During this last tumultuous year, we have seen clear examples of racial injustice highlighted by the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
More than nine in ten doctors who have died from Covid-19 in the UK are from minority communities.
According to the British Medical Association: “BAME doctors often feel bullied and harassed at higher levels compared to their white counterparts” and are “twice as likely not to raise concerns because of fears of recrimination”.
The Sewell report was meant to examine these racial disparities but has instead sought to explain them away.
The National Education Union (NEU) has joined with sister unions and the Runnymede Trust to write to the Prime Minister.
We told him that we reject the findings of the “independent” Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. We said if the Government is genuinely committed to acknowledging and addressing the issue of racial equity in the UK, it should repudiate the Commission’s findings immediately and withdraw its report.
This report has a callous disregard for the very real racial injustices exposed by the pandemic and the BLM movement.
Its comments on Grenfell and the Windrush scandal are truly shocking. It concludes that: “Outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted.”
How can you not see the Windrush scandal as a prime example of people being targeted by the colour of their skin?
How can you not see the persistent and long term ignoring of concerns raised by the predominantly Black families who lived in Grenfell Tower as an example of institutional racism?
It is particularly shameful that the Sewell report was published just before the 28th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence on 22 April, 1993.
After so much work to challenge racism – in particular, the heroic struggles of Stephen’s mum Doreen and dad Neville – this report takes us back to the 70’s in its denial of institutional racism and implies that those who speak about it are somehow stuck in the past.
In the trade union movement, we must reiterate our commitment to speak about and act on racism
The UK is one of the richest countries in the world but 30 per cent of our children – 4.2 million – are trapped in poverty – that’s the equivalent of nine pupils in every class of 30.
Our work on child poverty has shown that approximately 45 per cent of Black people live in poverty and poverty is a key indicator of low attainment and disenfranchisement.
Racism and racial inequality adds further disadvantage to the social exclusion, stress and stigma created for Black families from being trapped in poverty and low paid jobs.
Black children often face both obstacles – one racism, the other poverty – but, far from using this to say racism doesn't matter, it should be a clarion call to act on both.
It is disingenuous and misleading to seek to divide Black working class communities and white – class and race are both major factors driving inequality.
Research by the TUC tells us that the unemployment rate for Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups is around 10 per cent higher than for white groups and that Black/African/Caribbean groups are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts.
Nine out of ten children on remand come from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Exclusion rates for Black Caribbean students in English schools are up to six times higher than their white peers in some local authorities. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are also excluded at much higher rates, with Roma children nine times more likely to be suspended.
And race disparities in education can also be seen in the issues around the retention and progression of Black staff.
The Sewell report has little of value to say about education and has no recommendations on tackling racism in schools.
But there is much that we think can be done. Last June, we wrote to the Prime Minister with a series of recommendations.
We asked that Government:
- Review the curriculum to ensure it embraces the fact that Britain is rooted in Black and global history, achievement and culture and includes the achievements of Black Britons, as recommended by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
- Commit to review Initial Teacher Training to equip all trainee teachers with anti-racist strategies and tools, for the benefit of all students.
- Adopt a strategy to make the pipeline of new entrants to the teaching profession significantly more diverse over the next four years.
- Learn from the Windrush Review and develop a Department for Education plan to teach about the history of the UK and its relationship to the rest of the world – including Britain's colonial history and the history of migration.
- Provide immediate advice to employers in the education sector about the racial disparities in the pandemic in order to minimise risks to the wellbeing and safety of Black workers and the communities in which they live, work and travel.
To tackle poverty, we demanded that Government:
- Expand the Free School Meal (FSM) scheme to include every child (up to the age of 16) from a household in receipt of Universal Credit, or equivalent benefits.
- Eradicate holiday hunger by extending FSM provision of at least £15 per child per week during all school holidays.
- Reform all school uniform policies to ensure uniform options are affordable for families in the local community.
- Provide free household internet access for children and young people in households on Universal Credit.
- Establish a new, dedicated technology budget for all schools to combat the digital divide.
If the Government is serious about addressing racial inequity in the UK, it must act on these demands now if all our children are to grow up in the equal society they deserve.
Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted
Joint General Secretaries
National Education Union