Just as the UN has its sustainable development goals, the UK needs its own diversity inclusion goals, writes June Sarpong
At long last, it seems that diversity – or, more importantly, the lack of diversity throughout British society – has become an issue for political debate. Recent reports have begun to highlight the true extent of the problem, from the David Lammy report, which found that black people were deeply discriminated against in the criminal justice system, to the government’s own race disparity audit, which highlighted the gulf between the way different ethnicities and genders are treated in their interactions within the public sector.
These reports are welcome but this is still just the tip of the iceberg. New research that I commissioned from the London School of Economics revealed that men from ethnic minority groups and women would have incomes totalling an extra £127bn per year, or £9,300 per person, if their incomes matched those of white British men. Beneath the figures lie some startling disparities which paint a bleak picture of inequality in the United Kingdom – men and women of Bangladeshi heritage, for example, face the biggest income gap. The average British-Bangladeshi man has an income that is £207 less per week, or £10,800 per year, than the average white British man, while the average British-Bangladeshi woman gets £265 less per week, or £13,800 less per year, than the average white British man. From cradle to grave, the data shows us that the system is failing the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in British society.
As a black woman, the fact that our criminal justice system discriminates against people of your skin colour, or that opportunities to progress in your career are restricted, is not a shocking revelation. For many of us, these ‘findings’ are not news but simply reality. The real news is that while this reality has now been acknowledged for some years, no real concrete solutions have been offered by this government to address the scale of the issues highlighted.
Granted, the prime minister is fighting for her political future while her government is dealing with the stress of Brexit, so perhaps it is legitimate to question whether now is the right time to be banging on about diversity. But if you dig a little deeper, what becomes clear is that the lack of diversity at all levels of society and in all sectors is causing a huge disconnect in our country – and this disconnect is growing. It is symbolised by the tragedy of Grenfell, the growing disaffection of many, and the creeping radicalisation of the few. This is an area I have been researching for close to two years and which, along with Oxford University and LSE, I explore further in my new book Diversify. This data adds further to the avalanche of evidence pointing to Britain’s inequality of access and inequality of opportunity.
Jeremy Corbyn has rightly highlighted this is a crisis and criticised the Tory government, but while the prime minister has voiced her concerns regarding this issue, she is yet to act. From her inaugural speech on the steps of Downing Street to alluding to the ‘British dream’ at last month’s Conservative party conference, she has continually talked of the need for Britain to be more financially and culturally inclusive and welcoming of diversity. But while talk highlights the problem, it does not fix it, and it is no substitute for action.
My personal experiences and my work researching and writing Diversify has led me to passionately believe that we need a national plan to meaningfully address diversity and inclusion in Britain. We need to see clear goals and targets with an achievable deadline – just as the United Nations has its sustainable development goals, the UK needs its own diversity inclusion goals. To those who have an aversion to goals and targets – or at least when it comes to issues such as diversity – I would remind them that we have had a target to get net migration down to the tens of thousands which, albeit wholly unrealistic and likely damaging to our economy, still seems to be popular with many.
Let us have some realistic goals and targets about how we enable all of our citizens to contribute to our society to the best of their ability. A goal to build diverse communities where social and private housing are built side by side, for example, with comparable safety, services and opportunity. A goal to attribute greater status to home making and childrearing activity through accreditation, and critically making this an option available to all genders. A goal to extend suffrage to 16 year olds with greater opportunity for civic and political participation for young people.
These may seem simplistic to some but sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most effective. We can no longer just talk about this problem without offering solutions. We are at a crossroads as a nation, and now is the time to urgently ask what kind of country do we want to build? I would argue for a truly inclusive and diverse Britain, with equal opportunity as our target and not just a talking point. In order for post Brexit Britain to thrive, we must diversify.
June Sarpong is author of Diversify: Six Degrees of Integration. You can find out more at Diversify.org
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