Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report a ‘missed opportunity’

Commentators respond to government's new report into racial and ethnic disparities in the UK

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ new report that suggested social class and “family structure” had a bigger impact on peoples’ lives than race has received criticism from many different groups.

“It’s an extremely disappointing and flawed review with blindspots that have chosen to look away from the real data and evidence,” said City Hive CEO and co-founder Bev Shah.

“Institutional racism is embedded in the infrastructure around us that has perpetuated discrimination in society and in the workplace.”

Shah said just because oppression and bias is less obvious than in the past, doesn’t mean it is less damaging.

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In an online talk moderated by Dr Halima Begum, CEO of the Runnymede Trust, equalities activist Lord Simon Woolley, Windrush campaigner, Dr Patrick Vernon, and Michael Hamilton, programme director at African Diaspora social enterprise The Ubele Initiative, echoed the concern of the report’s denial of structural racism, which, they feared, would stall efforts to remedy racial inequalities.

Vernon said the report was “styled in a way that said people of colour were victims of their own misfortune”, while those who were involved in the report, including prime minister Boris Johnson and educational consultant Tony Sewell, have been critical of the concept of institutional racism, making the report’s conclusion unsurprising.

He added structural racism was linked to “power and privilege” where you only have to look at the Cabinet and the boards of FTSE 100 firms and see “only see one of or two people of colour”.

Vernon criticised the report’s inference that talent was all young people needed to progress and referenced the fact that despite the high proportion of BAME employment in the NHS, very few people of colour make it to CEO or medical director roles.

He also said the report “shouldn’t be taken too seriously” as those involved in its production didn’t understand “modern-day racism” and questioned whether the report would be implemented in any meaningful way.

Begum said the report inferred that “racism was something of the past”, adding that the killing of George Floyd by police and the impact Covid-19 on the BAME community show that conclusion to be questionable.


Woolley called the report a “missed opportunity” to have important conversations about race and human value, where the consciousness-raising among white people witnessing the Black Lives Matter movement and the realisation of gross inequalities have been wasted by a government that’s not ready to address these issues.

He pointed to facts that show Black people face inequality, where job candidates have to apply “eight times more just to get an interview”.

Woolley said allyship is key, as is communicating that equality for minorities is good for white people too, adding: “My win is your win too; we have to do this together.

“Never before in British society have senior business leaders said ‘if Black Lives Matter is to mean anything, what do I need to do?’ They are engaging in that process, and the government needs to catch up.”

Hamilton said the Black Lives Matter movement had sparked a positive consciousness-raising among “Middle-England,” where his social enterprise, Ubele, received calls from head-teachers and C-Suite leaders asking what they could do to help; he said the report was “arresting this movement.”

In a separate response to the report, Debbie Forster, CEO of the Tech Talent Charter, said: “We are shocked by the findings of the new UK Government Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report. Our experience of working with more than 550 UK companies has shown that ethnic minorities are disadvantaged at almost every stage of the tech talent pipeline, and 58% of our members tell us that they are already focused on addressing systemic issues within their own organisations, a number we believe will grow.

“To lead with the finding that the UK does not suffer from systemic or institutionalised racism ignores the experiences of many ethnic minority communities and individuals, which fact itself highlights that we are not yet at a point of societal inclusion of their perspectives.

“While it contains many interesting and valid findings, we are extremely concerned that the positioning of this report will have a directly negative impact on important work being done to address inequality. It could result in a slowdown in momentum on diversity at a critical time when ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by the negative economic outcomes of the pandemic.”

To watch the full conversation hosted by the Runnymede Trust, please click here.

A version of this article first appeared in our sister title DiversityQ.


Natasha Turner

Natasha is global editor at ESG Clarity, part of Mark Allen Financial, and has been a financial journalist for seven years. She has been shortlisted for Story of the Year and Investment Journalist of the...