With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our work to tackle ethnic disparities and to build a fairer, more inclusive Britain for all.
In April last year, I came before this House following publication of the report by the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell. I return to the House today to announce publication of our response to that report and to outline our new “Inclusive Britain” action plan.
The Sewell commission was established by the Prime Minister in response to the protests we saw throughout the summer of 2020. It was tasked with carrying out a deeper examination of why disparities exist and considering how we can reduce them. The commission published its findings on 31 March 2021, making 24 recommendations in all, focused on health, education, crime and policing, and employment. The result was a groundbreaking report that set out a new, positive agenda for change. It provided an important contribution to both the national conversation about race and the Government’s efforts to level up and unite the whole country. I would like to take this opportunity to again thank the commissioners for their tireless efforts and the invaluable contribution they have made to helping us better understand this complex and multifaceted policy area.
The Government fully endorse the findings of the Sewell commission and our action plan is based largely on its recommendations. Its report conclusively showed something which I, and indeed hon Members on all sides of this House, know to be true: disparities do persist in the UK and racism and discrimination continue to shape people’s experiences. But it also showed that most of these racial disparities are not driven by individual acts of prejudice committed by people behaving, either consciously or subconsciously, in a racist way. What the report’s analysis shows is that, for the most part, negative disparities arise for reasons not associated with personal prejudice. That is why so many disparities stubbornly persist even in this progressive age when there has never been such an acute awareness of racism and so much action and policy against it. All of this underscores the importance of moving beyond gestures and soundbites, to look in depth at the evidence and to challenge many of the deeply held assumptions about race and ethnicity that exist within our society.
The response we have published today, entitled “Inclusive Britain”, presents a clear strategy to tackle entrenched disparities, promote unity and build a more meritocratic, cohesive society—a society in which everyone, irrespective of their ethnicity or cultural background, can go as far in life as their ambition will take them. The response sets out over 70 actions to level up the country and to close the yawning gaps between different groups in education, employment, health and criminal justice. In many of these areas, we have gone much further than the commission envisaged to ensure that our action plan is as ambitious as it possibly can be.
The UK is a multi-faith, multi-ethnic, multicultural success story and we believe that many of our greatest strengths derive from the diversity of our population. One only has to look at our brilliant NHS—one of the largest and most diverse employers in Europe—to see the benefits of being an open, tolerant and welcoming country. However, it would be naïve to say that tolerance and inclusion are the universal experiences of everyone who lives here, so our action plan seeks to right these wrongs with three clear aims: building a stronger sense of trust and fairness in our institutions and confidence in British meritocracy; promoting equality of opportunity, encouraging aspiration and empowering individuals; and encouraging and instilling a sense of belonging to a multi-ethnic UK that celebrates its differences while embracing the values that unite us all.
One of the most basic, but also one of the best, ways to build trust is to ensure that every individual in our society knows that they will be treated fairly and will not be discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity. So we will continue to work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to challenge race discrimination through investigations and supporting individual cases. We will hold social media giants to account for the vile and racist abuse that is allowed to propagate on their platforms. Our groundbreaking Online Safety Bill will force those companies to comply with a tough new regulatory regime, and if they fail to take action then the Bill will allow us to issue hefty fines of up to £18 million. These fines could be even heavier for the big operators failing to take down racist posts and racist accounts. We will also tackle unfair pay through new guidance to employers on how to assess and address their ethnicity pay gaps.
To improve the way in which stop-and-search powers are used by the police we will strengthen scrutiny arrangements so that local communities are able to hold their police forces more effectively to account. We will strive towards the goal of ensuring that police officers and members of the judiciary better reflect the people and communities they serve.
To tackle persistent ethnic disparities in health outcomes, our new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will even the playing field in access to good-quality care, with measures to be set out in a White Paper this spring. We will place particular emphasis on maternal health disparities, including identifying and driving change through our new maternity disparities taskforce. We will also tackle misleading information that can undermine trust in our public services and the institutions delivering them. This work includes encouraging more responsible and accurate reporting on race issues in the media.
The second strand in our action plan is to promote equality of opportunity, encourage aspiration and foster personal agency. Over the last decade we have made great strides in widening opportunity and giving more people from all backgrounds the chance to fulfil their true potential, but there is still more to do and we are fully committed to removing the barriers that are holding people back.
That starts from birth. We know that a strong start in life, and a stable family support system, can make all the difference. That is why we will invest £200 million in expanding the supporting families programme and £300 million in transforming start for life services and creating a network of family hubs so that children can grow up in a loving, stable and nurturing environment that fosters creativity and learning. This funding also means that families in desperate circumstances will receive the dedicated support they need to turn their lives around, find well-paid jobs and ensure that they and their loved ones can live happy and healthy lives. Indeed, we have asked the Children’s Commissioner to ensure that such services put the needs of children at the heart of everything they do. We also want to see more ethnic minority children adopted by loving parents who can give them everything they need in life to grow and flourish.
Members across this House know that access to high-quality education from an early age will set a child up for success later in life. While some ethnic minority children outperform their white British peers, that is not the case for every ethnic group, so we will look to level up pupil attainment by understanding what works best to drive up standards and bridge the attainment gaps for good.
We are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade—£14 billion over three years—and supporting children to catch up on what they missed during the pandemic, and we will drive up the quality of education outside mainstream schools. Our forthcoming schools White Paper will focus on improving literacy and numeracy standards for the most disadvantaged pupils. We will also continue to invest in what works for pupils, improve access to apprenticeships and demand better transparency from our higher education providers so that all prospective students know there is a wealth of options open to them.
While promoting and celebrating diversity is hugely important, it is ultimately meaningless if people do not feel a sense of belonging or inclusion. That is why the third strand of our action plan is to instil a sense of belonging in those who feel that they are treated differently, left out or left behind because of their colour, class or creed. No child should grow up feeling alienated from the society in which they live. They should know that this country is proud to call them citizens of our United Kingdom and that that applies to every individual who chooses this country as their home irrespective of whether they were born here. To foster that sense of belonging from an early age, we will work with a panel of experts, historians and school leaders to develop a model history curriculum to help pupils understand the intertwined nature of British and global history and their own place within it.
When those children grow up and enter the workplace, we want to ensure that they do not experience some of the biases and unfairness that they do today. To that end, we are appointing a new “inclusion at work” panel to help employers drive fairness across their organisations. The panel will develop a wide range of new and effective resources that employers can use so that they move beyond unverified, low-quality training materials and create a more meritocratic place to work. That is complemented by a new “inclusion confident” scheme to provide employers with the tools to overcome barriers to in-work progression and improve retention of their ethnic minority staff. Finally, in the fields of science, innovation and medicine, we will ensure that new technology, including cutting-edge medical equipment and artificial intelligence, is harnessed for good and not inadvertently biased against ethnic minorities.
It was right that we took the time to consider carefully the commission’s findings. The breadth and scale of our action plan shows that we have put to good use the time since the report was published, but we have not stood by and waited to publish our response before taking action. We began to implement the commission’s recommendations even before the report was published, including moving the Social Mobility Commission into the Cabinet Office. We have also published new guidance on how to write about ethnicity while moving away from use of the term “BAME”, and our recent levelling-up White Paper draws on the commission’s findings.
So much work has been done, and I am grateful to all those who have helped us get here. I thank officials for their support in the race disparity unit—Summer Nisar in particular. I also thank Bryony Bonner in my private office and the special adviser Daniel El-Gamry, as well as Munira Mirza, formerly of No. 10.
“Inclusive Britain” sets out a clear and comprehensive action plan to tackle ethnic disparities, level up communities and build a stronger, fairer and more united country. I will return to the House in 12 months’ time to report on the progress we have made in delivering those actions.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. I will be honest with the House: I was beginning to think that today’s statement would never come. The “Inclusive Britain” strategy is woefully late. The Sewell report was published a whole year ago and the Conservatives have been in government for more than a decade. We all know that significant race and ethnic disparities exist in Britain today—indeed, even the flawed Sewell report acknowledges that life chances and outcomes for black and ethnic minority people vary hugely—so why has it taken the Conservatives 12 years to decide to do anything about it?
Most frustratingly, the strategy unquestioningly accepts the Sewell report’s controversial premise that there is no such thing as structural racism in our society. When the report was published last year, it was met with outrage for its failure to acknowledge that structural racism exists and, despite the spin on today’s announcement, the Government continue with the same flawed analysis; one that Baroness Lawrence rightly stated is
“giving racists the green light.”
If both the Sewell report and the strategy fail to identify the root causes of racial and ethnic disparities, how can either possibly hope to tackle them? That is why the strategy was always going to be hopelessly ineffective and short-sighted, and that is why it will fail to deliver for black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
Let us briefly reflect on what that means. The strategy fails to deliver for black, Asian and minority ethnic NHS workers—frontline workers who faced a disproportionate risk to their health throughout the deadly covid-19 pandemic. It fails to deliver for black children living in Britain, more than half of whom are growing up in poverty. It also fails to deliver for Child Q, a 15-year-old black girl from Hackney who faced the most appalling treatment at the hands of the police, with racism very likely to have been an influencing factor. When the Government publish a flawed report and then churn out an inadequate strategy a whole year later, those are the very people they are failing.
When we look at the strategy line by line, sadly, matters go only from bad to worse. The strategy suggests that we can tackle race and ethnic disparities by just levelling up, but levelling up is a slogan still searching for a meaning. It is the empty soundbite for a Minister struggling to answer the question. It is not the solution to entrenched racial disparities. Where the strategy does put forward proposals, they are either too weak or too slow. For example, it fails completely to implement mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting despite repeated calls from the CBI, the TUC and the Labour party to do just that. Does the Minister think that such measures are not urgently needed? It is absurd that her strategy places so much emphasis on early years support when the Government systematically decimated Sure Start, stripping away a lifeline for children and families. The strategy will not paper over the long-term harm that did.
Where the Conservatives dither, the Labour party acts decisively. The Labour Government in Wales have already introduced a bold race equality action plan to create a truly anti-racist Wales. The Leader of the Opposition commissioned Baroness Lawrence to produce a report addressing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minority communities, with clear recommendations for the Government. The next Labour Government will introduce a landmark race equality Act to tackle racial inequality at its source.
The Conservative Government have had 12 years to act. Instead, they have failed to deliver and failed to acknowledge the genuine reasons for racial and ethnic disparities in Britain today. This country deserves so much better.
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. I have a lot of time for her personally, but the fact is that Labour Members cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that this is an ambitious strategy. It would not have mattered what we brought to the House today; they would have criticised it.
The report is not late: we started implementing actions immediately after the commission’s findings came out. Labour Members know that. They know that the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is set up and running, and they know about the work that we have been doing on maternal disparities. They even know about the changes we made in ethnicity reporting and guidance, because her predecessor wrote to me about that. We have started implementing many actions and are presenting how they weave into so many other strategies across Government, such as levelling up, the health inequalities strategy and the schools White Paper. We will not wait for the last thing to be ready so that we can put it into a nice package for the Labour party to criticise.
It is laughable to say that Labour is decisive in this area. It had the internal Forde inquiry into racism in its own party in 2019, and, three years later, it still has not reported. It is joke that Labour Members are telling us we are late when we have started implementing the actions.
I turn to the hon. Lady’s specific comments on the report. It is not true that the commission’s report denied the existence of structural racism.
If it did, the hon. Lady would have been able to stand at the Dispatch Box and read out that section. In fact, the commission said that it did not find institutional racism in the areas that it examined.
A rhetorical trick is happening around this question. There is a difference between racism and institutional racism, which has a specific definition as defined by Macpherson. The commission said that there is racism and that it does persist. It has made recommendations on actions to tackle that in its report, and we have taken them up. It is quite wrong to conflate the two. We see crime in our country every day, yet we do not say that this is an institutionally criminal country. We look in the same way at accusations of racism, and it is important to distinguish where there is a pervasive institutional failing across the board that is unable to provide services to people of colour So I am afraid I reject the misrepresentation Labour Members make about the commission. I also remind them about the personal targeted attacks and harassment the commissioners suffered because of that misrepresentation—a group of commissioners who were all, bar one, ethnic minorities. I am very committed to ensuring that ethnic minorities in public life get a fair say and have their voice. What is wrong is when people with different opinions are attacked and told they are not allowed to think in a certain way because there are rules about what black people or Asian people are allowed to say. We reject that..
The hon. Lady raised the case of Child Q, and I am very happy to speak about that. It is an appalling incident. I am glad to see that the Met has apologised and that the Independent Office for Police Conduct is looking at it. We have systems in place to ensure that when things go wrong we can right them. What we cannot do is stop any bad thing happening to anyone in the country at any time. That is a threshold that is impossible to meet. What we do know is that everybody is rightly appalled and outraged by what happened to Child Q. That is an example of a country that cares about ethnic minorities and about children in the system. We will continue to do everything we can to support them.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests relating to higher education. In accepting my congratulations on her robust counter to the small minds who have criticised the Sewell report—small minds that cannot tell the difference between disadvantage, disparity and discrimination—will the Minister ensure that every Government Department effects what she has said today and what the report proposes? Education is at particular risk, from Brighton and Hove Council’s destructive and pernicious racial training for primary school teachers, which still has not been dealt with despite a cursory inspection from the Department for Education, to Nottingham University—my old university, by the way—which, appallingly, withdrew Tony Sewell’s honorary degree, while giving them to Chinese holocaust deniers. Will she issue guidance to each Government Department to stop the nonsense about critical race theory and white privilege?
My right hon. Friend is right to make the point about distinctions in language. Discrimination, disparity and disadvantage all mean different things. They can correlate and they can be related. Now that we have an action plan and something written, I can assure him that we will be propagating it across Government and not just across but beyond Whitehall.
My right hon. Friend is right to raise the case of Brighton and Hove. In fact, I read in a paper today about a black mother who complained that the anti-discrimination training is actually discriminatory. He is right to raise the case of Tony Sewell, who, unbelievably, had an honorary degree withdrawn because he did not believe that this is a racist country. That is an example of the sort of silencing of ethnic minorities that we are seeing across the board. It is terrible, and I have to say I was disappointed to see the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) congratulate Nottingham University on cancel culture. She will find that those sorts of actions prevent ethnic minorities from participating in public life.
I thank the Minister for advanced sight of her statement. Only by acknowledging and understanding institutional inequalities will we be able to effectively tackle them in all aspects of life. That is certainly true in the world of work, where BAME people were already in a precarious position in the labour market before the pandemic, and is linked to the disproportionate economic impact on those groups of the cost of living crisis.
I have two quick questions. The TUC recently warned that insecure work is tightening the grip of structural racism in the labour market, with BAME workers overrepresented on zero-hour contracts. Will the Minister urge the Government to introduce the long-awaited employment Bill to tackle zero-hour contracts?
Unlike with gender pay gaps, there is currently no legal requirement for UK businesses to disclose their ethnicity pay data. Will the UK Government follow the recent recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee and introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting by April 2023, including urging employers to publish a supporting action plan?
We have made an action on ethnicity pay gap reporting in the report, and we will be issuing guidance to help businesses and organisations to deliver it. What we are not going to do is mandate ethnicity pay gap reporting. It is very different from gender pay gap reporting, which is binary—male and female. Men and women are represented equally across the country. Ethnicity pay gap reporting covers multiple categories that are not necessarily applicable in each area, so mandating it in a particular way could actually end up distorting and skewing the figures. What we are going to do is support organisations that want to understand what is going on in their businesses and help to progress pay and opportunity for ethnic minorities.
I strongly welcome the report because it will ensure that everyone, from whatever background, can climb the important ladder of opportunity. The vice-chancellor of Nottingham University should hang his head in shame for the way Tony Sewell has been treated. I genuinely find it incomprehensible that such a thing could happen, with an honorary degree being withdrawn.
My hon. Friend will know that the Education Committee produced a report into our biggest ethnic group, disadvantaged white working-class children, who underperform at every stage of the education system compared with almost every other ethnic group. They are at the bottom except for Gypsy/Roma children in terms of going on to higher education. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the report also looks at our Select Committee’s recommendations and makes sure that white working-class people from disadvantaged backgrounds are disadvantaged no longer?
My right hon. Friend is right. I have seen his Select Committee’s report, and those are things we will be working on. He is right to point out the disadvantage that children from white working-class communities face. The commission found that the issues that affect black Caribbean, black African, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian children when it comes to deprivation and disadvantage also affect white working-class communities, which is why we know that race cannot be the factor that explains many of those disparities. What I can tell him is that the solutions we have put in place will be solutions for all children. That is one of the principles we have for this report: we are not segregating or targeting specific solutions for specific communities; we are going to be looking after everybody.
The Minister will be aware that recommendation 4 of the report is that the Government wish to:
“Bridge divides and create partnerships between the police and communities”.
Will the Minister explain how she thinks strip-searching black schoolgirls helps to bridge the divide between the police and communities? Is she aware that this is not an isolated incident? The Metropolitan police’s own figures show that in 2020-21, 25 young people under 18 were strip-searched. Most were black or from other ethnic minorities: 60% were black and the rest were some kind of minority ethnic. Only two of the 25 children who were strip-searched were white.
Is the Minister aware of how degrading this strip-search was? It was not just that this schoolgirl was stripped naked. They made her part the cheeks of her bottom and cough. She was on her period. I could give more detail, but I do not want to distress people in this House. It was utterly degrading. She is still traumatised. I must stress that they found no drugs and she has never been accused of taking drugs. How can the Minister sit there and tell this House that that had nothing to do with that young girl’s race, and that the figures I quoted are not striking? Will she assure this House and the wider community that the Government will take notice of whatever comes out of the report into that case, and make sure that the Metropolitan police and schoolteachers will not collude in the mistreatment of young schoolgirls again?
The right hon. Lady is very, very correct to raise the issue of strip-searching. The Home Secretary, I believe, wrote to her shadow and said that the incident is deeply concerning. Strip-searching is one of the most intrusive powers available to the police, because it allows officers to go well beyond a person’s outer clothing. There are safeguards and codes of practice that must be followed when the power is used, so what has gone wrong in this specific instance? That is being investigated. I do not have the full details and I am not able to provide those sorts of answers until an inquiry is finished. What I can tell her is that those figures are startling. No one has said that racism does not exist. No one has said that there are no problems in the system, but what we do ask is that we investigate every single incident and that where we see a trend, we try to understand what is going on. The action plan provides even more things we can do to support communities to hold the local police to account.
The other thing that we stress is that when these things happen we must not forget that every day the police save the lives of young people across the country. They save the lives of young black children, brown children and Asian children—children from all communities. When incidents such as this happen, we must not look at them as representative of every single thing that the police do, even though we will do all that we can to tackle them and reduce the number of times they occur.
Aylesbury is a diverse community and it is all the better for it. Does my hon. Friend agree that today the Government have ushered in a new way to think about race and, more importantly, a new way to act about race, shifting from ideology to evidence and from destructive discourse to constructive action? In other words, will she reassure us all that today marks a new approach that will genuinely improve people’s lives whatever their race or religion?
I am very happy to reassure my hon. Friend. This is a new way of thinking about things. We are not looking at issues in isolation. We had many suggestions from people across the country about what we should do. The Government have listened. We do not agree with all the suggestions, but we think that to have a genuinely ambitious and transformative strategy on race we need to ensure that we look at the evidence. We do not accept the premise that all disparities are due to discrimination, so that is one principle that actions must have. We also want to make sure that we do not damage institutions even when we find problems, because the institutions themselves will be part of the solution. Finally, as I said in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), we also want to make sure that we target solutions across the board and do not segregate communities. We were sent many actions that did not meet those three tests, which we believe will help to frame the way that we look at race in this country and improve it for a generation.
Unfortunately, I find what the Minister has said to be smoke and mirrors. We started with a report that began on the premise that there is no evidence of institutional racism when those who contributed to the report and those who it is meant to support have widely rejected that idea as completely false. Why would the Minister not take the question back to the drawing board? What on earth is moral history meant to be when people have called for the teaching of black history? How can the Government claim that there is no evidence of institutional racism given the case of Child Q and everything we have heard about police institutions, educational institutions and health institutions? Claiming that those institutions do not fail people will not help us to start from a place where we can fix things. Does the Minister understand why black, Asian and ethnic minority people across the country will not be encouraged by what she has said today? It simply looks like more smoke and mirrors, more warm words and nothing that will solve the racism we face daily.
I completely disagree with the hon. Lady. In fact, I know that black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities across the country will be very pleased with the plan because I have gone out and spoken to them. I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), who spoke from the Labour Front Bench: I know that there is nothing that we could say from the Conservative Benches that would please Labour Members, because they believe that they own this topic. They are not in government; we are. The fact is that we have been carrying out actions over the past 12 years. We even had one of the shadow Front Benchers, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), carry out a review.
We have taken actions on those reviews, yet even after we carry out those actions Labour Members stand up and deny that anything is happening. The truth is that they are not interested in an action plan. They want a debate about institutional racism. I will not spend time as a Government Minister having an academic argument and debating semantics and language. We will deliver the actions in this plan, and I am very proud to be the Minister responsible.
I thank my hon. Friend for setting out the Government’s comprehensive plan to tackle negative disparities wherever they exist, and especially on the model history curriculum, which will be very important. I am proud of our heritage. Of course there is good and bad, but we are proud of where we come from and what way we are going. Will she confirm that this Government remain fully committed to a fairer Britain for all and to taking necessary actions for everyone who is left behind by society, regardless of gender, age, sexuality or ethnic background? We are all one country and one great nation.
Yes, and my hon. Friend will find that that is what the model history curriculum will deliver.
I forgot to mention to the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) when she talked about black history that black is a category that cuts across so many significant ethnic groups that there is no way that one history module could go into any depth. We need a model history curriculum that explains the story of Britain and all our places within it. We cannot have segregated history curriculums for people of different skin colour. I am completely against that and I do not support it.
All of us want to tackle racism in all its forms in this country. One thing that ethnic minorities felt let down by at the height of the covid pandemic was what was seen by many as the Government’s disregard for the disproportionate impact that covid had on many ethnic communities. Will the Minister assure us that the action plan will address that issue and that it will be included in the covid inquiry?
I am really surprised that the hon. Lady would say that. We did an 18-month piece of work on covid disparities and covid’s disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities, and I came to this House multiple times and gave updates and reports, so it is not true to say that the Government did not take that seriously. I am very confident that the findings will be part of the covid inquiry; they were even among the evidence that the commission used, which we built on when we were writing the action plan. If she wants to write to me, I am sure that we can get a report to her to show her its findings.
The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) stated that the report of the independent commission was received with outrage because it failed to find structural racism. Surely we want Government strategy to be based on evidence, not ideology. Does my hon. Friend agree that a narrative that all minority discrimination is caused by majority discrimination or privilege is by definition divisive, diverts attention away from the real causes of discrimination as found by the independent commission and is incompatible with the goal of a sense of belonging?
I completely agree with that. We cannot have young ethnic minority children growing up being told that everyone in that society is against them. It means that they give up, lose aspiration and decide not to take up opportunities that they should, because the rhetoric is so demoralising.
A year ago, when the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities published its report, within hours it was unravelling and it has been discredited. The strategy published today states that the Race Disparity Unit will begin consulting on the types of data it will collate with a view to reducing the levels of evidence and data that it will collate. Everybody across the House knows how important data and evidence are, so can the Minister say why the RDU is consulting on that? When will the consultation begin, and will it be a public consultation? Why on earth would it seek to reduce the level of race and ethnicity data right now?
I am not quite sure why the hon. Lady thinks that we are trying to reduce the amount of race and ethnicity data. We are improving and increasing the amount of data. Perhaps she could write and explain a little further; I am not sure that she has quite got what the RDU will be doing. More broadly, she mentioned that the report began to unravel, but I remember seeing invitations to events at which she was supposed to be participating and was planning to criticise the report—well before it was published and anything had been seen. She and I know that what she said is not quite what happened.
I know that my hon. Friend is 100% committed to implementing the commission’s recommendations. Does she agree with me that it is our Conservative belief that background should not determine destiny and promoting fairness is the key to truly delivering real social mobility? As we level up in places such as Darlington, can she comment on how “Inclusive Britain” is key to our ambitious levelling-up plans?
Yes, that is absolutely right. When constructing the actions in the report, our three pillars were building trust and fairness—fairness was right at the heart—creating agency and opportunity, and inclusion. Those actions will benefit everyone across the country, including people in Darlington. We are focusing more on inclusion than on diversity, because we believe that inclusion brings in more factors, such as socioeconomic factors, that tend to be forgotten. Given everything that my hon. Friend has said in the House about Darlington, I think he will find his constituents welcome that approach.
Soon after the pandemic began, the Prime Minister said:
“people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here should have support of one kind or another”.
The no recourse to public funds condition meant that many got no support at all. The Select Committee on Work and Pensions has heard harrowing testimony of the hardship that resulted. Will the action plan that the Minister has announced review no recourse to public funds, which has driven ethnic disparity?
No, the action plan will not be looking at that. No recourse to public funds was outside the terms of reference for the commission, and the action plan is very much based within those terms of reference.
I challenge what the right hon. Gentleman says about no recourse to public funds, because it is important that we do not conflate migration and ethnicity. No recourse to public funds was based on nationality, and during the pandemic I distinctly remember, even in the Treasury, that we took many policy decisions to overcome any barriers that people might have had. I cannot speak specifically about what the Work and Pensions Committee has looked at, but I am sure officials from that Department will take those points away. If more can be done within that policy, I am sure that we will look at that, but that would fall outside my terms of reference for the Equality Hub.
The highly discredited Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report stated that Britain “no longer” had a system that was “deliberately rigged” against black people, but as the first black MP for Liverpool, I would beg to differ. I have little faith that the “Inclusive Britain” report with its 70 practical actions will change how police powers work. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will give more power to the police to stop and search, and it will not stop them from strip-searching young girls. Can the Minister explain in detail how local scrutiny will prevent that from happening?
I will continue to rebut the assertion that the report is widely discredited; it was discredited only in certain quarters, in the same way that our environmental policy will never meet the test for the likes of Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion. The fact is that we are doing something that will be great for the vast majority of people in this country. The report will change the way we look at race in this country. We are in government and we are taking these ambitions forward.
On her question on local scrutiny, the commission looked at the way that policing was taking place in communities. It accepted that there was a “lack of trust”—a trust deficit; I think the hon. Lady would agree with that. The commission put forward a recommendation that we will be trialling and piloting. I cannot give specific details of how that will happen, because I am not a Home Office Minister, and the actions of the police are independent and we cannot get involved in their operational decisions. If the hon. Lady has suggestions on how that can be improved or tackled, I am very willing to hear them.
I am disappointed that there is not a Home Office Minister on the Treasury Bench. The Select Committee on Home Affairs report, “The Macpherson Report: twenty-one years on”, was published last summer and we have been waiting for a substantive reply to our recommendations ever since; the Government said that they wanted to deal with their response to the commission. Now that the Minister has made this statement, can she confirm that the Government will respond to our call, first for urgent action on racial disparities in law enforcement? She referred to stop and search, but it is not enough to do something just about scrutiny, as she announced in her statement. Secondly, will the Government tackle the worrying decline in confidence in the police among some ethnic minority communities? Thirdly, will they deal with the need for anti-racism training in the police, especially in the light of the horrific case of child Q, where race played a part in her treatment?
The right hon. Lady is right that there are actions on stop and search in criminal justice, but we are doing many different things, including improving skills training for police officers. She will find that the actions in the report will address the issues she raises. I have already made comments on the case of Child Q, which I will not repeat. I am sure Home Office Ministers will be able to respond to the questions she has specifically for them.
In the light of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, I put on record my dismay and sorrow that Child Q experienced being stripped of her clothes and searched at her school by police officers. I thank the Minister for mentioning Child Q, but is she aware that she was on her menstrual cycle, which made the experience even more undignified? This morning I was shocked to hear that she was taken out of an exam by teachers and, following her ordeal, it was considered appropriate by all professionals concerned for her to return to her exam, with no consideration for her emotional wellbeing. That is one of the cruellest and most despicable things I have ever heard.
Teachers and officers failed to keep this child safe and, speaking as a former child protection social worker, I think that they have acted in the most abusive manner. They are not fit to work with children and they bring shame on their profession. This child now suffers from self-harm and is having therapy. I have fond memories of my secondary school and my teachers, but her bitter memories will remain with her for life. Will the Minister fully investigate what role the colour of Child Q’s skin played in how degradingly she was treated?
We are all appalled at the details that we are hearing about Child Q. As I said before, I cannot comment until a full inquiry has come out, but it is important to understand what led to the failures. They are very significant failures, if what we are hearing and all the details that are coming out are true. We have systems in place to look again, learn lessons and make sure that they are not repeated. I am sure that everyone in Government will be seeing what we can do to ensure that happens.
I have listened with great interest right from the start of the statement and to all of the questions, and two things strike me. Racism is totally abhorrent and I can completely understand why Members, especially Opposition Members, are absolutely fuming that it is not completely exterminated from our society, but I say as a scientist that we have to fix that problem via evidence and ensure that we are helping the people whom we seek to help. Does my hon. Friend accept that the evidence in the report and delivering on it is the most important thing to stamp out the evil of racism in this society?
I can assure my hon. Friend that that is the case. The evidence and looking underneath it at the details of what is happening is important; otherwise, how can we tell when looking at something negative that has happened to someone from an ethnic minority whether that is racism or not? In many cases, when the commission examined a case where racial discrimination was given as a reason, it found that that did not explain the disparity. One example is the difference between black African and black Caribbean students when it came to exclusion. There is a statistic that black children are more likely to be excluded from school than white children, but looking at the data, black African children, who are far more in number than black Caribbean children, are far less likely to be excluded than white children, even within the same communities, compared to black Caribbean children. They have the same skin colour. Racism does not explain that disparity. That is an example of why people need to look at the evidence and not immediately jump to a discrimination conclusion.
I am astonished that the Minister does not think that there is evidence of racial disparity in this country. She made the point that a strong early start makes all the difference. When the Government smashed up Sure Start, that made a demonstrable difference to black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and, yes, to the deprived white communities in Britain. She is talking about putting £500 million back. Can she go back to the Treasury and say that that is totally inadequate if we are going to make a real difference? Can she go and tell the Treasury that if we want to make a difference, real money can do that?
The hon. Gentleman is putting words into my mouth that I did not say and that the commission did not say. I have already disputed that. It is not true to say that we have not found any evidence for racism or racial disparity in this country; that is not the case.
Regarding the hon. Gentleman’s comment about Sure Start, I remind him that when we came into government in 2010, the country’s finances were in a dire state. His party ran down the finances of this country, and we have spent the past 10 years fixing them, which is why we are able to put more money back in the system. He is citing one particular statistic on funding. He does not, for example, mention the £14 billion increase, which is unheard of and, frankly, unprecedented in this country. We are doing what works, not just complaining because we do not want to see Conservatives do well. We are going to do well for this country, and I am very proud of what this action plan puts forward.
I want to take the Minister back to her statement, where she outlined that one of the most basic but also best ways to build trust is to ensure that every individual in our society knows that they will be treated fairly and not be discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that a number of black and minority ethnic children do not feel that that is the case. They do not feel that that is the case when they continue to be stopped and searched; when they hear the story of what happened to Child Q; or when they watch their community centres being raided. The Minister has mentioned that she has been out speaking to communities. I invite her to Lambeth to speak to a group of young people from my constituency, so that they can share with her their experiences of what they face day in, day out.
I commend the police in Lambeth, who are doing great work with those communities, but the fact is that there is still mistrust. The Minister outlined that the powers for scrutiny of the police will not come into effect until summer 2023 and that police training in de-escalation and conflict will not happen until autumn 2024. Please Minister, why cannot those be brought forward?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right that we are concerned about the trust deficit and people feeling that they do not belong or are not included in this country. We have listened, and we believe that this is what is going to work.
I understand very much the story the hon. Lady is telling me about people believing that, because they are being stopped and searched and being raided—she points to the case of Child Q—they do not feel trust in the system. What we need to show is that when these actions happen, they are done fairly and that when they are not done fairly, they are investigated. A country that did not care about racism would not be tackling these issues at all; we would not be looking at them. What we want those communities to see is that we do care. That does not mean that those things will never, ever happen, but that when they do happen the process is fair.
I am very happy to come and explain the policy to the young people in Lambeth; as the hon. Lady knows, I used to live in Brixton, near her, so I know the community very well. I am very happy to take up any opportunity I have, as a black woman in the Government, to explain to people all we are doing and how that is going to work for them.
I am really astonished that there is so little reference to policing in the Minister’s statement today. It was the actions of police in the US that sparked the protests here and led to the commissioning of the Sewell report. Trust and confidence in policing are absolutely fundamental to communities feeling safe and secure, and that is foundational for addressing disadvantage and racial disparity in every other area of life. Yet my constituents see racism and racial disparity in the actions of police, whether in the use of stop and search, deaths in custody or—this week—in the grotesque case of Child Q, which is all the more appalling because it is not the only example.
What action is the Minister taking in the action plan to address the transformation in the culture of our policing, which is so desperately needed to address racial disparity?
The hon. Lady said that the report was set up because of what happened in the US; I really have to stress to the House that we are not the United States and we cannot assume that the problems there are exactly the same as the ones here. That is why the commission investigated what was happening in the United Kingdom and made recommendations based on what is happening in the United Kingdom. It is really important that we understand the difference; in so many things that I see and read, people are conflating what is happening in other countries with what is happening here. Our police are not routinely armed, which makes a huge difference when it comes to our statistics. I have seen four statistics on deaths in custody that are based on US stats. There is a lot in the report that will help improve policing, but it is based on evidence from this country, not just on what is happening on social media and Twitter.
The fact is that the mothers of children who die as a result of knife and gun crime do not dislike stop and search. They want to see more of it—they want communities to be policed properly. That is what we are going to be doing. If the hon. Lady looks at the worst statistic in the report—that black children are 24 times more likely to die of a homicide than white children; this is not race crime—she will find that we need stop and search in communities, to help stop those types of crime.
The Sewell report states that when we include more minority ethnic history in our curriculum, children from those backgrounds identify themselves as part of British history. I have been proud to work with footballer Troy Deeney, who the Minister will know is the driving force behind taking the knee in the premier league, on his new campaign, #HistoryUntold, which would mandate—not model—a history curriculum that reflects our society. In Wales, the Lib Dem Education Minister in the last Government did that. We are asking for this to be the case in England. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Education? Would she like to back Troy’s campaign today?
I do not know the details of Troy’s campaign but I can say that the model history curriculum has been drawn up in conjunction with the Department for Education. We think it is the right way to teach history in a super-diverse country such as ours. That is why we are moving beyond the very broad categories such as BAME. We have a very complex society and a model history curriculum will allow us to tailor history depending on the school and community, and ensure that people feel included in the history of the United Kingdom.