It’s a New Year and a new chance for change, which must be at the top of the political agenda for 2018. On diversity and economic inclusion, we learnt a lot in 2017. The UK Government released a mountain of statistics showing the gulf between the way different ethnicities and genders are treated in their interactions with the public sector while, tragically, the Grenfell fire gave us a horrifically stark illustration of the ethnic and economic divisions still prevalent in Britain today. Arguably, these divisions have been amplified by the ever-tightening squeeze on public finances and the increasingly precarious jobs market. Both factors have added more bricks to the walls put in front of those from poor and ethnic minority backgrounds.
2017 was also a year of disappointment. After her maiden speech as Prime Minister there was genuine hope that Theresa May would re-write the Tory playbook and work to deliver a more inclusive and fair Britain. To date, there’s been scant evidence of progress on this front. For some the inaction has proved too much. In December the government’s ‘social mobility advisor’, Alan Milburn, walked out in protest at the lack of progress followed by his entire team. A New Year it seems hasn’t brought the PM the change she was hoping for, unfortunately her so called New Year “diversity reshuffle” turned out to be an embarrassing fiasco which left us with more of the same.
But if the lack of progress on economic inclusion is stark, the lack of ethnic diversity in our political and commercial spheres is equally concerning. Tottenham MP David Lammy’s review of our criminal justice system also revealed the unjust discrimination faced by men of color and their disproportionate incarceration levels. The lack of diversity at all levels of society and in all sectors, has caused a huge disconnect in our country A disconnect that is now symbolised by the tragedy of Grenfell, symptomised by the disaffection of many, and radicalisation of the few. This is an area I have been researching for close to two years. New data from research I carried out in partnership with Oxford University and The LSE – presented in my new book Diversify - suggests that there is a far greater cost to individuals across society than previously accepted. Women, and men from ethnic minority groups, would have extra incomes totalling an extra £127 billion a year, or £9,300 per person, if their incomes matched those of White British men.
This is a crisis which Jeremy Corbyn has rightly highlighted and capitalised on, as a lifelong Labour voter and supporter, I don’t believe this only has to be a left wing issue. Why can’t the Conservatives fulfill the rhetoric of their leader and also be the party of equality and opportunity? Clearly her reign as PM will be defined by Brexit but there is space for her to leave a parallel legacy, one which could have a real difference on the lives of millions of Britons. It could also raise her reputation globally. Part of Britain’s new global position could be as a bastion of equality and diversity. Few countries in the world can boast such a diverse society – we must show the world that such diversity can be nurtured and empowered for the good of the country and the people themselves.
Her predecessor’s legacy may also have been defined by Brexit but David Cameron’s personal intervention in pushing through same-sex marriage, and his government’s drive to prioritise and mainstream mental health, are policies he is rightly commended for. Theresa May, by pushing diversity, could achieve even greater results and help cement a legacy which goes beyond Brexit. Her precarious position as leader seems, in the last months of 2017 to have been strengthened. This is the year for her to rediscover her ambition.
So, what does bold look like? Firstly we need to see clear goals and targets with an achievable deadline. Just as the UN has its Sustainable Development Goals the UK needs its own Diversity Inclusion Goals. To those who have an aversion to goals and targets, we had a target to get net migration down to the tens of thousands which seemed to be popular with many, albeit unrealistic. Let’s now have some realistic goals and targets about how we enable all of our citizens to contribute to the best of their ability. A goal to build diverse communities where social and private housing are built side by side with comparable safety, services and opportunity. A goal to attribute greater status to home making and childrearing activity through accreditation and making this an option available to all genders. A goal to extend suffrage to 16-year olds with greater opportunity for civic and political participation for young people.
These may seem simplistic to some but sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most effective. We can no longer just talk about this problem without offering potential solutions. We are at a cross-roads as a nation, what do we want post-Brexit Britain to look like? I would argue for a truly inclusive and diverse Britain, with equal opportunity as our target and not just a talking point.
June’s book Diversify is out now - visit the website to find out more.