Search Class

First 100 Days - Implementing a Race Equalities Agenda

Implementing a Race Equalities Agenda

Omar Khan
Omar Khan is Director of the Runnymede Trust and sits on the DWP’s Ethnic Minority Advisory Group.

No political party is an advocate of racial inequality - being called or thought of as a racist is now perhaps the worst insult in British political life. Unfortunately this focus on words and so-called ‘political correctness’ has deflected attention from structural racial inequalities in contemporary British society, and the ways in which these inequalities are transmitted generationally and institutionally. Being a Black and minority ethnic person in Britain today means that you have reduced chances of getting into university¹, getting a job², owning a home³, getting an inheritance, being promoted, and having high earnings⁴; conversely it increases your chances of being unfairly treated by the police⁵ and of serving a longer sentence in prison for committing the same offence as a white person.

Typically, policymakers associate ethnicity with economic disadvantage. While it’s unfortunately true that all Black and minority ethnic groups are disproportionately likely to live in poverty⁶, one obvious problem with this sort of framing is the assumption that all racial inequalities are about poverty, and, conversely, that the issues affecting disadvantaged families don’t vary by ethnicity. Such framing risks further stigmatising Black and minority ethnic families up and down the country, but it also fails to respond to the ways in which racism affects people on the street, in the labour market and in the media, regardless of their poverty.

In the past some politicians have claimed policies that disproportionately benefit the worse off are more likely to benefit Black and minority ethnic people.

In principle this may be true – universal policies and institutions that don’t consider ethnicity at all may disproportionately benefit BME people in so far as those same policies – such as universal healthcare – are of greater benefit to the non-wealthy than the wealthy. However, relying on universal policies alone will not be sufficient to tackle the ingrained ethnic inequalities we have in Britain today. A progressive government that is genuinely committed to reducing Black and minority ethnic poverty and inequalities should ensure effective race equality policies form a core part of their plan for the first 100 days of government.

The first policy priority of any progressive government should be to ensure data is collected on the effects of universal or anti-poverty policies in order to evaluate whether they actually reduce poverty and promote fair opportunities for Black and minority ethnic people.

This sort of monitoring has reduced under the Coalition, but is incredibly important for holding politicians to account and assessing the effectiveness of policy decisions. For example, data has shown that while BME young people are 26% of applicants for apprenticeships, only 10% of those who secure an apprenticeship are non-white⁷. Research is also important for improving policies. For instance data indicates that in its current form, Labour’s guaranteed job scheme may not equally benefit young BME people because they are less likely to claim JSA, the benefit that this policy will use for guaranteeing such jobs.

Given the largest political parties’ have committed to reduced public spending, a second and related point becomes necessary. When a government chooses to reduce expenditure in a particular area or scrap a particular policy, it must better evaluate the impact on racial inequalities. The Equality Act already places a duty on governments to identify measures to mitigate any increase in racial (and other) inequalities, a requirement seemingly lacking for policies such as the benefit cap (40% of those affected are BME), cuts to legal aid, the Immigration Act (including landlord checks), voter registration, and the Comprehensive Spending Review. A progressive government should ensure this is a binding requirement on all future policy changes.

There are currently significant inequalities in White British and BME outcomes, including: a 12% employment gap equalling 500,000 ‘missing’ BME workers; higher unemployment rates, even for equally placed Russell Group graduates⁸; and higher required A-levels to get on the same course⁹. This leads to a third key policy priority: a government that is serious about tackling racial disadvantage cannot simply focus on policies of equal benefit to white and BME people. Rather, it must seek to address racial inequalities.

A progressive government should not only demonstrate through monitoring that their policies do not increase ethnic inequalities, they should also ensure policies are designed to correct existing inequalities through improving outcomes for Black and minority ethnic people.

Again, some of this could be achieved through more egalitarian policies generally, which are in principle more likely to benefit BME people. But as above, these outcomes need to be monitored, and policymakers need to be aware that different ethnic groups have different experiences of the labour market; in terms of benefit uptake, family size and other demographic features, to say nothing of any cultural or structural reasons why BME people do not currently engage with the state and its various services.

This last point suggests a fourth policy recommendation: that in formulating universal policies, even anti-poverty and egalitarian policies, governments need to carefully consider the material effects of implementing these policies. This may mean delivering a schools policy differently depending on the demographic features of a local authority or supporting BME- and women-led charities¹⁰ in order to reflect the fact that some demographics are more likely to experience domestic violence, and other demographics may need specialised support that a universal service could overlook. This might be called ‘targeted universalism’.

A fifth and final priority is to introduce more explicitly ‘race-targeted’ policies. For example, the next government should set a public service target that 20% of employees under-25 and 15% of employees under-40 are Black and minority ethnic. Government should work with the private sector to deliver a similar target by 2020. Such explicit race-based policies have typically been viewed as controversial; though Labour’s Sadiq Khan suggested quotas in the judiciary¹¹ and in the last weeks of canvassing, David Cameron indicated the Conservatives would set targets for BME employment in the next Parliament¹².

Such statements from Labour and the Conservatives reflect two realities: first, that existing inequalities in the labour market are not disappearing by themselves. It is now accepted that a generic social mobility or fair hiring policy does not result in equal opportunities for BME people. The Department of Work and Pension’s own research¹³ shows that even with the same qualifications, candidates who have an African or Asian-sounding surname need to send in twice as many CVs just to secure an interview. The second obvious reason is the make-up of the UK electorate: BME people are a rising share of the population and are therefore also a rising share of voters in a Britain of close elections and hung Parliaments¹⁴.

Whatever political shifts occur, the next government must do much more to address Black and minority ethnic inequalities and not just focus on BME poverty.

Runnymede is a member of a wider coalition of organisations that has identified 8 key asks¹⁵ for the next government; emphasising employment, education, criminal justice, health, housing and immigration, and in each case we have focused on racial inequalities over poverty. Racial inequalities have significant effects on Black and minority ethnic people, young and old, in cities and in rural areas¹⁶. This is not only an enormous waste of human potential, and an increasing drag on Britain’s economy, but a failure to offer equal chances to everyone. If the next government wants to increase economic activity and deliver a progressive, better democracy and economy, it must ensure that racial inequalities in 2020 are lower than in 2015.

1 RT (2015) Aiming Higher Race, Inequality and Diversity in the Academy
2 DWP (2009) Research Report 607: A test for racial discrimination in recruitment practice in British cities.
3 RT (2009) Why do assets matter? Assets, Equality and Ethnicity – Building towards Financial Inclusion.
4 National Equality Panel (2010) In Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK
5 See
6 See
7 See
8 RT (2014) When education isn’t enough. Labour market outcomes of ethnic minority graduates at elite universities.
9 RT (2015) Aiming Higher Race, Inequality and Diversity in the Academy
10 See
11 See
12 See
13 DWP (2009) Research Report 607: A test for racial discrimination in recruitment practice in British cities.
14 See
15 See


Download this essay and read the others in the series here