Naz Shah MP

Labour MP for Bradford West

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International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Debate

Naz_UN.jpgMy speech in full given in Westminster hall to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for securing this debate. Her powerful words made me emotional. This debate is so timely. This day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the past, the present and the future, and to address the stark discrimination that so many people in this country face. While we have made some strides to improve opportunities for those of all races, we have to recognise the challenges and the disparity that remain. We have so much more to do.

The past has been marked by successes—individual successes, like the police chief superintendent from West Yorkshire police, Mabs Hussain, who is one of only two officers from a black and minority ethnic background to attain that rank in Yorkshire. I recently held an event to celebrate him, but he said then that he hopes to see a day when there is no longer a need to celebrate the success of individuals from BME backgrounds and when people like him are just the norm, but sadly they are not. He is an exception to the rule. He has overcome more difficult odds than those faced by his white counterparts. The truth is that although we see individual successes that can inspire, they are sadly only a footnote to the systematic failures that we see. That is a harsh truth and a harsh reality.

It is a harsh reality that many young black and Asian children, and children of other ethnicity, grow up in this country without the same opportunities as their peers. It is a harsh truth for those who will work just as hard but will be paid less—those who have their chances stifled from birth because of the colour of their skin.

Sadly, what I have described is a well-evidenced truth, as my hon. Friend has just pointed out. We only need to look at the House of Commons research on representation in public life from June 2016 to see the scale of the challenge before us. Those from BME backgrounds are severely under-represented in all the professions—not only here, in both Houses, but as judges, teachers, in local government, in the armed forces, and particularly as police. BME representation in police forces is 5.5%. Twenty-four years since Stephen Lawrence and 18 years since the Macpherson review, we are no closer to having a representative police force. That is not progress. BME representation in public life shows marginalisation at best and pure discrimination at worst.

In August 2016, the EHRC published a major review of race equality in Britain. It revealed a post-Brexit rise in hate crime and long-term systemic unfairness and race inequality, including a justice system where black people are more likely to be the victims of crime while also being three times more likely to be charged and sentenced if they commit a crime. Race remains the most commonly recorded motivation of hate crime in England and Wales, at 82%. That is not equality.

Despite educational improvements, black, Asian and ethnic minority people with a degree are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than their white equivalents, and black workers with degrees are likely to be paid 23.1% less than their white equivalents. That wage gap exists at all levels of education, but it increases as people become more qualified. That is not equality, and it shows that the challenge is increasing. Since 2010, there has been a 49% increase in unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds from ethnic minority backgrounds compared with a fall of 2% among those who are white. White workers have seen an increase of 16% in insecure work, while the rise among black and Asian workers has been 40%. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black adults are more likely to live in substandard accommodation than white people. Black African women in the UK have a mortality rate four times higher than that of white women and are seven times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act 2007. That is not equality; it is systematic failure. 

While we stand here today and mark the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we must be mindful of the challenges. We must remember the reality that people of ethnicity face, even in developed countries such as ours. In February 2017, Baroness McGregor-Smith’s review of race in the workplace was published. It demonstrated how unequal our workplaces are, how the chances of those from BME backgrounds are stifled and how over-qualified BME workers are less likely to be promoted than less qualified employees. The review makes 26 recommendations, all of which I call upon the Government to implement. 

Leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to decide what kind of country we want to be. A report by the Women and Equalities Committee considered the need for strong equality legislation after we leave the EU and made key recommendations, which, I would argue, the Government are morally obliged to enact.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who is no longer in his seat, mentioned constituencies, and it is important to touch upon that issue before I close my speech. He said that we in Britain have changed regarding refugees, in that families do not want to take Syrian refugee children. I am very proud to come from Bradford. It is a city of sanctuary. We have held events in Bradford specifically aimed at people taking refugee children, and families are coming forward. I have had numerous messages from individuals asking how they can take in children from Syria and play their part. Why has it taken so long? I am a member of the Home Affairs Committee, and we have taken evidence from councils that say they have spaces. Regarding the Dubs amendment and how Britain has changed, I feel there is a venomous narrative, created by the likes of parties such as the UK Independence party, but we as Britain are greater than that. We as people are greater than that. Post-Trump and post-Brexit, we must concentrate even more on ensuring that we build those bridges.

I call on the Minister to consider all three of the reports I have mentioned, as a stepping stone which, if followed through, could help to steer us on a different path—one of real, not just imagined, equality. As Baroness McGregor-Smith wrote in her review, the time for talking is over; now is the time to act. That will require a concerted and sustained effort from us all, but the solutions are already there, if we choose to apply them.

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