Race relations: social workers ignorant of race relations amendment act 2000

Should we be concerned that so few professionals are aware of the requirements of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, asks Anabel Unity Sale.

Race inequality can result in social exclusion, educational disadvantage, and culturally inappropriate services. And
it can lead to violence, as seen in the race riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley in 2001. The Race Relations (Amendment)
Act 2000
 sought to address racial inequalities by placing a duty on public authorities to promote race equality from April 2001.

However, research due to be released next week from the Association of Directors of Social Services makes for worrying reading. The study shows that this duty is not embedded into everyday employment practices in social services departments.

The study says: “Many staff are unaware of these important policies and how and if they are functioning. Knowledge appears
to be much greater at a senior management level and this raises many questions about effectiveness of communication,  implementation and impact.”

The research findings suggest that much of the race equality activity appears to be undertaken by senior management only.

It says the implementation of the act’s requirements “have been carried out at the margins and not as a whole department/
directorate exercise”. This is in contrast with other changes, such as the establishment of separate children’s departments or children’s trusts.

The director of social services and housing at Bracknell Forest Council, Daphne Obang, is also chair of the ADSS’s inclusivity group, which commissioned the research. She says local authorities still have a lot to do before race equality is completely embedded in all their policies, procedures and services. While praising those at the top of management structures for being aware of the duty to promote race equality, she is less positive about the same level of knowledge among front-line practitioners.

“What was worse was when we went to front-line staff and asked whether they knew about the legislation. Some who did
[know about it] said ‘but it’s not to do with me, someone else does it’.”

Response to the act
Ted Cantle, associate director of the Improvement and Development Agency, says local authorities’ response to the act’s duty depends on the work they have already done on race equality. “Quite a large number of local authorities have used the act to reinvigorate their equality programmes and some have had such a programme for many years.”

Despite this he is not surprised that senior managers are more informed about the act, arguing that those in strategic positions operate within a broader framework than those on the front line. “Strategic managers have to be engaged in this as it reinforces local area agreements and government targets such as educational attainment.”

Under the act, each public authority must develop a race equality scheme with a strategy and action plan of how it will meet
the act’s duties. The Department of Health itself was severely criticised recently by the Commission for Racial Equality for having “probably the worst” race equality record of any Whitehall department. This followed the CRE’s discovery last year that the DH’s race equality scheme failed to comply with the law.

Despite this poor example from the top, the act has had a huge impact on some local authorities. One is Cardiff Council, according to Clare Payton, diversity policy development officer for adults services. She says: “We have had to take proactive action to promote race equality for the first time rather than being reliant on responding to individual cases of discrimination.”

Payton says Cardiff has taken steps to ensure its race equality scheme fully encompasses all the council’s business. The
scheme contains eight key actions, the most significant of which is to consider race equality in commissioning strategies for
learning difficulties, physical disabilities, substance misuse, mental health and older people’s services. The latter is looking to secure funding for a day service for older people from ethnic minorities and their carers. Until now the only service for this client group was for the carers themselves.

In Manchester 19 per cent of the population are from ethnic minority communities and 27 of its 30 wards are in the top 10 per cent of the most deprived in the country. The duty to promote race equality is taken seriously, says the authority’s lead officer on race, Samiya Butt. She says Manchester’s successful history of working with and employing staff from ethnic minorities has  made it easier to implement the act. “As we have many black staff and provide diversity and inclusion training, our front-line staff are aware of the need to promote racial equality. They are dealing with it every day.”

When a British National Party member was elected councillor in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in 1993, racial tensions ran high during his seven months’ office. According to Michael Keating, head of research and manager of the council’s corporate equalities team, the experience made the council committed to improving race equality.

So much so it was recently awarded level five (the highest possible) of the equality standard for local government. Only two other local authorities – Lewisham and Wycombe – share the same ranking. Councils should see equality as threading through all of their activities; they must not view it as a “bolt on” activity, warns Keating.

Equality targets
Tower Hamlets’ staff are expected to include several equality targets in their personnel development plans. “The golden
thread works its way down from the council’s strategic plan right to individuals’ work plans,” says Keating.

Nottinghamshire, like many councils, has several equalities groups for employees to share experiences, including a black
workers’ group. Margaret Radford, assistant corporate equality officer, says authorities should not forget their duties as an
employer to promote race equality among staff by solely focusing on clients.

Local authorities can improve the way they communicate the act’s duties. Payton wants to see more publicity for staff at this end, and Cantle adds that council managers must disseminate the information downwards: “They have to convey the vision and
they have to ensure there is devolution to empower staff to achieve it.”

Under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, public authorities are required to:
● Eliminate unlawful racial discrimination.
● Promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different racial groups.

Related article
Commission for Racial Equality: what has it achieved in 30 years?

Additional Information
Improvement and Development Agency

Contact the author

This article appeared on pages 32 & 33 of the 12 October issue, under the headline, Just making you aware


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