In 2012, Nick Clegg appointed a taskforce charged with identifying effective measures to tackle inequality, discrimination and under‐representation affecting black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and individuals. The taskforce, chaired by Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece and including Baroness Floella Benjamin, launched its report last week, focusing in particular on education and employment. They also call for Liberal Democrats to “oppose all attempts to weaken the Equality Act, and further to demand full implementation of the act,” which is what has grabbed the headlines. However, there is much more in the report which deserves equal attention and I would hope could provide the basis for some cross-party consensus. The full report can be found here.
Personally I was particularly struck by the stark statistic that while 4 per cent of public-sector employers were likely to have discriminated on the basis of race, this compared with 35 per cent of private-sector employers. At a time when the government is hell bent on putting as much as possible of the public sector into private hands this is deeply disturbing.
The report makes 30 recommendations including taking particular account of the discrimination faced by Gypsy Roma and Traveller children; ensuring that the school curriculum reflects the cultural diversity of the country; reviewing the use of exclusion, and requiring all universities to be transparent about selection criteria. In terms of employment it calls for more ethnic monitoring of apprenticeships, the creation of a national mentoring scheme, for the government as the UK’s major purchaser to use its leverage to motivate the private sector to promote race equality.
The conference to launch the report, jointly organised by Ethnic Minority Lib Dems and the Social Liberal Forum, heard from Vince Cable, Professor Gus John, ex-Charlton Athletic player Paul Mortimer from Show Racism the Red Card, Dr Rob Berkeley director of the Runnymede Trust, and senior police officer Leroy Logan. For a more detailed report on the day read Lester Holloway’s account.
I was particularly challenged by Gus John, someone who has been an icon for anyone involved in work with young people over the last 40 years. “Because of what you (the Lib Dems) profess, you have a particular responsibility to guard, uphold and advance an agenda that’s about equality and social justice. We struggle to put race on the political agenda in this country, and to this day it is not central to the concerns of politicians. Decade after decade certain things remain constant; the number of people excluded from school, the ethnic disproportionality, the number of those stopped and searched by the police.”
I attended the breakout group on education addressed by two members of the taskforce, Ruwan Uduwerage Perera and Anuja Prashar.
Ruwan, a former general secretary of the National Black Police Association, suggested it was time to revisit the 2006 Leitch Review of Skills. He told us that deviance drops with a more educated police force and yet there is no minimum educational requirement to become a police officer. He reminded us that class could not be discounted as a contributory factor in discrimination and also called for an end to the division between vocational and academic qualifications. He also challenged the party: “[The Lib Dems are] an educated party but not actually expanding that education”.
Anuja identified the biggest problem in underachievement was that teachers were ill-equipped and reinforced the need to educate the educator. She emphasised the importance of identity for all young people and questioned what the education system was doing to nurture a sense of belonging. She called on the party to recognise that our focus should be on pluralism “which is the only thing that empowers integration”.
For me, while I found the whole day challenging and inspiring in equal measure, it was Anuja’s focus on identity that has stayed with me. As someone who has recently started fostering, understanding issues of identity is seen as vital in caring for looked-after children. It’s a long time since I did my teacher training, so I don’t know how much the issue of identity features in current training, but it is clearly an issue that we all have a responsibility to consider if we are to, as Anuja suggests, nurture a sense of belonging in all our young people.
Linda Jack is a member of the Parliamentary Policy Committee for Education, Young People and Families, and former member of the Federal Policy Committee