Cherry-picking data paints an inaccurate picture of ethnic minority Britain
The Runnymede Trust has produced a sort of anti-Sewell report account of systemic racism in Britain that is not only highly polemical and one-sided, but also confirms the organisation’s current drift into sectarian irrelevance.
Sewell was imperfect in many ways but it gave a much more nuanced and realistic picture of ethnic minority Britain. Sewell highlighted minority success as well as failure and did not, naively, assume that all negative minority outcomes are down to white prejudice and racism.
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You would not know from the Runnymede report that every group, apart from Roma and Black Caribbeans, do better in compulsory education than the White British. Nor that the ethnicity pay gap has almost disappeared and that 16% of minorities are represented in the highest social class compared with just 13% of the White British.
And this is not just about the well-known success of the British Chinese or British Indian groups but also about the far better position of some less successful groups like Black Caribbeans — Black Caribbean women on average out-earn White British women in hourly pay and there has been a surge of Black Caribbean men into the professional and managerial class in the past couple of decades.
The report is wrong about several important things, or draws completely unjustifiable conclusions from the data. It also fails to mention that around half the ethnic minority population is born abroad, often in poor countries with only basic education, so would not be expected to be earning or achieving at the same level as the population average from the start.
On hate crime it baldly states: “There has been a steady rise in hate crime against BME groups since the EU referendum.” But this is true only of reported hate crime which has been increasing because of the much greater willingness of the police to record it and people’s greater willingness to come forward.
These are both welcome things and there is still more harassment of ethnic minorities than should occur in any properly civilised society. Yet on the most reliable measure of hate crime — the Crime Survey of England and Wales — most forms of it, including race hate crime, have been, at worst, stable and probably continuing the long-term downward trend since 2016.
On school exclusions it makes the standard complaint about the disproportionately high level of exclusions of Black Caribbean boys, five or six times higher than whites in some areas, while failing to mention that other minorities, including Black Africans, are excluded at a lower rate than white pupils.
On the relatively lower rates of attainment at university of many ethnic minority students, compared with the White British, it speculates that this is probably because of fewer black and Asian academics. But it does not look at the far more obvious explanation that proportionately fewer whites go to university but those that do go have higher prior attainment than most minorities.
On health it asserts that ethnic minorities suffer worse health and reduced longevity compared with the majority population, when in fact it appears that there is a mixed picture of minorities suffering more from some illnesses (partly for genetic reasons) and less from others and, similarly, longevity is slightly better for some minorities and worse for others but produces no overall pattern.
There is a long section on disproportionalities in stop and search without mentioning the higher violent crime rates that it is partly a response to (a young black man is 24 times more likely to be murdered than a young white man). Nor can the Runnymede authors bear to draw on the hated Sewell report which had an extensive and thoughtful analysis of stop and search and how it can be better managed and given more legitimacy in the black communities where it is most needed.
There are several other questionable assertions such as the claim that four out of five women of insecure immigration status are turned away from women’s refuges. The footnotes are full of references to Guardian articles citing activist research.
The report does make one or two legitimate points. I was alarmed to read that nearly 25% of the population do not possess the photo ID that may be required to vote in future. (Though you can buy a citizenship card for just £15.)
The report is also right to worry about caste discrimination. Intra and inter-minority discrimination is often brushed under the carpet by racial justice campaigners even though it can in some communities be more significant than white discrimination. UK hate crime figures show a significant over-representation of black people and a small over-representation of Asians among those prosecuted and convicted, and surveys of some minorities shows more reluctance to partner with whites than vice-versa.
The report is oblivious to the democratic mandate of the Government to control immigration — it wants to scrap the latest reform to the asylum system, scrap the minimum income requirement for those wanting to bring in spouses from abroad, and allow even immigrants with no settled status full access to the NHS. It is also dismissive of the levelling up agenda and the Government’s interest in improving life for poor whites.
Fortunately most ethnic minority Brits are not listening to this relentlessly pessimistic account. According to the most comprehensive ever poll of ethnic minority opinion, conducted last year by YouGov just after the BLM events, almost exactly half of ethnic minority Brits do not think race has been any obstacle in pursuing their goals. Given what we know of the growing success of minorities in education and the labour market I would expect this number to rise well beyond half in the near future.
The Runnymede Trust is an activist organisation and is duty-bound to be biased. But it has to remain reasonable and not just cherry-pick the worst possible data. It now seems to be staffed by a highly ideological mainly younger generation of people with little experience of the real world.
It used to be a far more pluralistic organisation; 10 years ago it hosted a debate with Tony Sewell and I arguing against Joseph Harker and Afua Hirsch on how much race held people back in Britain. It is, alas, impossible to imagine that good humoured debate happening today.
David Goodhart is a commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission but writes here in a personal capacity. His book Head, Hand, Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century is out in paperback