Black Lives Matter: We need action on racism not more reports, says David Lammy

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Image caption,
Thousands of people have joined anti-racism protests across the UK

Labour has strongly criticised the PM's promise of a new commission to look at racial inequality, saying now is the time for action, not more reviews.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said the plan lacked detail and was "written on the back of a fag packet" to "assuage" anti-racism protests.

No 10 said the commission will look at criminal justice and education.

It will also look at "wider inequalities", including issues facing "working class white boys in schools".

The prime minister's spokesman said its aim would be to set out a "new positive agenda for change".

The spokesman added that work to begin the commission has started, but there are no details on membership yet.

Boris Johnson announced the review in an article in the Daily Telegraph that warned against attempts "to rewrite the past" and lamented that a statue of Winston Churchill in London's Parliament Square was boarded up due to vandalism during an anti-racism protest.

Thousands of people have marched in the UK as part of Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In the Telegraph, Mr Johnson said the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities would look at "all aspects of inequality - in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life".

"It is no use just saying that we have made huge progress in tackling racism," he wrote. "There is much more that we need to do."

Questions over inequality in health outcomes have been repeatedly raised during the coronavirus pandemic after figures showed more people from ethnic minority backgrounds were "disproportionately" dying with the virus.

Media caption,
Boris Johnson announces inquiry into racial inequality

Mr Lammy said it was "deeply worrying" that the UK was still "having a conversation about whether racism actually exists".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said he did not know why the PM had "announced a commission behind a paywall, in the Telegraph, buried in the middle of yet another article about Churchill".

He said the article - which was later published on the Downing Street website - lacked detail, adding the recommendations of past reviews should be implemented.

Mr Lammy said a number of inquiries into racial inequality had already been carried out, including his own report on the treatment of black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system, and former PM Theresa May's Race Disparity Audit.

Mr Johnson later told broadcasters ministers had acted on Mr Lammy's report, adding "what we want to do is learn very fast what fresh changes we need to make".

He said: "The whole point of having a review is to look at the areas where people feel that there's more that needs to be done.

"So for instance we have already acted on the Lammy report, we did stuff to and we will continue to do more to ensure that, for instance, young black males who are involved in crime don't automatically get moved to prosecution."

A government report in February outlined progress in response to the Lammy Review, including recommending a "deferred prosecution" model providing interventions before pleas are entered rather than after.

It said the Ministry of Justice had partnered with two police forces - North West London and West Yorkshire - to pilot such a scheme.

What work has already been done on racial inequality in the UK?

  • The Race Disparity Audit, published by then Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017, showed inequalities between ethnicities in educational attainment, health, employment and treatment by police and the courts
  • The 2017 Lammy Review found evidence of bias and discrimination against people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the justice system in England and Wales
  • Also in 2017, the McGregor-Smith Review of race in the workplace found people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were still disadvantaged at work and faced lower employment rates than their white counterparts
  • An independent review of the Windrush scandal, published in March, found the Home Office showed "institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race"

BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said the commission would be run out of the Cabinet Office and report to the prime minister, and would be asked to finish its work by Christmas.

It will be overseen by Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, with independent members on the panel. Its chair is yet to be identified.

There are expected to be public evidence sessions and legislation may follow.

However, critics have suggested the recommendations of previous reviews should be implemented in full before new ones are carried out.

Conservative peer Baroness McGregor Smith carried out a review for the government on race in the work place, published in 2017.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World at One, she urged the government to endorse mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting.

"Unless we start talking about economic inequality and pay in the workplace we won't move forward, and I really wish the new race commission well and I hope they take a look at that in a very serious way."

Media caption,
Racism in the UK: 'I feel like an alien'

Earlier, David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said "urgent action" on racial inequality was needed and he hoped the commission would deliver a "comprehensive race strategy with clear targets".

Lord Simon Woolley, founder of Operation Black Vote and the advisory chair of the government's Race Disparity Unit, said the commission must lead to structural change to tackle the inequalities in employment, health and education laid bare by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, former chancellor Sajid Javid said in a tweet the commission was welcome but "shining a light on injustice isn't enough".

Labour also criticised the prime minister for his language, after he told broadcasters he wanted to "change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination".

Shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova described this as "condescending" and "designed to let himself and his government off the hook".

Lord Woolley said the phrase was "frankly unhelpful… unnecessary and to some hurtful".

Liberal Democrat equalities spokesperson Christine Jardine said the commission's findings "must not become simply another report on a shelf in Whitehall".

Meanwhile, a survey of people's attitudes to race carried out during recent protests suggests people are increasingly optimistic the UK will become more tolerant and diverse in 10 years' time.

Two thirds of people surveyed by Ipsos Mori said they were more optimistic, up from half in 2009. And 84% strongly disagreed when asked if someone has to be white to be truly British - up from 55% a decade earlier.