Theresa May announced the launch of an official audit of racial inequality in the public sector on August 27. The results of the investigation will be made public and allow service users to check how race, gender and income affect their access to public services. The information, which will be published within a year and updated annually after that, will cover health, education, employment, welfare, skills and criminal justice.
The work will be led by a new unit within the Cabinet Office, reporting to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, and the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Ben Gummer.
The Prime Minister said: “This audit will reveal difficult truths, but we should not be apologetic about shining a light on injustices as never before. It is only by doing so we can make this country work for everyone, not just a privileged few.”
Such ethnicity-based data is already collected and analysed in parts of the public sector, but Downing Street says people do not always have access to it, and that the new project will identify areas needing research. Downing Street said the audit would be “unprecedented” in its scope and transparency: “its information will help Government and the public to force poor-performing services to improve.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission found that black graduates earn on average 23% less than white ones and that the employment rate for ethnic minorities is 10 percentage points lower than the national average. People in ethnic minority households are almost twice as likely to live in relative poverty as white people.
The investigation will also look into why white working class boys are less likely to go to university than any other group, and the inequalities suffered by white communities in coastal towns.
Shadow Equalities Minister, Angela Rayner, said there was a “huge gap” in the review because it would not address inequality in the private sector. She said the Government had been told “exactly where the problems are”, and added: “We don’t need an audit, we need action to stamp out racial discrimination across the board.”
Labour also launched a consultation to develop the party’s policies on fighting racial discrimination. The scheme is being launched alongside the Race Equality Advisory Group, chaired by Patrick Vernon OBE. Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “Words matter. We must never pander to elements of the rightwing press which sow division in our society and demonise Muslim communities. We must stand against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism, wherever they exist.”
Cuts in legal aid since 2010 and the introduction of employment tribunal fees in July 2013 are issues that arose under the last government. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted that: “Reforms to the legal aid system and the introduction of employment tribunal fees have restricted access to justice for individuals belonging to ethnic minorities in areas such as employment, housing, education and social welfare benefits. [We] note with particular concern the significant reduction in the number of cases concerning racial discrimination in employment since the introduction of fees in employment tribunals.”
Ministers launched a review of employment tribunal fees in June 2015, but the report has yet to be published. This delay has been criticised by the Justice Select Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee.