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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Community Care, news, page 3, 18 January

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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