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Denham demands end to one strand approach on race equality

Launching the Governments new race equality strategy, Communities Secretary John Denham stressed the need to “broaden” the focus of race equalities practise to deal with the challenges of new and emerging issues.  He emphasised in particular that trends where emerging between race and class that required a new approach which did not simply focus just on ethnicity.

Delivering a speech the Minister went on to claim that much of the government’s progress in race equality in the past decade had been orchestrated by Labour policy (Introducing the Race Equality Duty) and The Macpherson Report in 1999. The progress has been significant enough, that automatic discrimination was no longer a reality for ethnic minorities he claimed.

“Britain is not the same place it was a decade ago. We have become a society more comfortable with diversity. People from ethnic minorities are no longer automatically disadvantaged”

Communities Secretary John Denham

Naturally the speech hit a nerve with equality campaigners and commentators who interpreted his comments as an end to a decade of relatively fruitless focus on race equality. Many rightly concerned about what the new direction would be and if it would mean the end of the strong emphasis on race equality that had dominated diversity and equality work in recent times.

Some Labour Ministers even disagreed with Denham’s comments, speaking to the Guardian Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: "John Denham is wrong. We have not yet reached the stage where being black or Asian means you are not disadvantaged.” 

On the whole many of the press reactions focused on the perception of progress emphasised for ethnic minorities in Mr Denham’s speech. Very debatable when it is widely known that ethnic minorities fair worse when it comes to health, attainment, and equality in the workplace. Looking at the transcript of the speech a fair interpretation of the message would be that the government is bringing in other social disadvantages into the equation when looking at race equality going forward at least that’s the positive view.

Another cynical but fair view would be that the Labour government is attempting to polarise the class debate with a constant emphasis on the socio economic duty in its communications. Indeed there have been many suggestions labour is attempting trying to win the election on a class divide. Was this a bid to win the hearts and minds of the white working class? The very people who may have felt marginalised by the political correctness gone made Labour government? By broadening the race equality debate to class, would the equality franchise be more marketable to a disillusioned mass.

This would potentially win back the white working class voter from their worrying defection to the BNP, vital traditional voting stock for Labour. Interestingly one of the first images you see in the strategy publication is of a white working class parent holding a baby. When’s the last time you saw an image like that in a race equality strategy?

For Equality and Diversity practitioners the challenge going forward will be separating policy proposals from election rhetoric. It appears that the Government is clearly intent in using equality of opportunity in its election campaign artillery. Looks like distinguishing policy from promises and rhetoric will be on the menu for a while sadly.

The Equality bill currently sits with a socio economic duty alongside the other equality strands, if that goes through the House of Lords unchallenged then it would be a tangible step forward. But what will things look like assuming the Bill goes through without any major changes (Likely) and we have a Conservative government at the Helm (Likely).  Certainly interesting times ahead, for some reason I can’t see a conservative government championing the end of the class divide!

What about the future direction of looking at equality strands as a singular?  It looks like modern equality and diversity approaches going forward will consider a combination of factors when dealing with discrimination and outcomes. The days of the one strand approach should really be over. Certainly the race equality challenge will be measured more effectively with consideration of social class, it’s pretty logical!

Ends

posted by

Asif Yusuf


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