Life in the UK comes with a different set of challenges for ethnic minorities. If you have a foreign-sounding name it’s harder to get a job. Even with a degree you can expect to earn around 10% less than your white counterparts. You are more likely to access mental health services through the back door – through the courts or the prison system, for example – rather than via a GP. And research repeatedly shows worse health outcomes for people from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
This is all the more reason why ethnic minorities should be voting in this year’s general election, but, historically, they’re among the least likely to head to the polls. In 2015, 1.4 million potential votes weren’t used by BAME individuals, and this year around 28% of people from ethnic minority backgrounds are still not registered to vote, compared with 6% of white British people, research suggests.
To combat this, Operation Black Vote (OBV) and Saatchi & Saatchi London launched a national campaign, backed by celebrities including actor Riz Ahmed, earlier this month encouraging ethnic minorities around the UK to vote in the election on 8 June.
The campaign, called Blacks Don’t Vote, is in response to findings that the BAME electorate are less engaged in politics due to feelings of “powerlessness, [an] unrepresentative parliament and policies, such as austerity, that hit BAME individuals harder”. However, according to research published by OBV, if all ethnic minorities voted, they could help decide the outcome in over 70 seats.
But which parties are promising to do more for ethnic minorities? Here’s a summary of what the three main parties have to say about racial equality.
Labour’s manifesto acknowledges that black and Asian men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police. The party’s pledged to “eliminate institutional biases against BAME communities”. If elected, it says it will review Prevent (the government’s counterterror programme) and assess both its effectiveness and its potential to alienate minority communities. “In doing so, we will address the government’s failure to take any effective new measures against a growing problem of extreme or violent radicalisation,” the manifesto says. It is also the only party to publish a separate manifesto for race and faith-based issues.
The Tories say that if stop-and-search procedures do not become more targeted and the ratios of stops to arrests do not improve, they will legislate to mandate changes in police practices. They’ve also pledged to reduce the disproportionate use of force against BAME people in prisons and young offender institutions, and will legislate if progress is not made. There’s no mention of the Prevent programme in the Conservatives’ manifesto, but it mentions that “extremism, especially Islamist extremism, strips some British people, especially women, of the freedoms they should enjoy, undermines the cohesion of our society and can fuel violence”. The manifesto says it will consider what new criminal offences might need to be created, and what new aggravated offences might need to be established to defeat extremists. The party has also promised to establish a Commission for Countering Extremism.
The Lib Dems want to better resource BAME staff associations such as the National Black Police Association to increase ethnic diversity and BAME participation in the police force. They’ve also pledged to reduce the overrepresentation of people from BAME backgrounds at every stage of the criminal justice system and take into account the upcoming recommendations of a review into racial bias in the system, chaired by Labour MP David Lammy. The Lib Dems have also promised to scrap the “flawed Prevent strategy” and replace it with a scheme that is community led.
Labour’s manifesto acknowledges that black and Asian workers suffer a huge pay gap compared with their white counterparts, so will introduce equal-pay audit requirements on large employers to close this. The party wants to make the current national minimum wage a “real living wage”, which it says will benefit ethnic minority workers, who are more likely to be on low pay. Labour has also pledged to implement the recommendations of a review led by Sir John Parker to increase ethnic diversity on the boards of Britain’s largest companies. Labour is also promising to launch an inquiry into names-based discrimination and says it will roll out name-blind recruitment practices if necessary. In October 2015, then-prime minister David Cameron announced that organisations including the civil service, Teach First, and the NHS had signed a pledge to operate name-blind CVs.
The Conservative manifesto points out that Theresa May’s first act as prime minister was to order an “unprecedented audit of racial disparity across public services”. The audit aimed to reveal the outcomes experienced by people of different ethnicities. The findings will be released in July. “A Conservative government will not hesitate to act on its findings, however uncomfortable they may be,” the manifesto promises. The Tories also promise to ask large employers to publish information on the pay gap for people from different ethnic backgrounds. They also want to strengthen the enforcement of equalities law so that private landlords and businesses are properly investigated and prosecuted if they turn people away because of their ethnicity, religion, or gender.
The Lib Dems’ manifesto promises to develop a government-wide plan to tackle racial inequalities. To do this they will increase the number of apprentices from BAME backgrounds and encourage underrepresented groups to apply. They will work with the Apprenticeship Advisory Group to make this happen. They also want to extend the Equality Act to all companies with more than 250 employees. This means that large companies will be forced to monitor and publish data on gender, BAME, and LGBT employment levels and pay gaps. The manifesto stresses the importance of diversity in public appointments, and the party promises to introduce a presumption that every shortlist should include at least one candidate from an ethnic minority background. The Lib Dems pledge to review the Equality and Human Rights Commission to determine whether it is effectively fulfilling its role and whether its funding is adequate. They also want to introduce legislation to allow for all-BAME and all-LGBT parliamentary shortlists. And they promise to implement the recommendations of the Parker review to increase ethnic minority representation.
Labour’s manifesto says that the party will work to reverse the damage done to mental health services under the Tory government, which it says has been disproportionately impacting services for LGBT and BAME people.
The Tories have promised to launch a national campaign to increase the number of BAME organ donors to cut the long waiting times for patients from those groups and save more lives. They’ve also pledged to reduce the disproportionate use of force against ethnic minorities in secure mental health units, and want to legislate if progress is not made.
The Lib Dem manifesto does not mention disparities in healthcare quality among ethnic minority groups in the UK. However, the party has made an overall commitment to “deliver equality” between mental and physical health. They will ringfence funding from “the one penny income tax rise” to provide additional investment.
Labour says Britain’s immigration system will change after Brexit, but it will not scapegoat migrants nor blame them for economic failures; instead the party will develop and implement fair immigration rules. It also said it will end indefinite detentions, distinguish between migrant labour and family attachment, and will continue to support the work of the government’s Forced Marriage Unit. Labour is promising to protect those already working in the UK, whatever their ethnicity, but it will also take decisive actions to end the exploitation of migrant labour.
The Tories believe that immigration to Britain is too high and they’ve promised to reduce and control it. They pledged to ask the independent migration advisory committee to make recommendations to the government about how the visa system can become better aligned with its industrial strategy. They promised to double the immigration skills charge levied on companies employing migrant workers, to £2,000 a year by the end of the parliament, and use the revenue generated to invest in higher-level skills training for workers in the UK. The Tories want tougher visa requirements for students and expect them to leave the country at the end of their course, unless they meet new, higher requirements that allow them to work in Britain after their studies are done.
The Lib Dems promise to make a positive case for immigration and reduce hate crimes against immigrants. To do this they say they want to make all hate crimes aggravated offences, which will allow for harsher sentencing. They also want to ensure the immigration system is operated fairly and efficiently, with strict control of borders, including entry and exit checks, and adequately funded Border Force policing of entry by irregular routes.
The Lib Dems pledge to hold an annual debate in parliament on skills and labour market shortfalls and surpluses to identify the migration necessary to meet the UK’s needs. They promise to reinstate post-study work visas for graduates in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and maths) who find a suitable job within six months of graduating. And they also want to provide additional government funding for classes in English as an additional language to help migrants and residents gain independence and integrate with their local communities.
Omar Khan, director of the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, told BuzzFeed News that Theresa May’s manifesto stands out from previous ones in its offer for ethnic minorities. “We haven’t seen talk of ‘burning injustice’ and whole sections dedicated to race inequality and integration before,” he said. “Her predecessor, David Cameron, was the first Tory leader in generations to take action on race inequality with reviews on BAME employment, boardroom racial diversity, and criminal justice, but they never really made it into his election offering.”
May, on the other hand, is putting such issues in black and white. The introduction to the manifesto repeats her words on the steps of Downing Street, including the statement that if you are black you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system. Of course, racial injustice extends much further, and the 2017 manifesto acknowledges “longstanding, entrenched injustices that affect people of different ethnicities, genders, and those with disabilities and mental ill health”.
Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, said the Tories’ plan to conduct an ethnic minority disparity audit – which will provide a snapshot of the issues affecting BAME people in the UK today – was not to be underestimated. “This will enable employers to set evidence-based targets and plan how they will address these issues,” she said. These actions, however, are only part of the solution, Kerr added, saying responsibility also lies with employers to take action on race equality and inclusion at every level.
Dr Deborah Gabriel, a senior lecturer at Bournemouth University and deputy chair of the race equality charter committee, told BuzzFeed News the Conservatives’ pledges on the “race gap” were tokenistic at best and would do little to address deeply entrenched inequalities. “Just three pages are devoted to equality gaps in their manifesto, to give the impression that the Tories will tackle these injustices,” she said. “[The Tories] have a colour-blind approach – insisting that Britain is a meritocracy while acknowledging gaps exist, i.e. the race gap, gender pay gap, etc.”
Franstine Jones, vice president of the National Black Police Association, told BuzzFeed News she welcomed May’s audit of racial disparity across public services, and said she looks forward to what it will look like in regards to reducing this disproportional use of stop-and-search on black men, the effects of unconscious bias in policing, and racial profiling. She pointed out that previous measures, such as the Best Use of Stop and Search (BUSS) scheme, had yet to yield lasting results.
While she welcomed the focus on recruitment of police officers in the manifestos, she said there was also a need to work on representation of existing black and minority police officers and staff – in particular the ranks and positions they’re in. “In order to address this disproportionality, then, they need to have people in positions that can influence that agenda,” she said. Although both Labour and the Lib Dems have promised to increase police officer pay, “the Conservatives seem to have more detail about what they’re going to be doing around policing,” she added.
Khan told BuzzFeed News that while Labour’s manifesto highlights how cuts to public services and benefits have disproportionately impacted women and ethnic minorities, it stops short of an explicit pledge to reverse this. “Although the manifesto has ambitious aims there are not many specifics about what Labour will actually do,” he said. “The same applies to policing, where there is a pledge to ‘work to eliminate institutional biases against BAME communities’.”
One area where the manifesto is specific, Khan said, is Labour’s pledge to better resource the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which tackles discrimination. The Lib Dems have also promised this, as well as making one of the firmest commitments to tackling the so-called ethnic minority pay gap, and saying they would ask firms to start monitoring their workforce for disparities. The party, which is unlikely to get elected in June, has promised a government-wide plan to tackle racial inequality – a key demand of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s recent race report. Kerr also welcomed the Lib Dems’ plan to increase the number of BAME apprentices. “The Learning and Work Institute recently found that 31.6% of BAME candidates apply for information and communications apprenticeships, but just 3.7% are successful,” she said.
Gabriel said that she was taking the Lib Dems’ big promises with a pinch of salt. “There is an issue of trust, or lack of it, in relation to the Lib Dems,” she said. “They do not have one MP of colour in their party, while the Conservatives have 17 and are likely to increase this to 22 after the June election.”
Gabriel added: “How can the Lib Dems be deemed capable of increasing minority representation in government or industry when they cannot achieve this in their own party?”