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

What has been achieved by the Commission for Racial Equality? Anabel Unity Sale speaks to the body’s critics

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) marks its 30th birthday this year. The publicly funded independent body was established with the twofold mission to work against discrimination and for equality, and to reduce community tensions by promoting good relations.

The CRE is widely lauded as the leading anti-racism organisation in Europe and disseminates its good practice around
the world. It has produced investigation reports into employers and service providers, including the prison service and the
police service in England and Wales.

Numerous initiatives to tackle racism and promote inclusion have been successfully championed by the CRE, including the famous Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football campaign, which was launched in 1993. One of its most significant achievements
is leading the debate on promoting race equality. This resulted in the most important change in race relations legislation in
25 years: the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 which includes the race equality promotion duty placed on public authorities.

It has also worked to address inequality in mental health provision and recently announced a joint monitoring project with
the Mental Health Act Commission and the Healthcare Commission to measure the progress of the Department of Health’s
delivering race equality strategy. Last month the commission was embroiled in controversy when London mayor Ken Livingstone accused its head, Trevor Phillips, of having “an absolutely disgraceful record” after Phillips had warned of increasing racial segregation.

But, spats between old adversaries aside, has the CRE lived up to expectations? For former leader of Lambeth Council Linda
Bellos it hasn’t. She has spent the past 27 years campaigning for an end to racial inequality and is now director of equality consultancy Diversity Solutions.

She says: “I’m sorry to say the CRE has not lived up to my expectations. I had high hopes that the Race Relations (Amendment) Act would transform equality in this society but there is little evidence the CRE has rigorously promoted it.”

She adds that, although individual staff may be working hard within the CRE, if the overall organisation has achieved success
“they have forgotten to tell us about it from a strategic point of view”.

Bellos is not alone in being disappointed  with the CRE. Rob Neil, acting director of race equality organisation the 1990 Trust, says there are specific areas of responsibility and duty – like ensuring public authorities comply with race laws – where “it is arguable whether the CRE has even achieved the bare minimum expected of it”.

However, he adds that the body “has never and can never meet everyone’s expectations because as long as racism exists the CRE’s job is not complete”.

Neil adds that, in recent years, the commission has failed to use its powers under the law, citing the significant differences in the number of formal investigations it has conducted.

He says: “Between 1980 and 1985 the CRE completed over 800 per cent more formal investigations than between 1990 and 1995. At present there are no formal investigations ongoing.”

So what does the CRE need to do to garner support before it is amalgamated into the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights in 2009 (which will be led by its current chair Trevor Phillips)? Neil argues there must be stricter enforcement of race laws if the CRE is to claw back some level of credibility. Bellos agrees this is the way forward.

“All the  CRE needs to do is robustly and rigorously implement the general and specific duties of the act. If they are doing it subtly it doesn’t reassure me.”

For Maxine Ayton, chief operating officer at the CRE, the body’s achievements are witnessed by the lack of overt racism in
the UK today compared with the climate it faced when formed in 1976. But she says: “We are still finding that gypsy and traveller communities are victims of blatant forms of discrimination. Migration also presents us with challenges, especially in the public sector.”

On a mission
The CRE was created following the Race Relations Act in 1976 with the remit to:
● Encourage greater integration and better relations between people from different ethnic groups.
● Use its legal powers to help eradicate racial discrimination and harassment.
● Work with government and public authorities to promote racial equality in all public services.
● Support organisations and employers in all sectors in their efforts to ensure equality of opportunity.
● Raise public awareness of racial discrimination and injustice.

Related articles
What exactly has the CRE achieved? See our Q&A session with the CRE

Contact the author

This article appeared on page 33 of the 12 October issue, under the headline Happy 30th?

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