John Bald: Birbalsingh is the ideal choice to champion social mobility

10 Sep

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Vice-President of the Conservative Education Society.

Last week’s leak of the government’s intention to appoint Katharine Birbalsingh, headmistress of Michaela Community School as Chair of the Social Mobility Commission is very good news. With Sir Michael Wilshaw, who got significant numbers of Mossbourne pupils into Cambridge, and the late Sir Rhodes Boyson, who got substantial numbers of GCE O Level passes in a secondary modern school when this was thought impossible, she is among a tiny handful of people who have actually made an impact on the problem.

The biggest driver of social mobility in living memory was the second world war, which opened opportunities for people to gain technical skills, for example as radio operators, followed by the expansion of grammar schools in the 1944 Education Act. Most grammar school places went to the children of middle-class parents, but there were enough for others to give them access to universities and polytechnics. This in turn led to higher salaries and the move from rented housing to owner-occupation, which remains the bedrock of the Conservative vote. Small wonder that Corbyn’s Labour abandoned social mobility, as incompatible with its goal of imposed equality.

Birbalsingh – @Miss_Snuffy on Twitter – will have a more difficult task. Labour’s reckless over-expansion of universities has created a graduate glut that requires careful navigation for new entrants. A friend’s granddaughter has just gone from Oxford to a £60k traineeship with a city solicitor, but for too many others the main return on their investment has been a debt that makes it much harder to save a deposit for a house. Mobility in these conditions requires excellence, and most of the education sector is still dominated by people who see excellence as elitism, and do their best to fight it.

The response of the progressives and woke to two excellent Conservative-led reports earlier this year illustrates the problem. Dr Tony Sewell’s report on Race and Ethnic Disparities, and the Select Committee’s on the underachievement of White working-class pupils, identify issues and pinch-points clearly, and offer practical ways forward. Among the most important are the DfE’s Family Hubs, designed to offer integrated support to families who most need it at the earliest possible stage, and the Sewell Commission’s proposal for “Safeguarding Trust” groups to increase community involvement with the police.

Both reports hit hard on the real issues facing disadvantaged people, and neither will make comfortable reading for the government. But the Sewell Commission, all but one of whose members is from a minority ethnic background, has been hammered by the woke for its specific rejection of its agenda, while the Select Committee, whose chair, Robert Halfon MP, is often seen as an ally of government opponents, suffered a rare negative vote on its report, because Labour members wanted to pin everything on austerity.

Both responses are bunkum. All but one of the members of the Sewell Commission are from minority ethnic backgrounds, and Sewell’s point that Black and Minority Ethnic people do not constitute a homogenous group is confirmed, both by his report, and by the woke’s reaction.  The Select Committee’s view is also sustained by facts. White working class pupils are by far the largest disadvantaged group, and so cannot be seen as privileged.  By insisting that they are, the woke repeat the errors of Marx and Engels in the 1850s, who assumed that the working class was a single entity. The Labour Select Committee members, who were defeated on a wrecking amendment to the report, are merely repeating a mantra – austerity, austerity, austerity.

In essence, we have a conflict between carefully targeted action and angry slogans. Above all, on the conservative side of the argument, we have Michaela, which remains the government’s most important achievement in education and a beacon of hope. Katharine Birbalsingh is a winner, and must be backed.

Is racism in Britain increasing?

21 Jul

Lewis Hamilton became the target of racist abuse on social media on Sunday after winning the British Grand Prix, while a week earlier Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Sako were targetted following England’s defeat by Italy in the final of Euro 2020.

Such disgraceful incidents provoke the fear that racism is on the increase.

But it would be a great mistake to imagine that what happens in the lawless spaces of social media provides a true reflection of what is happening in wider society.

The letters column in a traditional newspaper has an editor, whose tasks include preventing that space from being infiltrated and taken over by racists, or other disgusting people, who set out to pollute debate and drive out reasonable contributors, the latter coming to feel they have better things to do than wrestle in the mud.

To work out whether racism is increasing or diminishing, it makes more sense to start with some polling carried out last summer:

“New research from Ipsos MORI shows that the British public have become avowedly more open-minded in their attitudes towards race since the mid-2000s. However, seven in ten still think there is at least a fair amount of tension in Britain between people of different races and nationalities, and there are concerns about inequalities in public services, the police and politics.

“The vast majority, 89%, claim they would be happy for their child to marry someone from another ethnic group, and 70% strongly agree. This is an improvement from January 2009, when 75% said they would be happy overall, and 41% strongly.

“Similarly, the vast majority (93%, nearly all of them strongly disagreeing at 84%) disagree with the statement that, “to be truly British you have to be White”. In October 2006, 82% disagreed,  55% strongly. The proportion who agree with the statement has fallen from 10% to 3% in the last 14 years.”

This encouraging picture was confirmed in March 2021 in the Sewell Report, issued by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was chaired by Tony Sewell, pictured at the top of this article.

All but one of the ten members of the commission were from ethnic minority backgrounds, yet they found themselves accused of setting out “to whitewash the problems of racism in Britain”.

The row which blew up at the time of publication obscured the many astute observations in the actual report, too numerous to be summarised here, or indeed in the news coverage.

The Commission pointed to the “many instances of success among minority communities”, observed that family is often “the foundation stone” for this success, and went on to remark that family breakdown “is one of the main reasons for poor outcomes” in some communities:

“This Commission finds that the big challenge of our age is not overt racial prejudice, it is building on and advancing the progress won by the struggles of the past 50 years. This requires us to take a broader, dispassionate look at what has been holding some people back. We therefore cannot accept the accusatory tone of much of the current rhetoric on race, and the pessimism about what has been and what more can be achieved.”

As the Commission found,

“All the data tells us that the UK is far more open to minority advancement than 50 years ago. And while some doors at the top remain hard to lever open, people from some minority backgrounds are successfully taking up opportunities. In fact, as of 2019, the ethnicity pay gap – taking the median hourly earnings of all ethnic minority groups and the White group – is down to just 2.3% and the White Irish, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups are on average earning notably more than the White British average.”

But this should not be taken to mean that all is well:

“Overt and outright racism persists in the UK. Examples of it loom larger in our minds because we witness it not just as graffiti on our walls or abuse hurled across our streets, but also in the more private setting of our phones and tablets. The rise of social media platforms mean racist incidents can go viral in hours. What is too often dismissed as ‘trolling’ means many prominent ethnic minority people routinely receive racist abuse from people who cannot be traced and held to account.

“Making anonymous abuse harder online is a complex issue but should be a public policy priority. Speech resonates long after it is heard. Being made to feel that you do not belong, that no matter how patriotic, law-abiding and hard-working you are, you can be treated differently because of your skin colour, stands against everything this country holds dear. A multi-ethnic democracy like ours cannot function properly if people can denigrate their fellow citizens in such deplorable terms on the grounds of their race.”

It has become clear that social media platforms have to be held responsible for the material they publish. In the beginning, they abolished editors, which seemed like a liberation.

Editors, after all, were quite often excessively restrictive, and yielded to the temptation to spike letters which showed up the perfidy, or stupidity, or inaccuracy of whatever the newspaper had reported.

Then an aggrieved correspondent would have to try to get a hearing in some rival publication.

In those days racists could not just press a button on a keyboard and send direct to its target, under the cloak of anonymity, whatever vile abuse had just occurred to them.

The editorial function is now being rediscovered – with reluctance, for it costs money – by the providers of social media platforms.

So it seems likely that they will soon be able to prevent such easy distribution of racist slurs.

But that will not be the end of the matter. The question will remain of how far racism has been eradicated, and how far it has merely been suppressed, or driven underground.

It is possible that by purifying the internet, we shall create a perverse incentive, at least in yobbish minds which regard themselves as oppressed, and yearn to shock respectable opinion by somehow contriving to publish racist obscenities.

When I lived in Germany in the 1990s, there were a few marginalised thugs who knew the most shocking thing they could do was to declare their support for the Nazis, so duly did so.

And when I have reported on opinion in Britain’s pubs, I have sometimes found anger about unrestricted immigration, and restricted free speech, as in this piece for ConHome from 2014, attempting to account for the surge in support for UKIP.

If such concerns had been reported earlier and more prominently, it is possible that in 2004 Tony Blair would have decided not to risk allowing immediate, unrestricted immigration from newly acceded members of the European Union such Poland.

Racism should not be thought of as a problem that is worse in Britain than elsewhere. A study in 2019 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights on ‘Being Black in the EU’ revealed, the Sewell Report pointed out,

“the percentage of Black respondents who experienced racial harassment in the past 5 years. The figure was 63% in Finland, 52% in Luxemburg, 51% in Ireland, 48% in both Germany and Italy, and 41% in both Sweden and Denmark. In comparison, 21% of Black British respondents reported such harassment, the second-lowest result in the countries surveyed. The UK had the lowest figure for Black respondents who experienced discrimination in job-seeking, education (either themselves or as parents), health, housing, public administration or other public or private services such as restaurants, bars or shops within the past 12 months.”

After thanking the mainly young people behind the Black Lives Matter movement for “focussing our attention once again on these issues”, the authors of the Sewell Report went on:

“But most of us come from an older generation whose views were formed by growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. And our experience has taught us that you do not pass on the baton of progress by cleaving to a fatalistic account that insists nothing has changed.”

Much has changed for the better, and sometimes the obsessive urge to define people in racial terms seems all wrong, as Matthew Parris explained in a recent piece for The Spectator:

“The dream for which my family fought in what was then Rhodesia is now not so much unfashionable as forgotten. The ‘dream’, I mean, of multiracialism; a growing irrelevance of skin colour or ethnic origins; the gradual convergence of the world’s peoples; the building on our planet of a shared culture, shared values, a shared membership of our human race; and a slow but steady dissolving of our differences.”

Most of us can at least agree that being British is a political, not a racial characteristic; as I argued in my last, unmemorably tactful attempt to tackle this subject for ConHome.

A big question for libertarians: what would they do about obesity?

17 Jul

In the last few days, there’s been a lot of discussion about the latest instalment of the The National Food Strategy. Commissioned in 2019 by the Government, and put together by Henry Dimbleby, the co-founder of Leon, it contains radical proposals as to how to tackle the nation’s obesity rates.

Some of its most controversial suggestions are that we need salt and sugar taxes, that the NHS should prescribe vegetables and everyone should eat less meat. Hardly anyone likes the last idea, but libertarians have been vexed by the whole strategy – viewing it as the latest example of the nanny state gone mad.

Having combed through Dimbleby’s report (the second of a two-part strategy – intended to shape legislation in England, but also recommended for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), it seems to me that much of the criticism has been unfair.

For starters, the document is 289 pages in length, so it’s a little ungenerous to write it off in one day. The reactions reminded me of when members of the Left immediately dismissed the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, which is 258 pages, on the basis of a few passages.

Some of the stereotypes about Dimbleby, too – that he’s a rich bloke, like Jamie Oliver, telling us plebs what to do – don’t add up, especially in the context of the report. Far from being bossy, large parts of it are about nature and ecosystems. And where it makes recommendations about food, it acknowledges the challenges for those on low incomes, whom it advises the Government to support more.

On a more serious note, the report has not come about because rich blokes have run out of hobbies. It’s an attempt to tackle a complex but devastating issue: the UK’s rising obesity rates. It points out that one in three people over 45 in England are now deemed clinically obese. You have to wonder sometimes if we have desensitised to these facts and our situation, despite all the warning signs (as the report points out, “[o]ur obesity problem has been a major factor in the UK’s tragically high death rate” from Covid-19).

There are many other things you could say about this report, but for the sake of one article, I have one question: what is the libertarian answer to obesity rates? Because at the moment it appears to be “do nothing” or sneer at the baddies who want to take away our Kellogg’s Cornflakes. Dimbleby and Oliver may not have the perfect answers, but what is our solution exactly?

I count myself as fairly libertarian, incidentally, but obesity is an area that challenges this philosophy. That’s because scientists have increasingly found that weight has a heritable component, meaning people have differing levels of willpower with diets. As the report spells out: “not all appetites are the same… in an environment where calories are easy to come by, some of us need to work much harder than others to maintain a healthy weight. You have to swim against the powerful current of your appetite.”

This corroborates with findings from Robert Plomin, one of the world’s leading experts in behavioural genetics, and author of the book Blueprint: How DNA makes us who we are. He points out that: “Twin studies estimate heritability of weight as 80 per cent, even though all the genetic data together estimate heritability as 70 per cent.”

In short, people are on different starting points when it comes to how easily they can control their weight (and I say that as someone who has to swim hard against the current), hence why telling someone to use willpower doesn’t always work.

Genes are uncharted territory for libertarians because all of our arguments centre around personal responsibility, free will and individual choice. Of course, these are all important things and many of us reject how much lockdown has taken them away. But there’s a big difference between politicians telling people to wear masks, and how people cope in an environment that encourages overeating, which our society does, especially should they have a predisposition to gain weight. We have to make those distinctions.

Even if we ignore research on genes – some people will say that my argument is fatalistic, wrong and that choice is paramount – it’s here and has already been embedded into public policy. Since 2019, the NHS has sold people genetic tests to spot risk for cancers and dementia. People underestimate how easily these tests can be extended into completely new areas (a test to estimate your risk for obesity), which could then be used to justify preventative measures.

While Dimbleby mentions genes creating differences in eating habits, it’s interesting that the report doesn’t delve much into medicine’s role in addressing obesity rates. Yes, the NHS could prescribe vegetables. But we have also seen drugs developed to help prevent obesity, and even a contraption that stops people’s mouths opening properly.

While I find the latter a rather horrible prospect, I think drugs and other medical solutions (gastric bands, for instance) will become more common and less controversial in years to come – the more we test the “willpower argument”, sugar tax, and move very little on obesity rates.

Ultimately, I don’t think The National Food Plan will make any substantial difference, as – shock, horror – it’s not radical enough. It’s also overly romantic in places, suggesting that school cooking lessons are part of the answer (as someone who did Home Economics for two years, I can’t remember any of the recipes. Boys messing around, however…).

But the report gets it right about environmental triggers and how these correspond with genes. And it has, at least, drawn attention to the urgent situation we are in. A situation to which the libertarian response cannot continue to be – as it seems currently – “let them eat cake”.

Local authorities should not be funding lobby groups such as the Runnymede Trust

12 Apr

Last week saw the publication of the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, sometimes dubbed the Sewell Report. It is an interesting and important piece of work from an impressive panel and offers detailed recommendations based on thorough research. It is proper that it should be scrutinised and debated. Yet the response from of its critics amounted to little more than abuse and wilful misrepresentation. BBC broadcasts announced that “racial equality campaigners” were greatly dismayed by the report – thus giving a sly implication that the report must be against racial equality. The consideration that the credentials of Tony Sewell and his fellow commissioners in fighting racism are rather stronger than those of their BBC critics, was overlooked.

One of those the BBC was keen to quote was Halima Begum, the chief executive of the Runnymede Trust. If the BBC wanted an emphatic and rapid condemnation, rather than something more nuanced or considered, then they could rely on the Runnymede Trust to produce the goods. But the BBC’s audience was presented with the message that the response was impartial and expert – rather than entirely predictable and contrived. A report in The Times offers rather more context:

“The director of a charity that called for the government to retract the Sewell race report has branded Boris Johnson an “entitled Bullingdon Club brat”.

“The Runnymede Trust, under Halima Begum, has been a strident critic of the government. It has joined legal action accusing it of cronyism for handing three key coronavirus-related jobs to politically connected figures.

“It has also attacked the report by Dr Tony Sewell on race relations, released last month. Critics of the long-established charity have questioned whether it has been “hijacked” by socialists.

“Begum, 45, a Labour Party member, has described the report as “entirely lacking in credibility”. The trust helped to co-ordinate a public letter this week calling for the government to “repudiate the commission’s findings immediately and withdraw its report”. The letter states that “signatures from politicians and political party representatives will not be accepted in this open letter to preserve its political neutrality”.

“Begum is open about her political leanings. She became chief executive of the trust last September after standing as a prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour in Poplar & Limehouse in the 2019 general election campaign. She failed to make the selection shortlist but campaigned for Labour.”

Begum has also attacked Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, as an “Islington-born millionaire one-percenter”. Other staff members on the Trust had previously worked for Labour MPs.

A leader in The Times says:

“The suspicion must be that the trust’s response was prepared in advance rather than on the evidence, and with a political subtext…

“In a further indication of its priorities, the trust joined a venture last year called the Good Law Project, which sought to sue the government over its appointment of three senior figures in its response to the pandemic, accusing it of nepotism. These appointees included Kate Bingham, who has achieved success in heading the government’s vaccine task force. The project itself has nothing to do with the trust’s stated objectives.”

The Runnymede Trust refutes claims of being partisan by stating that it is responsible for “holding” the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community. The Group does include the Conservative MPs Helen Grant and Sir Peter Bottomley and the Tory peer, Lord Sheikh. But its Chairman is the Labour MP Clive Lewis who sent a highly offensive tweet about the Sewell Report.

This saga should caution local authorities against given credence – and their Council Taxpayers money – to assorted lobby groups. The Runnymede Trust is by no means the worst offender. We also have Stonewall, an increasingly extremist outfit with its creepy demands to promote transgenderism in primary schools. Councils wishing to embrace virtue signalling via box-ticking find such associations tempting. What’s a few thousand pounds out of a budget running to hundreds of millions? In return, they can win an award or be recognised as “partners” or “champions” and display a logo with some mushy tautology about “valuing values” or “being positive about positivity.”

“Our Greenwich Race Equality Scorecard was commissioned by the borough,” says the Runnymede Trust. An earlier one was produced for Croydon Council. Some funding was provided for that from the Trust for London (which is supposed to assist the work of the Church of England.) But it was also carried out in “partnership” with Croydon BME Forum – which is funded by Croydon Council.

While council officials in Croydon spend time and money on such reports, they show less priority for repairs on their housing estates. The film below indicates the scale of the neglect. It so happens that the tenants interviewed are black. Evidence of institutional racism? Probably not. More likely Croydon Council treats all its tenants equally badly. A proud boast…

 

 

 

 

Emily Carver: ‘White privilege’ and other forms of identity politics are dividing our society. It’s time to speak out.

7 Apr

Emily Carver is Head of Media at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

There’s nothing more tedious than scrolling through Instagram when it gets political. The usual selfies, photos of dodgy culinary creations and snaps of friends and family are replaced overnight with social justice infographics, anti-Tory soundbites and demands to check one’s privilege.

Last summer, Instagram became the platform for discussions about racism and how to tackle it. What began as legitimate outrage over what appeared to be the killing of an unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis soon morphed into a toxic – and largely one-sided – debate around ill-defined concepts such as “white privilege” and “white fragility”.

For days, scrolling the platform meant sifting through a barrage of statements on how “white silence is violence”, recommended reading lists for white people to re-educate themselves (all of them including Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, of course), and influencers issuing public apologies for failing to adequately display support for the Black Lives Matter movement (it’s not enough to be non-racist, you must be “anti-racist”, so the saying goes). Anything short of total self-flagellation appeared unacceptable to the vocal Insta-mob.

It was against this febrile atmosphere that an interaction with an acquaintance turned sour. The man in question had reached out to his followers for advice on how to teach his young child about her “white privilege”. Perhaps foolishly, I responded that he could instead teach his child not to judge people based on their skin colour. Radical, I know. However, as I half-expected, this was akin to blasphemy and was met with an instant “how dare you”, “embarrassing response” and “easy for you to say in your privileged white position”. When I didn’t bite back, I was blocked. Slightly bruised by the reaction, I decided to delete the app – albeit temporarily.

Given the contempt with which reasonable suggestions can be met, it’s not surprising that many people simply choose to remove themselves from these discussions. There are many who believe as a white person, I shouldn’t express an opinion on such matters. But when so many of our institutions have fallen hook, line, and sinker for identity politics, indulging in and perpetuating pseudo-scientific theories of “white privilege”, critical race theory and unconscious bias training, it is critical that people put their head above the parapet, however uncomfortable it may be.

Dubious literature furthering ideas of this sort has already been widely shared and used as teaching material in our primary and secondary schools, shedding plenty of heat but not much light on what are undoubtedly important issues. Now, we have got to the stage where even nursery teachers may soon be trained in “understanding white privilege”. As reported in The Times, The Early Years Coalition, which represents tens of thousands of nurseries and other providers, is now advocating a shift away from a “colour-blind approach to race”, so children “recognise racist behaviours and develop anti-racist views”.

But how exactly, one might ask, will encouraging toddlers to “see race” achieve anything but division? And were the Conservative MPs who criticised the advice not right to warn that it risks early years learning “becoming some kind of political Soviet indoctrination session”? Perhaps my aforementioned Insta-pal can enlighten me as to where I’m going wrong.

While some of the immediate indignation has subsided from the conversation around Black Lives Matter on Instagram, the ugliness in the debate around race in this country persists, with the release of last week’s race report revealing once again some of the tensions at play. Among many sensible recommendations, the report rejects critical race theory and terms such as “white privilege”.

The report’s authors, the majority of whom come from an ethnic minority background, were consequently bullied, racially abused and told they were “part of the problem” by those who disagreed with their conclusions. The report did conclude that there is still racism in Britain and it must be taken seriously but, crucially, that there is not enough evidence to conclude that the country as a whole is “institutionally racist” and that other factors, such as social class and family structure, also play as much, if not more, of a part in how people’s lives turn out.

To many, of all ethnicities, this report was a welcome intervention. It sought to take a nuanced look at ethnic disparities in this country in order to come up with evidence-based solutions to some of the challenges facing different minority groups. The report was not a “whitewash”, as some critics have said, but a challenge to the widely-held mistruth that any difference in outcome across ethnic groups is purely down to discrimination. This was met by accusations of “gaslighting” minorities from some of the most vocal people in the media, politics and academia, including a number of prominent Labour MPs who sought to undermine the entire 260-page report – not least, Clive Lewis who compared the report’s authors to the Ku Klux Klan in what was a rather ill-judged tweet, to put it mildly.

There is a vocal minority of people in Britain who dominate discussions in the media, and seem determined to import the racially-charged culture we see in the US. However, the picture in this country is complex and the parallels we can draw are limited, not least because of our dramatically different histories. It is working-class white boys who are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to educational outcomes. And while black Caribbean children are also underachieving at school, the data shows pupils of black African heritage are doing better (though, of course, there are huge discrepancies within these categories too). It reinforces why there is more to racial disparities than simply shouting “racism” – however unfashionable in our current climate it may be to say so.

It is likely that the Government suspected the report would be met by a level of outrage and, in the coming weeks and months, it will consider the recommendations in detail in order to inform policy. But, however much Conservatives may wish to write off the influence of social media and the contributions of the usual suspects as transient, unfortunately the belief that the UK is a racist country has taken a grip of many of our young people, including the highly educated. We must encourage critical thinking, especially when the conclusions we find don’t fit the current liberal woke orthodoxies. There is too little critical thinking in schools and far too much critical race theory and we will all suffer in the end, for it can only lead to division.

Claire Coutinho: In defence of this week’s race and disparities report

3 Apr

Claire Coutinho is MP for East Surrey.

Racism exists in this country; of course it does. And we must do all we can to combat it. However, if we want to close the gaps between how different ethnic minorities succeed in the UK then it is not enough to tackle racism; we must also take a clear-eyed look at why different racial outcomes happen.

The Sewell Report, from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, provides a data-rich analysis of ethnic minority disparities in Britain today. Overall, the scorecard is unquestionably one of progress. The Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, has repeatedly said that the UK is one of the best countries to be a person of colour and this is shown to be true.

The report references a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2019 which shows the percentage of British Black respondents who reported experiencing harassment is the second-lowest in the EU, less than half that of our neighbours in Ireland.

We also have the lowest percentage of Black respondents experiencing discrimination in housing, employment, education, health services, and restaurants, shops and bars. In education, the engine house of social mobility, ethnic minorities are now achieving extraordinary success, outperforming the national average in most cases. As we rightly look at what more we can do, it is important that we celebrate where we have made progress.

The data also shows us that the drivers of racial inequalities are complex. It is not the case that all racial inequalities are driven by racism or even that racism is the biggest driver of racial inequality. It tells us that the Government is right to ditch the catch-all term ‘BAME’. Simply being ‘non-white’ is no longer a major predictor of life chances and masks completely different pictures amongst different minorities.

Even within the category ‘Asian’, one of the clumsy ‘big five’ race labels of ‘White, Black, Asian, Mixed, Other’, outcomes are massively different for Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian people. Even amongst ‘Indians’, the urban middle-class Gujaratis and rural Mirpuri will again see extremely different outcomes.

If companies are filling their ‘BAME’ quotas with Indian and Chinese graduates from high-socio economic backgrounds, we should question whether they are in fact delivering the access to opportunity they are claiming. Because the data shows, it’s not the colour of your skin that is most likely to define your life chances in today’s Britain, but your geography, socio-economic background, and family.

The report is far from universally positive. When it comes to racism, both historic and current, it does not allow us to rest on our laurels. It acknowledges repeatedly that racism is a ‘real force’ in the UK and that ‘bias, bigotry and unfairness based on race may be receding, but they still have the power to deny opportunity and painfully disrupt lives.’

From prejudices in the labour market, to biases in facial recognition technology to incidences of racial hate crimes – which have dramatically fallen but are still too high, the Commission challenges us to use all the levers at our disposal to root out racism. It particularly highlights the rise in vile online racist abuse that Thierry Henry, Alex Beresford, or indeed many of the Commissioners of this report will know only too well.

Both the Left and the Right must show leadership here. Keir Starmer’s selective perception of racism doesn’t seem to extend to condemning Labour MPs linking the Sewell Report’s Commissioners to the Klu Klux Klan, but it should. It also shows us that we still have a damaging trust deficit to tackle in our criminal justice and health systems due to ugly legacies of discrimination. It calls for today’s perceptions of racial biases to be met with robust investigations so that we can rebuild trust where it previously has been broken.

However, if not all racial inequalities are primarily caused by racism, then we also need to look carefully at the other dominant factors. Having an accurate evidence-based diagnosis matters. It is the only route which will lead us to the policies that best help those who are falling behind.

It will affect policies designed to close the attainment gap in education that exists for Black Caribbean students, but not for the Black African students that share their classroom. It will affect how we break into the ‘snowy peaks’ in the civil service, NHS, and boardrooms, despite a wealth of ethnic minority talent. It will affect how to address why the average hourly pay rate is £11.87 if you are white British and £9.62 if you are Pakistani or Bangladeshi. It will affect how we address the mortality gap that exists for Black women of all socio-economic backgrounds in maternity services but not for breast cancer.

Different disparities will require us to design different solutions depending on the evidence. Take an example in education. The two lowest performing groups are Black Caribbean students and white working class boys. If family values of education and parental income and educational achievements are the dominant factor, as the evidence suggests, then we should spend more time on strengthening families, parental engagement, and focused programmes around these particular students.

Or take a different example in health. Low vaccine take-up in the black community has partly been caused by a legacy of deep-rooted mistrust in vaccines and health services because of historic discrimination. This cannot be overcome by Government alone and indeed it has been the collaboration and hard work of community leaders which have helped to halve the rate of vaccine hesitancy in black adults – although we still have more to do.

It should be noted that all but one of the Commissioners on the Sewell Report are from ethnic minorities, with expert in the fields of health, policing, and education..To express your expert view on how to make progress in inequality should not be a matter of courage, but it has become that. We owe them a debt of gratitude because their research has given us the springboard to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

If we can accurately diagnose the causes of racial inequality, we can design the policies that will help bring an end to it. As Conservatives, we need to unabashedly defend an evidence-led approach on racial inequality and relentlessly focus on improving outcomes. We owe that to the people and communities in this country whose ability to succeed is defined by anything other than their own hard work and talent.

Iain Dale: The Government’s race review had some positive findings. So why are ministers avoiding the media rounds?

2 Apr

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

The report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has certainly caused a lot of comment over the last 48 hours. Much of it has been ill-informed twaddle.

The number of people who castigated and slammed it within minutes of its release can’t possibly have read all of its 258 pages. They just jerked their knees in the time-honoured fashion.

Basically, the criticism was based on the fact that Boris Johnson had commissioned it, ergo it must be biased, useless or bad, or all three.

What its critics couldn’t stand is that it actually had some positive things to say about race relations in this country. And you know what? Those positive conclusions were based on fact.

Take educational achievement, for example. The report compared GCSE achievement for the different ethnic groups and found that all of them surpassed the achievements of white kids, with the one exception of children of black Caribbean backgrounds. Black Africans achieved higher exam grades, as did kids from Indian or Bangladeshi heritage.

The pay gap between white and ethnic minority employees has shrunk to just 2.3 per cent, and for the under 30s there is no gap at all. Now can someone please tell me why these two facts shouldn’t have been pointed out?

Race relations have come along way in the last twenty years in Britain. Can other countries say the same? America? France? I don’t think so. But it doesn’t suit the victim mentality of the Left to admit this. It suits their agenda to portray a Britain at war with itself over race.

The Left tried to keep the working classes in their place, almost as a client state of the Left. Margaret Thatcher exposed that and we’re now at a point where 47 per cent of working-class Brits vote Tory, and only 35 per cent vote Labour. The challenge for the Right is to break through among British Asians and in the Black vote. The opportunity is there, but the Left will fight it tooth and nail.

On the other side of the coin – you know I liked to be balanced – there is still a long way to go before many black or brown Britons feel they will get a fair crack of the whip, and the report rightly makes this clear. Equality in educational achievement may be a positive sign, but it’s still the case that black Caribbean kids are much more likely to be excluded from the classroom.

And in the workplace there is still a long way to go. Too many people feel they have to anglicise their names to get a fair crack of the whip.

You can’t ignore the evidence that you’re more likely to get a job interview if you’re called Michael Bookham, than if your name is Ndaboningi Nwoykoye or Mohammed Abdullah. All the surveys into this phenomenon show us that there is a conscious or subconscious bias present in many of our recruitment practices.

Look at the way we are policed. The same phenomenon is there in the policing and justice systems. Just examine the statistics and it becomes self-evident. To deny it is to deny that racism exists, whether it is institutional or not.

Britain as a country is not institutionally racist. Like in every other country, we have racists among us, and no doubt always will have. But the report was right to say that the UK is not institutionally rigged against ethnic minorities.

Indeed, the Commission members – all 12 of whom are from ethnic minorities, and people of stature in their own fields – were courageous to point that out, given they must have known that the Left would come for them.

I was disappointed that Lord Simon Woolley, the long-time campaigner for more black participation in the democratic system, called the report, or the authors of the report, “disingenuous”. Disagree with a report’s conclusions all you like, but it’s almost tantamount to accusing the commission’s members of being dishonest or having been bought off.

Over the last few years there have been no fewer than nine commissions or reports into different aspects of racial equality in this country. Most of them have sat on shelves gathering dust.

David Lammy complains that the 35 recommendations contained in his report into the criminal justice system have not been implemented. The Government say most of them have or are in the process of being implemented. And never the twain shall meet.

There are 24 conclusions and recommendations contained in this latest report. Admittedly most of them are fairly innocuous and minor, and to that extent I think it hasn’t been particularly brave.

But then again, Downing Street hasn’t been very brave either. It should have had ministers out on the airwaves on Wednesday, most especially Kemi Badenoch, the Equalities Minister.

If they think they’ve got a good story to tell, for God’s sake tell it. We put in a bid for her for my evening show on Wednesday. We got a straight “no” from Number 10 (as usual) on the basis that no one was doing media on it. Why the hell not?

If you commission a report you surely ought to be able to put up a minister to comment on its conclusions, especially as they were so benign. I say again, if the Government won’t talk about or explain its position, who the hell do they is going to do it for them?

The comms approach at Number 10 could be dubbed an Ostrich strategy. Stick your head in the sand and just make it all go away.

I had thought that when Dominic Cummings departed the stage, things would change. But they haven’t. Hey ho. Not my problem.

Mark Lehain: The end of unconscious bias training and Truss’s coming speech on equality – signs of a Ministerial anti-woke fightback.

16 Dec

Mark Lehain is Director of the Campaign for Common Sense, and the founder and former Principal of Bedford Free School.

Yesterday’s announcement that “unconscious bias training” (UBT) is being scrapped for civil servants is a very welcome one indeed.

UBT is perhaps the most conspicuous example of the kind of worrying thing that has crept into organisations in recent years under the guise of “equality and diversity”.

Obviously we want the workplace and elsewhere to be welcoming and supportive. First of all, it’s the right thing to do morally. It’s also the best way to ensure better performance: it makes it more likely that the widest possible pool of talent will want to work for you, and that as many customers as possible will buy your goods and services.

The issue with UBT and so many other “woke” approaches is that they actually do the opposite. They make it harder to have open and honest discussion between people, and create or deepen identity-based division and resentments.

This is because they take a very particular, quasi-religious, view on the world – everything is generally awful, due to the wrong people having power over everyone else – and insist that everyone adopts it. People who don’t buy into it are seen as part of the problem and heretical – and should be dealt with as such. History tells us that absolutist religions don’t make for happy countries, and “woke” workplaces are no different.

The good news is that UBT, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, doesn’t stand up to any kind of examination when you look at the evidence.

Indeed, it’s this paucity of supporting evidence that has allowed the civil service to make yesterday’s tactical retreat: in the Written Ministerial Statement announcing the end of UBT, it is said that “an internal review decided in January 2020 that unconscious bias training would be phased out in departments.” Yes, I’m sure it did…

(You’ll forgive me if I take this with a pinch of salt, given the enthusiasm with which senior civil servants were still pushing it as a response to the Black Lives Matters protests this summer. Still: Luke 15:7.)

So: the ending of UBT is a useful move in the right direction. But we shouldn’t consider it in isolation. Take a step back and it’s part of the broader move by the Government to rein in some of the more extreme politically correct excesses that went unchecked before.

In the past few months we’ve had the Department for Education remind schools of their obligation to teach political issues in a balanced way and Kemi Badenoch emphasise that Critical Race Theory shouldn’t be taught in schools as fact. Oliver Dowden told galleries and museums to not remove objects under pressure from activists. Liz Truss found a middle way through the minefield that is trans rights, and looks set to take the equality debate in a more consensual, small-c conservative direction with her speech tomorrow.

Then there’s the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. It’s quietly getting on with the job of examining what evidence – as opposed to emotions – tells us about why there are differences in outcomes between groups of people in health, education, etc. Its report on COVID disparities gives a good idea of the approach being taken.

Much recent Westminster gossip has focused on who is in or out with the Prime Minister, and what this means about the broader direction of the government. Well, it seems to me that the Cummings and goings have made little difference to the growing importance of using the evidence and existing law to take the heat out of the culture wars.

Some left-wing activists like to present this as a hard-right government stoking things up, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. All we’ve seen so far is politicians asking the public sector and taxpayer-funded organisations to keep their practice in line with existing law and public opinion, and focus on their core functions, not wokery.

There’s everything to gain from this approach too: less taxpayer cash will be wasted, performance should improve, and it’s very popular with the public too.

Yesterday’s move against Unconscious Bias Training was very conscious – we should hope for more of this kind of thing in the months ahead.