Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
11 October 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:11am

New report shows shocking racial inequality in Britain

Black people five times more likely to be imprisoned, while black graduates face 24 per cent less pa

By Samira Shackle

Today saw the release of How Fair is Britain, a landmark report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The commission’s first triennial report into the subject, it paints a picture of entrenched racial and social inequality.

The Guardian today picks up on the data on prisons. The proportion of black people in prison in England and Wales is now higher than in the United States. Nearly seven times more people of Afro-Caribbean and African descent are imprisoned than their share of the population, compared with about four times in the US. On average, five times more black people than white are imprisoned in England and Wales.

It’s a shocking disparity, albeit hardly surprising. Despite claims that institutional racism in the police force has been tackled since the Stephen Lawrence case, the report notes that while black people make up less than 3 per cent of the population, they accounted for 15 per cent of people stopped by police.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Clearly, not enough is being done to tackle racism in the prison and justice system. But another striking aspect of the report is how this racial inequality runs through society at every level. Black children are three times as likely to be permanently excluded from school. One of the most striking comparisons in the report shows that being black and male has a greater negative impact on levels of numeracy than having a learning disability.

Even for those who make it to university, the disparity still exists. Less than ten per cent of black students are at the top Russell Group universities, compared with a quarter of white students. Around a third of black students get a first or upper-second class degree, compared with two-thirds of white students. The study also suggests that black students face a 24 per cent less pay than their white counterparts.

It is a drastic understatement to say that something here is not right. Commentators are frequently quick to attribute racially based underachievement to the disaffection and alienation of boys in the black community. There is no doubt that this has a part to play, but when these statistics – prisons, schools, universities, graduate employment – are placed alongside each other, it is not difficult to see where this disaffection comes from.

There might be a “poverty of aspiration” among black, but it is easy to understand why when the reward for a degree could be lower pay. The report raises some uncomfortable questions about the scale and nature of institutionalised racism in this country. Clearly, at every level, more must be done.