Labour has criticised the PM’s promise of a new commission to look at racial inequality, saying now is the time for action, not more reviews.
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said the plan lacked detail and was “written on the back of a fag packet” to “assuage” anti-racism protests.
Writing in the Telegraph, Boris Johnson announced a cross-government commission to look at “all aspects of inequality”.
He said “no-one who cares about this country” could ignore the protests.
Thousands of people have marched in the UK as part of Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
The prime minister said he was setting up a commission to look at inequality as it was “no use just saying that we have made huge progress in tackling racism”.
He wrote: “There is much more that we need to do; and we will. It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life.”
Questions over inequality in health outcomes have been repeatedly raised during the coronavirus pandemic after figures showed more people from ethnic minority backgrounds were “disproportionately” dying with the virus.
Mr Lammy said a number of inquiries into racial inequality had already been carried out, including his own report on the treatment of black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system and Theresa May’s Race Disparity Audit.
“You can understand why it feels like, yet again in the UK, we want figures, data, but we don’t want action,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Black people aren’t playing victim as Boris indicates, they’re protesting precisely because the time for review is over and the time for action is now.”
Mr Lammy said the announcement lacked detail because it was “written on the back of a fag packet yesterday to assuage the Black Lives Matter protest”.
“Get on with the action, legislate, move – you’re in government, do something,” he said, adding that the recommendations of past reviews should be implemented.
What work has already been done on racial inequality in the UK?
- The Race Disparity Audit, published by then Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017, showed inequalities between ethnicities in educational attainment, health, employment and treatment by police and the courts
- The 2017 Lammy Review found evidence of bias and discrimination against people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the justice system in England and Wales
- Also in 2017, the McGregor-Smith Review of race in the workplace found people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were still disadvantaged at work and faced lower employment rates than their white counterparts
- An independent review of the Windrush scandal, published in March, found the Home Office showed “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race”
BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said the new commission would be run out of the Cabinet Office and report to the prime minister, and would be asked to finish its work by Christmas.
The commission will be overseen by Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, with independent members also on the panel. Its chair is yet to be identified.
There are expected to be public evidence sessions and legislation may follow.
Lord Simon Woolley, founder of Operation Black Vote and the advisory chair of the government’s Race Disparity Unit, said he was “encouraged” by the announcement of the commission.
However, he said it must lead to action and structural change, to tackle the inequalities in employment, health and education laid bare by the pandemic.
Labour also criticised the prime minister for his language, after he told broadcasters he wanted to “change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination”.
Shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova described this as “condescending” and “designed to let himself and his government off the hook”.
Lord Woolley also said the phrase was “frankly unhelpful… unnecessary and to some hurtful”.
Liberal Democrat equalities spokesperson Christine Jardine said the commission was a “welcome first step” and showed the Black Lives Matter protests were working.
But she added: “Its findings must not become simply another report on a shelf in Whitehall – the government must implement them without delay.”
Meanwhile, a survey of people’s attitudes to race in Britain carried out during recent protests suggests people are increasingly optimistic that the UK will become more tolerant and diverse.
When asked if they were optimistic Britain would be more tolerant and diverse in 10 years’ time, two thirds of people polled by Ipsos Mori said they were, up from half in 2009. And 84% of people strongly disagreed when asked if someone has to be white to be truly British – up from 55% a decade earlier.
Mr Johnson also used his article in the Telegraph to defend the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, which was spray-painted with the words “was a racist” during protests last weekend.
He said the “serious points” being raised by anti-racism demonstrators should be taken seriously but this did not mean “wasting time” disputing the life and opinions of “every historical personality currently immortalised in bronze or stone”.
The UK should not attempt to “re-write the past” by removing historical symbols, he added.
“Let’s fight racism, but leave our heritage broadly in peace. If we really want to change it, there are democratic means available in this country – thanks, by the way, to Winston Churchill,” he said.