Must do better

    Gary Craig explains why there needs to be a Macpherson style
    inquiry into how social services deal with racial equality.

    Since the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the subsequent
    Macpherson inquiry, the issue of race has become prominent in
    political and policy discussion.

    And despite the promise of political parties not to play the
    race card, debate about issues of race during the course of the
    general election, particularly in relation to asylum and
    immigration policy, hit new heights in terms of quantity – with a
    corresponding depth in quality.

    Perhaps politicians felt they had to pander to the findings of a
    poll last year which found that roughly one third of the UK
    population admitted that they had racist attitudes.

    Given that the Macpherson inquiry was required to identify the
    lessons to be learned for the investigation and prosecution of
    racially-motivated crimes, it is hardly surprising that most of its
    findings, and the press and public response, focused on the role of
    the police. However, although some of the inquiry’s ramifications
    spilled over into more general questions of the provision of social
    and welfare services, one consequence of this focus has effectively
    been to allow all other welfare institutions – with a few notable
    exceptions – to avoid just the examination of their own policies
    and the outcome of those policies that Macpherson was arguing for.
    So how, in this context, does the recent record of social services
    stand up to scrutiny? The answer is, not very well.

    For example, a recent report from the Office for National
    Statistics found that older people from Pakistani and Bangladeshi
    communities are, like their younger counterparts, far more likely
    to be in poverty than the population of older people at large.
    This, as a series of research reports has shown, is because of the
    failure of services to respond to them, whether as clients, carers
    or victims of domestic abuse.

    The effects of this lack of provision are exacerbated where, as
    in the case of the UK Chinese community, older people who cannot
    access services because of language barriers and lack of knowledge
    of services also feel a lack of self-esteem within their own
    cultural context. The Social Services Inspectorate suggests that
    social services departments are failing ethnic minority children
    and families because of failure to recruit appropriate staff, to
    understand minority families’ needs, and to implement equal
    opportunity policies.

    One recent study showed how young carers of Asian origin
    received little support from social services because of cultural
    stereotypes. In response, social services departments argue that
    for refugee children in particular, they have inadequate resources
    even to meet the basic requirements of the Children Act 1989. And
    here governments are not blameless: the UK has maintained an
    opt-out from UN agreements in relation to caring for refugee
    children.

    In relation to carers, the National Black Carer Workers Network
    argues that service providers have failed to take account of race
    and culture in assessment, service provision – including
    interpretation – and funding. Family members are often called upon,
    inappropriately, to translate for social services staff. Billie
    Ibidun, co-ordinator of A National Voice, an advocacy organisation
    for children in and leaving care, supported by the Race Equality
    Unit, argues that young people experience racism within the care
    system and that social services have been failing black and
    minority ethnic minority children for years.

    Black disabled people appear, from a study of organisations in
    the West Midlands, also to suffer from a colour-blind approach of
    local organisations which acknowledged that they could only make
    guesses about how many black disabled people they dealt with each
    year.

    Disabled refugees are also being overlooked by social services
    departments; the Home Office and the Department for Work and
    Pensions have no knowledge of how many refugees actually arrive
    with a disability but it seems reasonable to assume that the
    incidence of disability will be higher than among the UK population
    at large, where about one in eight people has some form of
    disability.

    Meanwhile, only one of the 180 social services departments in
    the UK now has a black or minority ethnic director and most
    departments have abolished their race equality units. As a result,
    while about 5 per cent of social services staff are from
    minorities, that figure drops to about 1.4 per cent in social
    services management. Within certain organisations, such as Croydon
    Council, there are claims that a culture where black social workers
    have to accept racial abuse as part of their jobs has been
    accepted.1

    The closely related probation service is, according to its own
    chief inspector, suffering from complacency, having paid, he has
    said, “years of lip-service” to race equality. The Home Office
    minister describes it as infected by racism to an unacceptable
    degree. This racism is likely to explain not only the failure of
    black and ethnic minority officers to reach management levels – as
    is also true of all agencies within the criminal justice system –
    but the poor quality of pre-sentence reports on black offenders
    that contributes to disproportionately harsher sentences on
    them.

    Local government as a whole has, according to the Commission for
    Racial Equality, failed to respond effectively to the Race
    Relations Act 1976, which has now been on the statute books for 25
    years. One quarter of local authorities have no equal opportunities
    statement, a further quarter have a policy but no plans to
    implement it, and more than half of all local authorities do not
    engage in ethnic monitoring. The CRE’s guidelines for local
    government, published in 1995, are still ignored by more than one
    third of local authorities.

    In the light of these and similar findings about all aspects of
    welfare provision, it seems not unreasonable to ask whether the
    welfare state as a whole needs a Macpherson inquiry? That would be
    a good race card for the incoming government to play and would
    strengthen the provisions of the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000
    which now requires public bodies to assess their anti-racist
    policies.

    1 Community Care, news, page 3, 18 January
    2001

    Gary Craig is professor of social justice at the
    University of Hull.

    – A full account of these issues is given in the lecture Race
    and Welfare, available price £6 from Working Papers, Social
    Policy, University of Hull, HU6 7RX. Cheques payable to University
    of Hull.

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