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Audit launched to reveal ‘difficult truths’ of racial discrimination in public services

The prime minister has announced a new audit to review whether black and ethnic minority (BME) groups are suffering discrimination because of public services.

A new dedicated Whitehall unit, situated in the Cabinet Office and reporting jointly to Sajid Javid, the secretary for communities and local government, and Ben Gummer, the minister for the Cabinet Office, will seek to gather more systematic and transparent data on racial disparities in public service outcomes.

Existing data shows, among other concerns, that ethnic minority households are twice as likely to live in relative poverty as white households, and pupils from a black Caribbean background are three times more likely to be permanently excluded from school.

Theresa May said: “When I stood on the steps of Downing Street on my first day, I made clear that I believe in a United Kingdom by every definition – and that means the government I lead will stand up for you and your family against injustice and inequality.

“Today, I am launching an audit to look into racial disparities in our public services that stretches right across government. It will highlight the differences in outcomes for people of different backgrounds, in every area from health to education, childcare to welfare, employment, skills and criminal justice.

“This audit will reveal difficult truths, but we should not be apologetic about shining a light on injustices as never before. It is only by doing so we can make this country work for everyone, not just a privileged few.”

UN report warns of ‘institutional racism’

A report from the United Nations Committee on Racial Discrimination on the UK, published last week, found that people of African descent in Britain “face institutional racism in their enjoyment of rights, including the specific areas of concern mentioned in the present concluding observations, such as health, employment, education, ‘stop and search’ practices and the criminal justice system”.

It recommended that the UK government adopts a national action plan to tackle the problem.

It also found that gypsy, Roma and traveller communities “continue to face exclusion and discrimination in the fields of health, education, housing and employment”.

The report said that government plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights could lead to weakened protection for ethnic minorities’ rights.

In addition, the committee said that the “independence and effective operation” of human rights institutions in the UK should not be threatened by spending cuts.

It found that the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has been reduced following the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and because of an overlap of its powers with the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

The report drew a link between the 57% increase in reports of hate crimes following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and rhetoric from political leaders.

It said leading campaigners in the run-up to the referendum had “not only failed to condemn” divisive rhetoric, “but also created and entrenched prejudices, thereby emboldening individuals to carry out acts of intimidation and hate towards ethnic or ethno-religious minority communities and people who are visibly different”.

Furthermore, the committee said that the new obligation under the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015 for public bodies to prevent individuals from being drawn into extremism had “created an atmosphere of suspicion towards members of Muslim communities”.

It also raised concerns about detention of immigrants without a time limit and detention of immigrant children and the impact of legal aid cuts on ethnic minorities.

Angela Rayner MP, shadow minister for women and equalities, said that the audit was “only a partial review” because it did not cover the private sector.

“This government has been told time and again by repeated reports from the United Nations to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, exactly where the problems are,” she said. “We don’t need an audit, we need action to stamp out racial discrimination across the board. This is political posturing and positioning by Theresa May, we don’t need any more analysis – we need action.”

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