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  1. Politics
15 May 2014

Sadiq Khan declares war on race inequality

The shadow London minister will set out a comprehensive programme to tackle racial division in a speech tonight. 

By George Eaton

In his recent speeches and interventions, Ed Miliband has made it clear that reducing inequality will be the defining mission of any government he leads. Today, Sadiq Khan, one of Miliband’s closest shadow cabinet allies, will argue that this goal will only be achieved with a comprehensive plan to tackle race inequality. The speech he will make this evening at Operation Black Vote is the most significant and radical delivered by any Labour figure on the subject in recent history. 

The key point, a party source told me, is his recognition of “the importance of positive action”. Khan will pledge to impose a new legal requirement for all police forces, including the Met, to have active recruitment policies to increase diversity and will confirm that Labour will consider introducing diversity quotas for company boards and the judiciary if voluntary action fails. He will also promise to radically reform stop and search powers, going much further than Theresa May, to improve the diversity of the civil service and to reform the Work Programme so that it better supports ethnic minorities. All of these policies will be united in Labour’s race equality strategy, which a source said would be “driven by the Cabinet Office, rather than a piecemeal department-by-department approach”. 

Khan will say: “My bus driver father could only have dreamed, as a new arrival to London in the 1960s from Pakistan, that three decades later his son would be the first Asian MP to attend cabinet. As a country we have clearly done much to break down the barriers of racial discrimination. But the fact is that Britain remains a hugely unequal country for minority ethnic people. If you are black or Asian in Britain today you are significantly more likely to be unemployed, will earn less and live a shorter life than your white neighbours. This is a moral issue and political issue – an injustice that offends our basic values of fairness. But it is also terrible for both our society and economy.”

And he will argue that general inequality can only be tackled by reducing racial inequality, highlighting that: 

– Black and ethnic minority people are the most likely group to be trapped in poverty.

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– The percentage of people from Bangladeshi or Pakistani descent who earn the minimum wage is nearly twice as high as the percentage of white Britons.

– In London, more than twice as many Asians earn less than the London Living Wage compared to white Londoners. 

“It will be impossible to make Britain a more equal country and close the gap between those at the top and the bottom of our society, without also tackling racial inequality,” he will say. 

In an echo of The Spirit Level, he will also argue that tackling race inequality is not just good for ethnic minorities but for everyone in Britain. 

Ending race inequality isn’t just about helping black or Asian people; it’s about improving the lives of everyone in Britain. The shocking unemployment rate in ethnic minority communities limits economic growth and increases the cost of welfare. We need to unleash the economic potential of young Black and Asian Britons to grow our economy. Ending race inequality will also benefit our communities and society. Inequality causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives. It increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction. It destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes or of different races. Tackling racial inequality will help us tackle these problems amongst people from all backgrounds.

Race equality, he will say, has “barely been an afterthought for the coalition”. 

“They have taken their foot off the accelerator and as a result, the progress made by the last Labour Government has gone into reverse. Unemployment in black and Asian communities has gone through the roof – ethnic minority Britons are now twice as likely to be unemployed as white Britons. There has been no progress in making our police force reflect the communities they protect. And government cuts have disproportionately hit black and ethnic minority Britons.”

Khan’s approach isn’t just smart policy but smart politics too. As research by Operation Black Vote has shown, the number of seats where the ethnic minority vote is bigger than the majority of the sitting MP will total 168 in 2015, up 70 per cent since 2010. Khan said in response: “This research shows how important the ethnic minority electorate is going to be in future general elections. Any party that seriously wants to win needs to take the ethnic minorities with them.” By seizing the initiative on race equality, Khan is ensuring that Labour is best placed to do so. 

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