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May’s racial disparity audit is a token gesture of little substance

The government’s race disparity audit contains many numbers, few words and no recommendations. Its thoroughness is laudable. The amount of new information it purports is questionable. In essence it simply collects all the existing data on the subject together in one place and clearly demonstrates the continuing existence of racial inequality in the UK.

A number of recent reports by think tanks and parliamentary committees have drawn attention to racial disparities in British society. The McGregor-Smith review highlighted the  extent of racial discrimination at work and a recent report by David Lammy drew attention to inequalities in the Criminal Justice system. Similarly, the Runnymede trust has published a series of studies exposing racial gaps in educational attainment.

Thus, we already have plenty of evidence that racial divides exist. The racial disparity audit doesn’t contain any ground-breaking new discoveries on this front. It simply collects the data that we already have and puts it in one place. If the audit stimulates the Government to do something about racial disparities, then it will have served a useful purpose. If not, then it should be regarded as what it is: a waste of time and effort.

The race disparity audit does have some value. Its data is easily accessible online. Previously, the data on racial inequality was scattered across the internet or buried in Whitehall filing cabinets. Now it is all in the open. This is a victory for government transparency, if only a minor one. As Theresa May noted, the government doesn’t have “anywhere to hide”. It can’t plead ignorance any longer. Racial divides exist, and the government has to do something about them. But, despite this, the government has put forward few specific proposals.

However, the audit itself doesn’t contain any concrete policy recommendations. It’s quite possible that the government will make a few token gestures and then let the matter rest, satisfied that it has burnished its progressive credentials. Perhaps this seems too cynical but   previous Conservative governments have been reluctant to implement the recommendations of parliamentary committees and independent commissions tasked with addressing racial inequality.

The Conservative Party has turned a blind eye to racial divides before and it may do so again. Hopefully, the audit will encourage debate and lead to the development of a concrete policy programme designed to address the issue of racial inequality. But it may well sink without trace – and I suspect that it will. I hope that I will be proved wrong. But I am willing to bet that I won’t.

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