THE BLOG

Race Inequality Is Real, Whether We Choose to Recognise It or Not

04/12/2014 21:53 GMT | Updated 03/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Ethnic inequalities persist across England and Wales, in the leafy suburbs and quiet countryside as well as in relatively deprived urban areas with larger ethnic minority populations, according to research published this week.

A report by the Runnymede Trust and Manchester University shows that ethnic inequalities in education, employment and health remain stubbornly persistent while ethnic minorities experience housing inequalities in every local authority in the country.

London boroughs Lambeth and Haringey have the most ethnic inequality in the UK according to UK Census data, although less usual suspects Bristol, Wycombe and Ipswich are also among 20 worst local authorities to live if you're black or from an ethnic minority (BME) group in Britain today.

There are many who deny the continuing reality of racial discrimination in Britain today. In polite company the typical response to research such as [Local Ethnic Inequalities] is to point the inter-related issues of locality and class. It is true that Black and Asian people are more likely to live in disadvantaged urban areas, and many hold that it is this, rather than discrimination, that explains their worse outcomes, including the 12% employment gap and the 50% unemployment rate among young black men.

However, evidence that Chinese graduates earn less despite their higher educational qualifications and that Russell Group ethnic minorities have higher likelihood of being unemployed than their White British counterparts should have already dispelled the myth that racial discrimination is experienced only by the poor. And even for those who live in deprived areas, ethnic minorities often have worse outcomes than their white British peers, while moving to a better off area doesn't insulate them from disadvantage either.

There are some surprising findings in the report relating to areas with a notorious reputation on race relations, which tend to be poor, urban areas. For example, while Tower Hamlets has among the highest ethnic inequalities in Britain which perhaps confirms existing expectations and stereotypes; Bradford on the other hand has seen significant improvements. Meanwhile the rural area of Breckland in the east of England - with an ethnic minority population around half the English average - has seen worsening ethnic inequalities over this period. And even in urban areas, it's not only disadvantaged or diverse areas that experience high ethnic inequalities - Wandsworth is the 15th worst place to live for BME people.

What, then, explains these worsening outcomes in some areas? First is that policymakers have done very little to respond to ethnic inequalities. The ethnic minority Russell Group graduates that were found to have worse outcomes than their White British peers (even when controlling for degree choice and performance) were born in the early 1990s. Whatever benefits these graduates received from New Labour's 'education, education, education' mantra, their worse outcomes suggest that the Blair and Brown governments were far too hesitant in responding to discrimination at work. The current government's policies on housing in particular have further worsened ethnic inequalities, by introducing legislation that will likely encourage landlords to discriminate on grounds of ethnicity, and separate legislation allowing councils to exclude those with less than 5-10 years' residency, resulting in a sharp drop in those able to access social housing.

A second important reason for worsening inequalities in some areas is migration. On the one hand, new migrants often have lower wages than their White British counterparts, while the rhetoric on migration means that local and national government has little incentive to respond to migrant and refugee poverty.

These findings are published on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr's address to a 3,000 strong congregation at St Paul's Cathedral, on his way to collect the Nobel Peace Prize. His sermon at St Paul's, which is being commemorated with an event at St Paul's this evening, at which Baroness Doreen Lawrence is speaking, led to the foundation of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) in the UK in 1965. The reality of persisting inequality brought to light by this research is a stark reminder that even though Britain today is not a hotbed of racial hatred in the style of Alabama 50 years ago, BME people here still do not experience equal opportunities and outcomes.

The first step in ensuring that a third generation of British-born ethnic minorities doesn't experience the same imbalance is recognising the extent of these inequalities. It's no good to argue that race doesn't matter anymore, when all the evidence shows that BME people still experience disadvantage over every significant measurement of quality of life in Britain.

For a start, local governments that are stagnating or worsening need to learn from those seeing improvements for ethnic minorities. Local and national policymakers, employers and all of us must accept that further policies - including ethnic minority targets in the labour market and a strengthened living wage - are necessary to realise King's vision of true racial equality.