Racist Britain 2016 time to fight back

racist britain

In August the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a major report on the state of race inequality in Britain.1 The report amasses a wealth of statistics that show that, despite decades of race equality legislation, racism continues to operate in every area of British society, and in many respects is getting worse.2 Any movement to defend the interests of the working class as a whole needs to take into account the specific oppression of ethnic minority workers and place anti-racism at the core of its politics.3


The report shows that Black Caribbean and Mixed White/Black Caribbean children are permanently excluded at three times the rate of all children, and Gypsy/Roma and Irish Traveller children have the highest rates of both temporary and permanent exclusion. There is significant evidence of racist bullying in schools, with over 1,400 young people phoning ChildLine for this reason in 2012/13, a 69% increase on the year before.

In higher education, the report finds that:

  • only 6% of Black school leavers go on to attend one of the prestigious Russell Group universities, around half the rate for White and other ethnic minority groups;
  • a far lower percentage of ethnic minority graduates are awarded a degree in one of the top grades of 2:1 or First, 60.3% of ethnic minority students overall and 46.2% of Black male students, compared to 76.3% of White students;
  • although some minority ethnic groups have higher rates of educational attainment at some levels than White people, the difference this makes to employment and pay is unequal.

When comparing people with equivalent qualifications, ethnic minority people are more likely to be unemployed at every level: two and half times more likely for graduates, three times more likely for people with A levels or an equivalent, and two times more likely for people with GCSEs or an equivalent. Pay is also lower, with Black university graduates earning on average 23.1% less than White graduates and Black people with GCSEs or an equivalent earning 11.4% less than White people with the same level of qualification.


Overall ethnic minority employment rates have been rising in recent years, but Black people have experienced some of the sharpest falls in full-time employment – partly reflecting a shift toward more people in part-time and insecure work. Black and Asian workers are twice as likely as White people to be in involuntary temporary employment and twice as likely to be employed via an agency. Between 2011 and 2014 the number of agency workers increased 40% for Black and Asian workers and 16% for White workers. This disproportionate increase in precarious working conditions is reflected in growing concentrations in low-paid work: the number of Black and Asian workers in low-paid jobs increased by 12.7% between 2011 and 2014, compared to a 1.8% increase for White people. There are also growing numbers of young people from ethnic minority groups who are long-term unemployed, without a paid job for over 12 months – 41,000 in 2015, a 49% increase since 2010, over a period when the total number of long-term unemployed young people fell by 1%. Muslims had the lowest rates of employment. For a more detailed discussion of disparities in employment and pay see FRFI 251.

Living standards

Poverty rates are up to twice as high for ethnic minorities as for White people. In 2012/13 the child poverty rate was 41.9% for those living in a household headed by someone from an ethnic minority, compared to 24.5% for households headed by someone who is White. Ethnic minorities also experience greater concentrations of poor housing.

In 2011/12 in England, housing conditions were rated as substandard for:

  • 27.9% of Black households;
  • 26.3% of Pakistani/Bangladeshi households;
  • 20.5% of White households.

In 2012/13, the percentage of households with overcrowding was:

  • 21.7% for Bangladeshi/Pakistani households;
  • 15.7% for Black households;
  • 12.5% for ‘Other’ households;
  • 3.4% for White households.

Giving a glimpse of the conditions facing white minorities in Scotland, the percentage of households with overcrowding was 30% for White Polish households, and 24% for Gypsy/Traveller households, compared to 9% for all households. For Bangladeshi and African households 28% were overcrowded, and for Pakistani households the figure was 25%. The report also cites the assessment of accommodation and sites for Gypsies and Travellers, carried out in 2013 by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, and other evidence showing awful conditions.

Health and care

Ethnic minorities suffer higher rates of poor health overall and poorer access to healthcare. Among migrants, Black African women have a mortality rate four times that of White women. The report notes that the 2014 Immigration Act and other restrictions on access to healthcare based on immigration status lead to confusion and denial of services even to some people who are legally entitled. Travellers and Gypsies also continue to face discrimination by some healthcare providers, including a refusal by some GP practices to register patients without a permanent address. Of all ethnic minority groups, Chinese people access health services the least, and the report suggests this may be partly due to institutional racism within the NHS, in the form of a failure to consider cultural needs. Ethnic minorities are more likely to be forcibly detained under mental health powers, and rates are particularly high for Black and Black British groups and for Black African and ‘Mixed’ women who are seven times more likely than White women to be detained. Ethnic minority people are also more likely to have longer stays in mental health hospitals and to have higher rates of forced readmission. The report cites some of the numerous examples of severely limited access to health care within immigration detention, including the Shaw Review in 2015 which found staff labelling complaints and self-harm by detainees as ‘attention-seeking behaviour’. 2,335 immigration detainees were placed on suicide watch in 2014 and there were 353 recorded instances of self-harm that required medical treatment.

Crime and justice

The criminal justice system continues to investigate, detain, prosecute and imprison ethnic minorities at much higher rates than White people. Ethnic minority people are twice as likely to be stopped and searched by the police, and four times more likely if they are categorised as Black or Black British, and once in custody are significantly more likely to be physically restrained. Rates for prosecution and sentencing are three times higher for Black minority groups than for White people, and rates of incarceration for ethnic minorities overall are five times higher.

40% of prisoners under the age of 18 in England and Wales are from Black, Asian, Mixed or ‘Other’ ethnic groups. As well as being disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system, ethnic minority people are also disproportionately affected by certain types of crime. Members of ethnic minorities in England are more likely to report feeling unsafe when alone at home or in their local area compared to White people, and this disparity grew between 2008/09 and 2012/13.

A survey in 2010/2011 found experiences of harassment or abuse on the grounds of skin colour, ethnic origin or religion were particularly common among young ethnic minority people in England, at 17%. In Wales, 19.5% of ethnic minority people reported experiencing discrimination, harassment or abuse, while in another survey, 24% of ethnic minority people in Scotland experienced discrimination. Rates of hate crime are rising and race remains the most commonly recorded motivation. The 2015 Tell MAMA Annual Report records offline hate crime trebling during 2015, showing that the spike in reported hate crimes around the Brexit vote is part of a long-term trend. That this is driven by an increase in state racism is illustrated by the fact that the number of people entering immigration detention increased by 71% between 2009 and 2015, to 27,203 in 2015.

Build the movement to fight racism

The racism that this report describes, running through every aspect of British society, has been entrenched over centuries as an expression of the colonial and then imperialist character of British capitalism. Now that British imperialism is in a severe crisis, racism is intensifying as the ruling class scrambles to justify its wars of plunder abroad and to divide and exploit the working class at home. Labour MPs have been quick to accommodate themselves to the upsurge in popular racism, exemplified by a Fabian Society pamphlet published in September, in which Labour MP Rachel Reeves argues that ‘immigration controls and ending free movement has to be a red line post-Brexit – otherwise we will be holding the voters in contempt’. This should come as no surprise given the Labour Party has had a major hand in whipping up this same racism, passing a slew of immigration acts during its 13 years in power from 1997 to 2010, and boasting in 2008 of deporting one person every eight minutes.

Jeremy Corbyn differs in style but not in substance, refusing to oppose the 2016 Immigration Bill and abstaining on a vote to extend the right to work for asylum seekers. His speech to Labour conference on 28 September expressed the impossible contradictions within the Labour Party, saying: ‘We will act decisively to end the undercutting of workers’ pay and conditions through the exploitation of migrant labour and agency working which would reduce the number of migrant workers in the process’ (our emphasis) – claiming to defend migrants from exploitation while also reassuring racist voters that this will reduce the number of migrants. Corbyn’s only concrete proposal to respond to the growth in racism was to promise to reinstate the Migration Impact Fund to fund projects in areas of high migrant settlement, which was originally introduced under Gordon Brown and is to be paid for in part by migrants through an addition to the cost of visas. Again this expresses Labour’s impossible contradictions: on the one hand Corbyn rightly says it is not migrants who put pressure on services; on the other he says they must be the ones to pay even more to improve them. Corbyn also promised to add to the funding for a reinstated Migration Impact Fund through a further levy on citizenship applications, the cost of which already runs into thousands of pounds, making it even more difficult for working class migrants to gain citizenship. Corbyn has harsh words for employers exploiting migrants but has nothing to say about the role of immigration controls in stripping workers of their rights and making them vulnerable to exploitation in the first place. A new movement is urgently needed that is capable of confronting the racism of the British state, whether under Tory or Labour governments.

Tom Vickers

1      The full report, Healing a divided Britain: the need for a comprehensive race equality strategy can be downloaded at: www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/healing-divided-britain-need-comprehensive-race-equality-strategy

2      For a more detailed analysis of the relationship between race, class and migration in the context of British imperialism see ‘Racism and Poverty in Britain’ in FRFI 251, available at: http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/britain/fight-racism/4351-ra030616.

3      ‘Ethnic minorities’ is the main umbrella term used in the report, but can mean different things depending on the source the report uses for different statistics – in particular ethnic minorities sometimes refers only to non-white ethnicities and sometimes includes white minorities such as Travellers, Irish and Eastern Europeans (but normally excludes Irish people from the Six Counties). Where possible more specific ethnic categories are used. According to the 2011 Census, 14% of the population of England and Wales were of an ethnicity other than White, and 20% were of an ethnicity other than White British. In Scotland 4% of the population were part of an ethnic minority.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 253 October/November 2016


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