THE spike in racist hate crimes after the EU referendum has revealed just how entrenched racial inequality is in British society, the equality watchdog has said.
In a report, Healing a Divided Britain, published last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) laid bare the scale of racial division and the hurdles faced by ethnic minorities.
David Isaac, who chairs the EHRC, said: “The combination of the post-Brexit rise in hate crime and deep race inequality in Britain is very worrying and must be tackled urgently. Today’s report underlines just how entrenched race inequality and unfairness still is in our society.”
While the report identifies some progress — after last year’s general election, the proportion of ethnic-minority MPs rose to 6.3 per cent — it mostly underlines the challenges that still remain.
Black graduates earn, on average, 23 per cent less than white graduates, it says. Black people are five times more likely than white to be stopped and searched by the police, and three times more likely to be murdered.
The recession and cuts since 2010 have meant that young people from ethnic minorities face the most difficult circumstances for generations, the report suggests.
“Since 2010, there has been a 49-per-cent increase in the number of 16- to 24-year-olds across the UK from ethnic minority communities who are long-term unemployed, compared with a fall of two per cent if you are white,” the report says. “People from ethnic minorities are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to white people across Britain.”
These hardships also extend into the criminal-justice system. Black African women are seven times more likely to be detained under mental-health legislation than white British women, and prosecution and sentencing rates for black people are three times higher than they are for white people.
But not all problems are faced by ethnic minorities, the report says. The group with the lowest educational attainment at 16 are white boys receiving free school meals, for instance.
“Following the Brexit vote, these issues should be of even greater concern. Our nation’s hard-won reputation for tolerance is arguably facing its greatest threat for decades, as those who spread hate use the Leave result to legitimise their views,” Mr Isaac writes in the foreword to the report.
European migrants and British Muslims are among those who have reported hate crimes in increased numbers since the vote on 23 June (News, 1 July).
The report criticises government attempts to break down racial division. It accuses Westminster of failing to collaborate with devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff, but instead operating in “silos”.
“The current patchwork of initiatives can only have limited effect. Public money currently spent on separate activities could be used more efficiently and with greater impact if this work were brought together,” it states.
The EHRC recommends that the Government create a comprehensive strategy to achieve racial equality; it should include difficult targets, and a clear line of responsibility under one Cabinet-level minister.
The Commission also identifies a failure to collect enough accurate statistics on equality issues. For instance, the Government abolished the requirement for schools to report racist or religiously aggravated bullying in 2011, even though other evidence suggested that this remained a problem.
There should also, the Commission says, be a renewed focus on the intersection of race and religion in hate crimes, and in particular the recent rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic abuse and attacks.
The EHRC also recommends that the Government review whether sentences for hate crimes are long enough; mitigate discriminatory aspects of its reforms to legal aid and access to justice; and ensure that police forces do not apply stop-and-search powers unlawfully.
Yogi Sutton, who chairs the Catholic Association for Racial Justice, echoed the concerns of the report about education and the post-Brexit atmosphere.
“We have to commit to investing in building a fairer, safer, and equal society,” she said. “Pope Francis called for an end to bigotry and racism, stating ‘the problem of intolerance should be dealt with as a whole: every time a minority is persecuted and marginalised because of his religious beliefs or ethnicity, the good of the whole society is in danger.’”