UK workplaces are not institutionally racist, commission claims

Education has been "an emphatic success story" according to the authors of the review

UK organisations are not institutionally racist and diversity has increased in key professions such as law and medicine, according to a government-commissioned review.

Instead, the UK “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries”, according to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was set up in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests last year.

The review found that individuals’ life prospects had more to do with social class and family structure than race. However, it cautioned that the UK was not yet a “post-racial” country and that there were still communities “haunted” by historic racism and mistrust.

Education was “the most emphatic success story”, according to the commission. Children from ethnic communities did better than white pupils in compulsory education, while black Caribbean pupils were the only group to perform less well.

Among the commission’s 24 recommendations is a call to take the term BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) out of use because it fails to reflect the differences between different ethnic groups.

A further recommendation was that organisations stop funding unconscious bias training, after a study found no evidence of its effectiveness.

The review also found that the pay gap between ethnic minority and white employees had shrunk to 2.3%, its lowest since 2012. Making ethnicity pay gap reporting mandatory was not among the commission’s recommendations.

It concluded: “It is clear that pay gap reporting as it is currently devised for gender cannot be applied to ethnicity. There are significant statistical and data issues that would arise as a result of substituting a binary protected characteristic (male or female) with a characteristic that has multiple categories.”

Sample sizes would likely be unreliable, it added, and it would be impossible to look at differentials if the workforce is stratified across the 18 race classifications used by the Office for National Statistics.

Instead, the commission recommended, companies should look into what causes existing pay disparities. While some employers may choose to publish ethnicity pay figures, they should also publish a diagnosis and action plan for improvement. It urged the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to draw up guidance for employers in this regard.

Dr Tony Sewell, who chaired the review, said “the effect of education is transformative on individuals but also their families and their communities – sometimes within a generation”.

“Another revelation from our dive into the data was just how stuck some groups from the white majority are,” he added. “As a result, we came to the view that recommendations should, wherever possible, be designed to remove obstacles for everyone, rather than specific groups.”

To reflect this, the recommendations include lengthening the school day to prevent disadvantaged students from falling behind, providing better career advice and expanding access to apprenticeships rather than targeting them at specific groups.

Only one in eight white British 14-year-olds were “very likely” to apply to university, according to data in the report, compared with two in five black African pupils, one in four Pakistani and Indian pupils and one in five black Caribbean pupils.

Dr Sewell added: “Creating a successful multi-ethnic society is hard, and racial disparities exist wherever such a society is being forged.

“The commission believes that if these recommendations are implemented, it will give a further burst of momentum to the story of our country’s progress to a successful multi-ethnic and multicultural community – a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world.”

The review had been due to come out last year but was pushed back until 2021 due to Covid restrictions and the quantity of responses it received from the public. The launch of the commission was criticised at the time by shadow justice secretary David Lammy because successive reviews on race had already been published without action on their recommendations.

A spokesperson for Black Lives Matter UK said that while the report focused on education, “it fails to explore disproportionality in school exclusion, Eurocentrism and censorship in the curriculum, or the ongoing attainment gap in higher education”.

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