Response to the government’s commission on race and ethnic disparities report 2021

"The Sewell Report’s denial of the significance of structural racial and ethnic inequalities is particularly unsettling in the context of the current pandemic."

The conclusion of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities - that racial inequalities are not an issue of deep concern in UK society and for the British government - is alarming and unrelated to the facts.

The report echoes the position taken by the three wise monkeys – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil - by failing to see the considerable and longstanding body of evidence on structural and institutional racism, how this pervades UK society and underpins individual acts of racism and discrimination.

It has failed to hear the evidence from those who have lived experience of these inequalities. And, because it has ignored this evidence, it is unable to name the significance of racism to the lives of ethnic minority people in the UK and to discuss any meaningful solutions for these inequalities.

While there have been some improvements over time, there remains clear evidence of racial and ethnic disadvantage in key areas of life which affect the outcomes of individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The evidence set out in CoDE’s Ethnicity, race and inequality in the UK: State of the Nation (Policy Press 2020), co-produced with the Runnymede Trust, clearly shows that racial and ethnic inequality, discrimination and racism remain entrenched features of British society across all areas – from education to employment, housing to health, criminal justice and policing, to politics, the arts, media and sport – across all minority groups.

There is an increasingly complex picture of inequality within and between ethnic minority groups – also influenced by class, gender, age, disabilities, religion, region, sexuality and legal status, among others. However, this complexity doesn’t mean that racial, ethnic and religious inequality cease to matter. The inequalities and discrimination faced by working-class people in the UK are experienced by many racial and ethnic minority people – because they are working-class – but this is often compounded by race disadvantage.

The denial of the significance of structural racial and ethnic inequalities is particularly unsettling in the context of the current pandemic. Ethnic minority people, from all groups, including white minority groups such as Roma, Gypsy and Irish Travellers have experienced a much higher risk of COVID-19 related death.

As Nazroo and Bécares show, this risk of death – and risks of serious illness with COVID-19 - cannot be attributed to biology or genetics. Rather, it reflects an increased risk of exposure to the virus that racialised and ethnic minority groups experience because of their employment in public-facing jobs, in insecure and poorly paid work and through living in more deprived areas, with more over-crowded accommodation. Increased death and poor health outcomes after Covid are also the result of pre-existing health inequalities, which are themselves driven by social and economic inequalities, many of which are the product of racial discrimination.

Ethnic minority groups have also been more vulnerable to the economic impact of the pandemic and lockdowns where, from October to December 2020, the unemployment rates of Black African/Caribbean people reached 13.8% - compared to the white unemployment rate of 4.5%. Also, ethnic minority people have been less protected by the furlough scheme (with 15% fewer being furloughed than white people) and young ethnic minority people suffering particularly bad rates of unemployment (at 20%).

This racialised impact of economic crisis and recession could have easily been predicted – as it mirrors previous trends, yet governments have failed to implement policies which directly address the discrimination and disadvantage faced by ethnic minority groups.

The Race Report produced by the Stuart Hall Foundation and CoDE reveals the 589 different recommendations made by previous race and inequality reports and commissions since the 1980s, many of which have yet to be taken up.

Rather than dismissing the impact of race inequality and discrimination on people’s lives, more evidence is required to address the complex intersection of race, class, gender, region, religion and sexuality.

Our current programme of work provides theoretically informed, empirically grounded and policy-relevant research on ethnic inequalities in the UK. This includes the Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS) which is the first survey of its kind to document the lives of ethnic and religious minorities in the UK.

EVENS will provide unrivalled, robust data on racism, education, work, housing, policing, health, activism and political attitudes. We hope that, despite this commission report, it is evidence that the government and other public and private organisations will act on.