and Ethnic Disparities’ produce this action? We can only hope and have faith in the current crop of ruling politicians. Some of us will feel hopeful, some of us will scoff at any mention of ‘trust’. However, all of us should be proud of the immense pressure that the Black Lives Matter movement is putting on those in charge of our nations.
The type of worldwide cooperation and protests on these issues recently is unlike anything we have seen before. There is a real chance that, this time, recommendations will be implemented and change will be, slowly, achieved. The chance of progress is heightened when you consider that our generation is now the electorate. Correcting inequality is a priority for us, and if political parties want to hold power they will simply have to listen.
We can hope, with cautious optimism, that this review creates change, rather than simply collecting dust on a stacked Whitehall shelf.