Over a year ago, prime minister Theresa May announced the “race disparity audit” to tackle what she called “burning injustices” that people face in society. The audit was finally released on Tuesday on a new government portal, yet it is abundantly clear that the data contained within the website is not new. It has been available for years.
The government expected plaudits for this exercise. But simply collecting data we already knew existed just won’t cut it. In fact, I could have done it myself; the government has effectively taken 411 days to open a Dropbox account. Report after report over the past few years have exposed shockingly similar data about disadvantage in our country.
Whether it’s the Baroness McGregor-Smith review, which found that people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are being held back in the workplacebecause of the colour of their skin, the Lammy review, which exposed to us the shocking extent of racial bias in our criminal justice system, or the Education Committee report in 2014 on underachievement in education by white working-class children, people have been highlighting disadvantage for a long time.
Widespread discrimination has serious consequences for individuals and communities that suffer multiple layers of disadvantage. If the data could analyse how discrimination intersects that would be a useful tool. Tackling this deep-rooted problem requires strong action, not more talking shops.
I recognise there is value in putting all of the data together in one portal. Yet what truly matters is what the government is going to do about the problems identified. This audit will be worthless unless it leads to action and new policies, pursued with determination and conviction.
It doesn’t inspire confidence that the government has been sitting on this data since July. Nor has May’s record in government done anything but hurt our diverse communities.
Research shows black and minority ethnic women are being hit the hardest by this government’s austerity. A report, also released on Tuesday, by the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group claims the poorest black and Asian households have faced the biggest drop in living standards, of 19% and 20% respectively.
So the Conservatives may talk a good game but their policies in government have in fact punished those with protected characteristics.
As I said in my speech on Tuesday, whether it is the public sector pay cap, universal credit, disability benefits, tuition fees or something else, every step of the way May’s policies have had a devastating impact on communities up and down the country. Instead of tackling the “burning injustices” she has simply added fuel to the fire.
Under this government we have a deficit of solutions. I’m afraid that while targeted hotspots and mentorship schemes are respectable ideas, they are not nearly ambitious enough.
When I put these arguments to the first secretary of state, Damian Green MP, in parliament this week, he merely responded by saying Labour do not know what we’re talking about when it comes to race. A white, privileged man telling me, a black woman, that he knows more about racial discrimination than I do summed up, for me, just how out of touch this government is. The disregard and derision with which my questions and concerns were treated demonstrated a disturbing lack of willingness to genuinely listen to and work with people of all backgrounds and parties to address these fundamental inequalities in our society.
What we need is a government not afraid to face uncomfortable truths. Labour would do just that, putting equality at the heart of everything we do. Because it not only makes sense for a better society but it is the right thing to do.
We stand ready to act once again. We launched a diverse communities manifesto this year and we would reinstate public sector equality duties, introduce equal pay audit requirements on large employers, launch an inquiry into names-based discrimination and consider rolling out name-blind recruitment practices if necessary.
Labour would also implement the recommendations from various important reviews, such as the Parker review to increase diversity on boards. These are real solutions to real problems.
Nothing May has done as prime minister and nothing the first secretary of state said in unveiling this audit has convinced me this government is ready to take the action needed.
History has shown that positive change happens under a Labour government, and under Jeremy Corbyn’s lead, we are that government-in-waiting, ready to tackle racial inequality and build a fairer, more equal society for the many not the few.
This article was originally published in The Guardian on 13 October 2017 and can be found here.