“Not Just a US Problem”: Institutional Racism in The UK

In the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, race – and anti-racism campaigning – have been pushed to the forefront of many people’s agendas.

Discussions, social media campaigns, and protests have been sparked. Around the world, people have gathered in peaceful protest. In part, this has been as a mark of respect for Floyd (and the many other black victims of police brutality that have preceded him). It has also partly been as an instigator for change.

While the spotlight has understandably been pointed at the US – and forms of racism which are supported by the country’s structures and laws – people in South America, Africa and Europe have also started to question the presence of overt and covert racism in their own countries.

Last weekend saw protests sparked across the UK, with tens of thousands coming together to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Contrary to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s denial that Britain is a systemically racist country, a statement which effectively undermines and silences the voices of black and minority-ethnic (BAME) communities and their allies, racism is definitely alive and well in varying degrees in the UK.

BAME communities in the UK continue to face both overt and covert forms of discrimination in almost all areas of daily life. In fact, one report commissioned by the UN in the Summer of 2018 found racial-based disparities across the education, housing, health and social care, employment, and criminal justice sectors (to name a few).

Race continues to define parameters for people in the UK, and this begins from an early age. According to the report Black Afro-Caribbean children were estimated to be three times more likely than white British children to face permanent exclusion for exhibiting the exact same behaviours. Racially-motivated bullying was also found to be rife in schools, which the UN puts down to, in part, a lack of black representation in both teaching workforces and British curriculums.

In the housing sector, BAME households are twice as likely to live in “persistent” poverty than white households. There are many reasons for this but one of the most important is the right to rent scheme – an element of the Conservative hostile environment immigration policy – which actually encouraged racial discrimination by asking landlords to vet tenants on the basis that they could be undocumented migrants. Unfortunately, many landlords conflate “undocumented migrant” with “non-white” or having a “non-white name”, resulting in mass-discrimination of those perceived by landlords to be ‘non-British’ regardless of their actual immigration status.

The same stories of severe discrimination are present across the healthcare, justice and employment sectors. Sadly, these disparities and examples of institutional racism have remained since 2018, and in many cases have worsened.

In fact, just last month, it was revealed that the Home Office has only issued a tiny fraction of its compensation to victims of the Windrush scandal. This saw thousands of black Britons and their families systematically targeted by the government’s hostile environment policy, threatened with deportation, cut off from public funds, and made redundant, despite having a legal right of abode in the UK. Despite this policy being denounced in the wake of the scandal, the trauma it caused is still very much a reality for the majority of its victims, who have now been waiting more than 18 months for the compensation that was promised to them by the government.   

With revived anti-racism efforts now encouraging thousands of people to engage with and question the state of institutional racism in the UK, the government is facing pressure to address this. 

There are many ways they can do so but the first is for government officials to stop living in denial. Own the fact that racism does exist in the UK as it exists everywhere in the world. This is not just a US problem.

Secondly, huge changes must be implemented across sectors. In the education sector, black history should be taught to children from nursery schools to university. We must end the whitewashing of British history curriculums. The histories and lived experiences of BAME communities not only as members of the British Commonwealth but also as their own people with their own cultures -- many of which existed before the British Empire came into power – should be included in these.

Thirdly, policy should require extensive diversity training in all people-facing roles, but especially those in emergency services like the police. Within this training, emphasis should be placed on the fact that implicit bias exists and informs employers’ and employees’ thinking and actions. It should also remind them how essential it is to remain vigilant against it.

As well as this, we must implement the recommendations in studies that look at the racial impact of different government policies, such as the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and the Lammy Review. There are many such studies and many such recommendations that require a careful inspection of systems that are already in place, and steps must now be taken to ensure these recommendations and properly considered and implemented.

It is vital that policymakers and government officials listen to the Black Lives Matter movement, and work to enact change now, while it continues to keep its momentum.

Written by: Jade MacRury

Jade MacRury is a correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration lawyers based in the UK.

Photographs: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

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