Rights not Red Tape

by Andy Gregg, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda 

Stephen Lawrence

Lee Jasper recently declared that: “The monitoring [data collection and analysis] that started rigorously following the death of Stephen Lawrence is being abandoned. Doreen Lawrence has complained about it. Other black activists have complained about it. But the Government calls it ‘red tape’, which shows their lack of interest in promoting equality”.   We are he says “now in a position where we can’t even assess the extent of racism.”

He is quite right about this serious danger. The Government is starting to take the UK back not just to the world before the Stephen Lawrence inquiry but to the world before the 1980s. This was the period which saw the first introduction of systematic ethnic and other equal opportunities monitoring that was introduced at first by the GLC and other progressive local authorities and other public services. The argument then was the same as it should be now - if you don’t keep statistics and data on equalities then you will have no idea whether things are getting better or worse and you have no ways of improving services for all sections of the population let alone those sections who suffer the most discrimination.

The Government is in danger of taking the UK into a situation rather like that in France. For the French, ethnic monitoring is seen as “racism”. Everyone in France  (who has the right documentation) is proclaimed to be an equal  citizen of France and any attempt to even ask them questions about their ethnicity, religion or other characteristics is deemed to be unwarranted, divisive and discriminatory. Of course this means that the French Government has few or no policy responses to the appalling racism and discrimination facing black and brown French citizens and their communities. The French Government is able to get away with levels of discrimination and institutional racism that would not even be countenanced in the UK. However ingrained and pervasive  institutional racism and other forms of discrimination are in Britain, at least we currently have the mechanisms and the Public Sector Equality Duties to be able to address some of these issues. We should beware of the world that the Government seeks to return us to through its facile argument that there is too much “red tape” and regulation.