Munira Mirza and others criticised Theresa May’s Race Disparity audit yesterday, as has ConservativeHome, and as too have David Goodhart and Richard Norrie on this site. The sum of these objections is that not all racial disparities are caused by discrimination, and that the audit risks creating “a false perception of victim status”, as Mirza put it.
There are signs that Ministers are aware of the problems. Damian Green is saddled with responsibility for the audit and, introducing it to the Commons yesterday, was quick to provide some essential context. “If people are expecting a report that is relentlessly negative about the situation for ethnic minorities in Britain today, I am pleased to say that it is simply not the case that ethnic minorities universally have worse outcomes,” he said, before pointing out, inter alia, that “it is white British people who experience the worst outcomes, such as in relation to self-harm and suicide in custody, or smoking among teenagers”. He explained that the basis of the Government’s approach is “explain or change”: Ministers will therefore not approach any disparity with the assumption that it is caused by racism.
It may be worth noting that, of the 24 MPs who responded to the statement, two referred glancingly to the problems of white children while also describing the problems of others: the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly and Labour’s Tony Lloyd. (Their number did not include Dawn Butler from Labour’s front bench, who none the less was able specifically to reference women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and older people.) This is not to say that the contributions of other MPs were without value. For example, Philip Davies warned against producing “solutions looking for problems,” and Maria Caulfield stressed the importance of families in boosting life chances. She raised the Manifesto to Strengthen Families, which Fiona Bruce wrote about recently on this site.
The only MP who specifically raised some of the problems of white children was Richard Burden (who sits for Birmingham Northfield, which has a Labour majority of under 5000, and whose population is 86 per cent white). He pointed out that only 32 per cent of white children on free school meals reach their expected level of attainment at key stage 2 and that white working-class children from poorer backgrounds are the least likely to go to university, and asked: “are we not dealing with a cycle of deprivation that spans the generations?” (A more useful intepretation than discrimination in this and in many other cases.) Burden argued that spending reductions in SureStart and early years provision weren’t helping, but Green in response stressed schools and educational reform.
The Education Select Committee produced a report during the last Parliament on the underachievement of white working class children, and stressed parenting skills at home, reducing absences and exclusions from school, deploying “the best teachers and leaders”, using Ofsted effectively, and investigating “whether other measures of disadvantage may be more appropriate for allocating disadvantage funding and tracking the performance of disadvantaged groups”. Green referred to “mentoring schemes to help those in ethnic minorities into work and traineeships for 16 to 24-year-olds, offering English, maths and vocational training alongside work placements”, but did not identify a specific programme aimed at poorer white children and teenagers.
The Dissenter of the Day award goes to Chris Bryant. “What a load of sententious, vacuous guff,” he said. “The honest truth is that unless serious analytical work is done to check whether the statistics are a matter of correlation or causation, there is no value to this work whatsoever.” The freedom of the backbenches is a wonderful thing.