The 375 government recommendations Boris Johnson could use instead of launching yet another commission on inequality

Add up the unrealised recommendations from previous commissions and it becomes clear how effective they really are.

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Nestled in a bloviating, throat-clearing thousand-word Telegraph column about Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson has announced a commission on racial inequality:

“It is no use just saying that we have made huge progress in tackling racism. There is much more that we need to do; and we will.

“It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life.”

The PM’s cursory reference leaves the substance to a separate Telegraph report, which says that “The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities” will report directly to the Prime Minister, be chaired by an independent figure, and be made up of people from “a mix of ethnic, social and professional backgrounds”.

In case that isn’t vague enough, it will look at “inequality across the UK, not just that affecting the BAME community”. It will aim to produce recommendations by the end of this year.

Previous inquiries into the way racial discrimination plays out in the UK have produced large numbers of recommendations, almost all of which have been ignored or shelved by the government.

David Lammy – who chaired his own review into the experience of BAME people in the criminal justice system in 2017, asked the BBC’s Today programme: “If he was serious, why are there no details about how it will be staffed? Its remit, its terms of reference, its timetable?”

Lammy concluded that the idea for the new commission was “written on the back of a fag packet yesterday, to assuage the Black Lives Matter protests”.

Here are just some of the reports whose recommendations for legislation are still outstanding:

The Windrush Lessons Learned Review, 2020: 30 recommendations

The Windrush scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable”, found this independent report led by an inspector of constabulary called Wendy Williams.

It found the Home Office had betrayed a generation of migrants by wrongfully stripping them of their rights, displaying “an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation… which are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism”.

The report makes 30 recommendations, including the Home Office acknowledging the damage it has caused, opening itself up to greater scrutiny, and a culture change to ensure migration policy is “rooted in humanity”. It called for a full review of the hostile environment policy.

Yet as late as April this year, there were still 3,720 outstanding cases of applications for the hardship scheme from people who had been wrongly categorised as illegal immigrants.

Race Disparity Audit, 2017

After pledging to tackle society’s “burning injustices” on her first day outside No 10 as prime minister in 2016, Theresa May ordered the Race Disparity Audit to look at racial discrimination across society.

It demonstrated huge disparities in life chances for people from ethnic minority backgrounds compared with their white counterparts across society: for example, black Caribbean pupils are permanently excluded from school three times as often as white British classmates, and unemployment among black, Asian and minority ethnic people was nearly double that of white Britons.

Nevertheless, it was criticised by Labour for merely collecting data that was already available in one place, and lacking solutions or recommendations. Highlighting the evidence is easier than implementing change, particularly with a change in administration less than two years after the audit was published.

The Lammy Review, 2017: 35 recommendations

The Lammy Review was commissioned by David Cameron when he was prime minister in January 2016 to investigate racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Chaired by the Labour MP David Lammy, the review found that BAME people make up 25 per cent of the prison population and 40 per cent of young people in custody (compared with 14 per cent of the general population who are BAME). Arrest rates are higher for BAME people, who are more likely to plead not guilty, more likely to receive prison sentences for drug offences, and report poor experiences of prison.

The Lammy Review makes 35 recommendations, including on filling in the gaps in collecting and analysing ethnicity data, improving access to legal advice and representation, increasing transparency in sentencing, modernising the recruitment of judges and magistrates, and prison and youth justice reforms.

While the government accepted all 35 recommendations, it is still at the stage of pursuing better quality data – and, crucially, it has not published an assessment of the impact of the work it is doing to implement the recommendations. So it is not holding itself accountable.

In the meantime, the proportion of young people from BAME backgrounds in youth custody has increased since the Lammy Review.

The Angiolini Review, 2017: 110 recommendations

Commissioned by Theresa May when she was home secretary in 2015, this review looked into deaths and serious incidents in police custody.

Chaired by the top Scottish lawyer Dame Elish Angiolini, the review found evidence of disproportionate deaths of BAME people in restraint-related deaths.

It said: “The stereotyping of young black men as ‘dangerous, violent and volatile’ is a longstanding trope that is ingrained in the mind of many in our society. People with mental health needs also face the stereotype of the mentally ill as ‘mad, bad and dangerous’.”

The report makes 110 recommendations, covering a range of areas including restraint techniques and funding for family support.

Like the Lammy Review, this report highlighted the disproportionate number of minorities at every level of the criminal justice system – a problem that persists today and has been a major campaign topic for the UK Black Lives Matter protests.

The McGregor-Smith Review, 2017: 26 recommendations

Chaired by the Conservative peer Baroness McGregor-Smith, this review looked into issues affecting black and minority ethnic people in the workplace.

It found discrimination and bias at every career stage, and beforehand – for example, in 2015 BAME people held only 6 per cent of top management positions, and there was a higher unemployment rate among people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

It made 26 recommendations, including mandatory unconscious bias training, diverse interview panels, transparent career paths, and the introduction of mentoring and sponsorship schemes.

Yet progress has been too slow, and McGregor-Smith last year said every recommendation from her report still held true today. “Even two years on [from the report], the prejudices that many have faced in the workplace, of many backgrounds, haven’t changed, which stops them fulfilling their potential.”

The Parker Review, 2017: eight recommendations

This review, chaired by the businessman Sir John Parker, looked into the ethnic diversity of UK company boards. It found that only 2 per cent of directors in FTSE boardrooms were people of colour, 51 out of the FTSE 100 companies did not have any directors of colour, and only six people of colour held the position of chair or chief executive.

It posited eight recommendations to increase the ethnic diversity of UK boards, develop candidates for the pipeline and “plan for succession” to board positions, and enhance the transparency and disclosure of efforts to increase diversity.

A 2020 update to the report found that “progress has been slower than hoped”, with FTSE 100 companies on track to miss their targets, and over a third of FTSE 100 boards still lacking ethnic minority representation.

The Young Review, 2014: 5 recommendations

The Young Review highlighted the experiences and needs of black and Muslim men aged 18-24 in the criminal justice system, finding unequal outcomes from prison to resettlement.

Chaired by the crossbench peer Baroness (Lola) Young, it found there was a greater disproportion of black people in prisons in the UK than the US, with 13.1 per cent black prisoners (compared to the 2.9 per cent general population) and 13.4 per cent Muslim prisoners (compared with 4.2 per cent general population).

The report gave five recommendations, including greater community engagement in the system, reviewing prison officer training, and widening the diversity of rehabilitation staff.

These were welcomed by the Ministry of Justice and the then prison and probation service, but according to the Clinks criminal justice organisation, “action to implement” them has been “too slow”:

“Other than the establishment of The Young Review’s Independent Advisory Group, which continues to press for action, none of its recommendations have been fully enacted by the MoJ and HMPPS.”

The Adebowale Report, 2013: 28 recommendations

Requested by the then Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, this report looked into mental health and policing in London.

Chaired by the crossbench peer Lord Adebowale, it demonstrated that there were higher detention rates for black Caribbean and other black groups under the Mental Health Act. It found statistically significantly lower satisfaction levels with Met Police services for victims and victim care among respondents from a BAME background: “The relationship between the MPS and London’s diverse communities in a mental health context is significant.”

It produced 28 recommendations, involving how the Met worked with the NHS and mental health services and mandatory training for officers and staff.

Five years on, Adebowale praised the Met Police for making progress on mental health awareness, but remained concerned about the experience of black men in particular – he felt their experience with the police surrounding mental health was not being monitored adequately:

“We need to be ever alert to the experiences of BAME people in relation to the police response to mental health,” he said. “The only way to do that is to monitor it and ensure there is a reduction in the current disproportionality which reflects disproportionality across the mental health sector… I do not think that is clear in the information I have.”

After the Riots, 2012: 63 recommendations

After the 2011 England riots, a group of experts called the Riots Communities and Victims Panel visited 22 areas to see how they were recovering after the summer unrest that spread across England.

Identifying social factors behind the rioting, and finding low levels of trust and high levels of dissatisfaction with the police among BAME neighbourhoods surveyed, its report in 2012 gave 63 recommendations. These included measures to improve schooling, mentoring for young offenders, and action to stop young people living without education, employment or training.

In 2013, research by David Lammy MP – whose constituency of Tottenham in north London was the lightning rod for the riots – found a majority of recommendations from the report had been rejected or not implemented. Only 11 of the 63 had been acted upon.

The Macpherson Report, 1999: 70 recommendations

More than four years after the racist murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence in southeast London, an inquiry was called in 1997 by the then home secretary Jack Straw into his death. It was led by the retired judge Sir William Macpherson.

This transformed the debate about policing and racism in Britain, famously finding that the investigation into Lawrence’s death had been marred by “institutional racism” in the Metropolitan Police.

It made 70 recommendations – including on police relations with ethnic minorities and improving the diversity of police recruitment and promotion – 67 of which led to changes within two years of the report’s publication.

Although this was a watershed moment in British race relations, problems persist – for example, race disproportionality within stop and search. Only recently, BAME people were nearly 50 per cent more likely to be arrested for breaking coronavirus laws than white people, according to Met Police figures.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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