Equality morass

will never improve the performance of local councils on race equality unless it
is rigorously enforced.

Few black workers will be surprised at the
findings of Community Care‘s survey which found that only a handful of
English local authorities had produced a race equality scheme by the deadline
set under the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000.

Local government pays great lip service to
equality but in reality black staff are routinely denied support, information
and opportunities, and black people’s needs are often misunderstood by the
services provided by councils.

Both workers and service users have to turn
to their own communities to find support and have a voice, forming networks
which remain apparently invisible to statutory services, which continue to
ignore their needs. Those independent black groups are in turn denied adequate,
sustained funding and structures. They are also stereotyped as negative,
trouble-making, and predictable.

Our survey findings come as the Audit
Commission released a critical report on race equality policies in local
government. That 40 per cent of councils have failed to meet the first of five
levels of the Commission for Racial Equality’s good practice standard is
unacceptable. Naturally the CRE chairperson Gurbux Singh, is "deeply
concerned". But what can actually be done?

Enforcement and monitoring of the Race
Relations Amendment Act must be strengthened. But this is not enough. To ensure
that race equality is given the priority it needs within local government
requires a strong, clear lead from central government.

Such a lead is lacking. Despite its pledges
to tackle social exclusion, the government’s concept of inclusion is made
ridiculous by the exclusion of asylum seekers and their families. The treatment
of asylum seekers makes it impossible to take the government’s response to race
issues seriously. For example, a broad consensus emerged after the hostility
and violence that broke out in northern towns, that segregation – particularly
in schools – fuelled those crises in race relations. Yet child asylum seekers
in the new detention centres will not be allowed attend local schools for fear
of "swamping" them, in the words of home secretary David Blunkett,
who is responsible for asylum policy.

And unaccompanied refugee children are to be
added to the dispersal scheme which will further intensify their sense of

Now the government has removed the basic
safety net of an appeal against refusal of asylum, asylum seekers will forced
to leave the country if their application for asylum fails, and make an appeal
from elsewhere, if they can find the legal advice, language support, financial
resources – and, of course, a safe environment from which to do so.

A poll for the CRE has found that nine out of
10 people believe being British isn’t about being white. But neither the
government nor most councils are vigorously pursuing equality. Worse, the
government is actively pandering to the remaining 10 per cent of people, with
its policies on asylum becoming ever more extraordinary.

It is cause for celebration that the first
black cabinet minister, Paul Boateng, has been appointed. But until equality
legislation is implemented in a way that forces both local and central
government to act, and until people can enter this country knowing they are
coming to a land where inclusion means inclusion for all, Boateng’s appointment
will not be a sign of much more than his own achievement.  

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