18 July 2011

StopWatch attends APG on Race and Community

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Jane Basham of Ipswich and Suffolk Council on Race Equality reports from the All Party Group on Race and the Community, 11th July 2011.

Several members of StopWatch Youth group from London and Suffolk attended the AGM of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Community and Race Relations on the 11 July. Trevor Phillips is the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission which replaced the Commission for Racial Equality in 2007. He was the main speaker; we were interested in how he saw Race equality today and wanted to ask him some questions.

Race still matters, he said and talked about how BME groups remain anchored to the bottom of society. Nonetheless, he felt public sentiment was changing in respect of race, and referred to the rise of far right groups like the British National Party (BNP) and) English Defense League (EDL) but that they were still very much at the margins and he hoped that would be where they stayed. He voiced the concern that if Britain does enter into a period of economic growth then we must be careful that we do not see a repeat of the 90’s when many Black and Minority Ethnic groups fell out of the labour market and stayed out.

In terms of recent equalities legislation he said that he believed we will start to see the strength of the equality legislation as a watershed. He spoke about the Commissions work within the construction industry for example, helping them address inequalities. He was also positive about the work the EHRC was conducting examining the impact of the spending review on equalities. He felt the Government’s approach to tackling the widening gap in social mobility was a good one and linked this to education and identity. However he indicated that work still needed to be done to make sure BME issues were addressed: such as BME people’s access to all professions and into business and so that their skills and expertise could be used and valued.

Trevor Phillips stated that a real challenge for the EHRC would be in making the public sector equality duties work. They need to establish how public services operate in a transparent way and are held to account by their communities. Increasing numbers of organisations providing public services means that this will be a challenge. He spoke about the importance of people being able to make their voice heard. He is in favour of localism and he commented that the

voluntary sector should be the eyes and ears of the Commission. In the context of the race equality sector he indicated it would need a new model to survive. Historically, he said, change has happened and things have been made better by looking for opportunities rather than looking at what is not working.

Then the questions flowed:

  • Where was the transparency in the Commissions decisions to only take action against 2 of the five forces identified in the ‘Stop and Think’ report? Why the Metropolitan Police were not part of that when they accounted for 100,000 of all the 150,000 extra Stop and Searches in the UK? In terms of the impact on communities this was massive and the person posing a follow up question felt that it was not good enough.

  • How were local communities involved in the EHRC decisions and able to hold their local police service to account?

  • Would the Commission provide a clearer definition of the term ‘due regard’ in the Equality Act and would they provide clarity on what is meant by the term ‘in exercise of a public function’?

  • What was his perspective on crime and the relationship with police, particularly in respect of violent knife crime?

  • What did he think about police tactics, how young people are policed and the significant under representation of BME people in the police service?

  • How did he see the relationship between legislation and cultural change?

  • What is the EHRC doing about the government stopping the legal grant program at a time when legal aid is being cut to make sure people can access their legal rights, and grass roots civil rights groups (this is localism is it not) can survive.

  • Why did the EHRC commission a piece of research into the impact of Schedule 7 on Muslim communities and then not do anything with it- despite a series of recommendations?

  • Why was Section 60 and Section 44 not really addressed in the Stop and Think report and what is the EHRC going to do about its ongoing negative impact?

  • What are his views on the fact that the mental health needs of BME communities are really not being discussed anywhere and how will the Health reforms impact on this issue?

  • Why do white children go to the best schools and non white children to the worse – what should be done about this?

His answers ranged from reflective to evasive to not really being answers at all. He clearly had insights to many issues and felt strongly that race still mattered. He responded that some of the manifestations of prejudice could not be solved through legal challenges and that society was never going to solve the big problem on a case by case basis. He thought the EHRC had an important role in publishing and shaming organisations; that they should be holding prejudice up to the light. He told the very few government officials that were at the meeting that the government’s plan to take away the EHRC’s good relations remit was flawed. He advocated thinking more creatively about education and the need for supplementary schools. He felt ‘white flight’ was part of the explanation for this, but not the whole cause. He reaffirmed that the decisions made about whom to take action against regarding the ‘Stop and Think’ report were fair and based on evidence. He indicated he knew who took it seriously and who did not – he felt the Met took it seriously. He said that they had not forgotten Section 60.

All in all it was really worthwhile going. Meeting up with other people who want to make a difference in whatever part of the country we live. I wonder why so few ‘politicians’ attended? I wonder also what this APPG has achieved and want to know more. I would also like to put all the questions to Trevor Phillips in writing and get clearer responses that I can consider in more detail. I would have liked him to stay around and talk to those of us who asked him questions. Maybe he would come and meet us another day – before he shuffles off.