Kunle Olulode on the Race and Ethnic Disparities Report

Kunle Olulode on the Race and Ethnic Disparities Report

Voice4Change England’s director Kunle Olulode MBE, a co-opted member of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, shares his views on the release of the UK government report: Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The 250+ page document aims to set out a new, ‘positive agenda for change’ following the widespread demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd in the US last year.

The Commission is stated to have considered detailed quantitative data and qualitative evidence to understand why disparities exist, what works and what does not. Its 24 evidence-led recommendations are intended to improve the lives and experiences of individuals and communities from different backgrounds across the UK, and ultimately drive lasting change.

These recommendations have been grouped under four overarching aims: (1) to build trust between different communities and the institutions that serve them; (2) to promote greater fairness to improve opportunities and outcomes for individuals and communities; (3) to create agency so individuals can take greater control of the choices and that impact their lives; and (4) to achieve genuine inclusivity to ensure all groups feel a part of UK society.

However, a pushback against the idea of structural racism as one of the main conclusions of the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report will no doubt spark lively debates from activists. Read Kunle’s response to the report:

Overall, the government report on race inequality followed the evidence honestly and looked at where that took them, rather than just simply asserting views at the start and trying to find evidence that backed up those views.

People need to read the entire report before making snap judgements. There are aspects of the report that I think lend itself to demonstrating that we have made huge strides and progress over the last 50 years. But there are also disturbing points within the report that I think need further exploration and certainly need to be addressed.

You can see there’s been some situations that haven’t changed to the extent that they should have. Certainly, some of the policing stuff, criminal justice, and I think even some of the health stuff needs to just be discussed in more detail in terms of the data sources that people have used to come to their conclusions. But also, and I think this is much more important, where there are disparities - we need to get a better understanding of why those disparities exist. 

So, I think that is the challenge and, in some places, the report highlights things that are surprising. And perhaps people weren’t ready for such things as the improvements in educational attainment. And the closing of the gap in terms of income disparities of young workers between the ages of 16 and 24. 

But having looked to other parts of the data that the commission looked at, you can see that whilst there are improvements for people in work, the rate of unemployment still remains high for people from Black and minority ethnic communities. Significantly higher than the white majority. So if you are in work, then the gap is closing, but if you can’t get a job in the first place, then there are still issues. And I think that if everybody’s on the same page in terms of equality, we have to be able to explain why this is. 

Those differences in outcomes still persist and have persisted not just for years, but for decades. The rush to give a pessimistic picture, it’s not fair or reasonable, but at the same time to overstate the level of progress that’s been made is equally not valid in many respects, because we still have to explain why those differentials persist. I don’t think that the report is saying this is the end point. There’s still work to be done. 

Take another example. If you look at the outcomes for people in places like the NHS, the issues are self-evident, given the structures of the organisation and where people from Black and minority ethnic communities are active. There’s not a consistent or proportionate level of security that reflects the needs of the communities. There are questions that should be asked as to why that is.

Looking again at some of the outcomes that relate to health, cancer accounted for 28 percent of all deaths in 2017. It’s interesting to note that the incidence rates for cancer were lower for South Asian and mixed Chinese ethnic groups, than they were for white ethnic groups. So to me, that was a surprise, I didn’t know that. It goes on to say that even Black ethnic groups have a slightly lower incidence for most of the leading cancers but have a significantly increased risk of stomach and prostate cancer. 

So, you know, it’s very much a pitch that is a mixed bag. But in general, there’s been progress, and you can’t actually say that race relations in 2021 are the same as they were, say, in 1968 when Enoch Powell made ‘The Rivers of Blood’ speech. 

In terms of the issues that sparked the response to the killing of George Floyd in America, I think there are issues that we need to consider - policing in the UK is different as is the incidence of police fatalities in this country. If not at the same level, nevertheless we’re looking at figures relating to incarceration. We have to be kind of concerned about the high levels of people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds that are occupying our prison system, which in terms of its trajectory does have some parallels with what’s happening in America. 

However, we need to find solutions to that and those solutions again may be partly concerned with race, but some of them are not. We are struggling to deal with issues of poverty, education and social environment too, which also needs to be factored in rather than just reducing everything to a question of race. 

So, I think there’s basically some light and shade in this report, but in general, the regulations are moving on and they’re moving in a positive direction, not negative.