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Institutional racism | Dr Patrick Roach

Denying institutional racism will only set us back;


Dr Patrick Roach

Published date

04 Apr 2022

Has the government delivered answers to the key problems of institutional racism or, once again, ducked the real issues?

Last month, we saw the government response to the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities chaired by Dr Tony Sewell. The ‘Inclusive Britain’ report sets out over 70 actions under the themes of trust and fairness, opportunity and agency, and inclusion. But, has the government delivered answers to the key problems of institutional racism or, once again, ducked the real issues?

The latest plan from the government is in keeping with their well-established mantra of reducing burdens on employers and, instead, appealing to them to do the right thing. Yet, the evidence shows that without robust regulatory measures and strong enforcement, too many employers will choose to do their own thing.

The pandemic has shown that now, more than ever, we need robust measures to root out inequality and injustice and to hold employers and policy-makers to account. At the height of the pandemic, the government refused to publish its equality impact assessments arguing that it was not in the public interest to do so. That action provided a green light to unscrupulous employers to ignore the race equality impact of their Covid-safety measures leading to disproportionate deaths of Black and Asian workers. Unless there is strong accountability and leaders at the very top who are committed to racial justice, change will not happen.

Ethnicity pay gap monitoring

One of the most disappointing parts of the government’s latest plan is its failure to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap monitoring. The government launched a consultation on this topic over three years ago. We have received widespread support from business leaders to this proposal and earlier this year the Women and Equalities Select Committee called on the government to make race pay gap reporting mandatory. However, even with this modest proposal, the government has not acted and has, instead, chosen to encourage voluntary ethnicity pay gap reporting.

We know from the reporting of the gender pay gap that only when this was made mandatory, did we see the issue of gender becoming a key priority for employers. The CIPD, a body representing employers, has also commented that,

‘unfortunately, we know from previous schemes that a voluntary approach will not help drive the changes that are needed in many organisations.’

The introduction of mandatory race pay gap monitoring would send a clear signal that the government is serious about identifying disparities and tackling them.

Socio-economic duty

And, there are other major gaps in the government’s proposals, too. Where is the plan to ensure that all employers and service providers in receipt of public sector contracts and taxpayer funding, take racial justice seriously and are held to account for their actions and performance? There is already a Public Sector Equality Duty that is too often honoured in the breach. We need to see the Equality Act strengthened and for the socio-economic duty to be enacted. Only then will the government be taken seriously on its claims of levelling up.

We should also ask: why hasn’t the government committed to the publication of Equality Impact Assessments when bringing forward all new legislation and policy proposals or in relation to its economic and budgetary programmes? Where is the plan to tackle racial disparities in income and wealth or in relation to the deepening cost of living crisis? And, why have we not seen specific measures from the government to eradicate low pay, precarious employment, zero hours contracts which we know impact disproportionately on Black workers?

Why not end the use of public sector outsourcing and ‘fire and rehire’ practices which are increasingly being used to drive down wages and working conditions, and why are we still waiting for the long-promised Employment Bill? We are also calling for a plan to end employment disparities, job segregation and the continuing evidence that Black workers are more likely to be unemployed or dismissed from their employment.

Black communities are bursting with talent which is too often overlooked when seeking access to employment or promotion opportunities. We need a commitment from government to ensure that boardrooms are inclusive and representative. And, why has the government deliberately excluded trade unions and our Black members from their plans for securing racial justice at work?

We need urgent action

Interestingly, the government has prioritised in its latest plans a commitment to new guidance on hairstyles in schools. But, if this latest race equality report isn’t set to be yet another bad hair day for Boris Johnson, we need an urgent plan from the government to tackle address the root causes of the structural inequality, institutional and systemic racism which continue to blight the lives of working people. Denying these realities will only set us back.

Building trust is rightly an upfront commitment in this latest plan from Ministers. But, if the government is to be taken seriously on the question of trust, we deserve answers and demand action.

Until then, our trade unions will continue to fight for decent wages and fair treatment at work for all working people. We are committed to standing with our members – Black and White - and we won’t be complacent about the government’s meagre approach to securing fair treatment, equal rights and racial justice at work.

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Image by Larry Crayton


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