Dr Tony Sewell: what did chairman of race report say about institutional racism?

The Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities said that there was no evidence of “institutional racism”

Dr Tony Sewell said the race report found no evidence of institutional racism in the UK (ITV)
Dr Tony Sewell said the race report found no evidence of institutional racism in the UK (ITV)

Dr Tony Sewell has said there is no evidence of “institutional racism” in Britain, although there is evidence that “overt” prejudice exists.

Tony Sewell, who is chairman of the Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities, denied there was any proof that there was structural racism in the UK, saying there was data to show some ethnic minorities were doing well in the jobs market and in education.

Dr Sewell suggested that the term ‘institutional racism’ was being wrongly applied by some as a “sort of catch-all phrase for micro-aggressions or acts of racial abuse”.

Labour has been critical of the findings, claiming that action is needed to tackle racism.

What did Dr Tony Sewell say?

Dr Sewell, a former teacher who grew up in Brixton, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No-one denies and no-one is saying racism doesn’t exist.

“We found anecdotal evidence of this.

“However… evidence of actual institutional racism? No, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that.”

Mr Sewell also said the term “institutional racism” was “sometimes wrongly applied” as a “sort of catch-all phrase for micro-aggressions or acts of racial abuse”.

He added: “I don’t want anyone to think this (report) doesn’t deny that companies themselves have to go out and really do better in terms of getting a broader and more diverse workforce.”

Asked whether he was hired by the Government specifically to repeat his previous findings that there was no institutional racism, Mr Sewell – who was chairman of Boris Johnson’s Education Inquiry panel when the Prime Minister was London mayor – replied: “We have some very focused recommendations on changing the landscape for ethnic minorities, and I think that’s the key thing.

“We’ve got to acknowledge that overt racism does exist.”

How have the opposition responded to the report?

Labour said action was needed to tackle racism, rather than simply another report.

Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said it was “deeply, deeply worrying” that the commission has denied the existence of institutional racism, and added she feels “massively let down”.

Dr Begum told the PA news agency: “Institutionally, we are still racist, and for a Government-appointed commission to look into (institutional) racism, to deny its existence is deeply, deeply worrying.”

She also questioned the suitability of Dr Sewell and head of the Number 10 policy unit Munira Mirza, who had a role in setting the commission up – both of whom have questioned the existence of institutional racism previously, asking: “What hope did we have that they were going to look into this in an objective manner, if not follow whatever the Government mantra is?

“We feel that if the best this Government can do is come up with a style guide on BAME terminology, or what we should do about unconscious bias training, or extend a few school hours, then I’m afraid this Government doesn’t carry the confidence of black and ethnic minority communities any longer, certainly not on race.”

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said she had not yet read the full report, but said action was needed.

She told Sky News: “It’s right to recognise that progress has been made and it’s right to celebrate it, but that shouldn’t in any sense mean we don’t see the very real problems in front of us and start to act on them.

“The Government has report after report after report… what we really need now is some action to implement them.”

What did the report say?

The report will be published in full later on Wednesday, after the Government Equalities Office revealed selective highlights.

It said there have been improvements such as increasing diversity in elite professions and a shrinking ethnicity pay gap, although disparities remain.

It also found that children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than white pupils in compulsory education, with black Caribbean pupils the only group to perform less well.

And it said the pay gap between all ethnic minorities and the white majority population has shrunk to 2.3%, and is not significant for employees under 30.

The commission said education is “the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience” and the most important tool to reduce racial disparities.

Success in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries”, it added.

It also said that issues around race and racism are becoming “less important”, and in some cases are not a significant factor in explaining inequalities.

The report states: “We found that most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism.”

However, it notes that some communities continue to be “haunted” by historic racism, which is creating “deep mistrust” and could be a barrier to success.

The 264-page report makes 24 recommendations, including for extended school days to be phased in, starting with disadvantaged areas, to help pupils catch up on missed learning during the pandemic.