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The CRED report and Tory ‘Marxism’: Time to bring in S1 of the Equality Act

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The thing about inviting Marxists (or “post-Marxists”?) into the heart of the UK Government, if you are a right-wing prime minister like Boris Johnson, is that they sometimes come with ideas you don’t understand with implications you can’t fathom – and hence policies you are unlikely to want to implement. This is very much the case with the No 10 report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED). Its emphasis was on the largely socio-economic basis of such disparities, ditching decades of liberal-left post-structuralist identity politics and notions of institutional racism for a more orthodox materialist historicism. Boris must have been quite baffled (though how would we tell?).

As it happens, if the government does actually want to do something about disparities that are embedded in socio-economic deprivation rather than racism, it has one quick fix that would actually do something: bring into force Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010.

This Act was largely a tidying up operation by the Gordon Brown government to bring equality legislation into one handy place.  It is full of provisions to deal with institutional racism but it also had something new in Part 1, Section 1:

Public sector duty regarding socio-economic inequalities
(1) An authority to which this section applies must, when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions, have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.

This is bang on the button as far as the disparity report goes, with its concern about Britain as “a world where your talent and potential contribution are limited by which postcode you live in, your race or your socio-economic background”.

The CRED report, for example, shows its socio-economic class-based analysis by quoting with approval research that suggests Black Caribbean children perform less well than Black African children at school (and hence in life) in part because the more recent African immigrants are from a higher socio-economic group than the second or third generation of Caribbeans who came over specifically for working class jobs. Similarly those Indians who have migrated to Britain had a higher socio-economic status allowing them to flourish. (Report pp 67-8)

So if socio-economic background is so important, perhaps it might be important to embed socio-economic assistance into our equalities legislation? The Section 1 duty (if brought into force) can be imposed on government ministers, local authorities, the police – the whole range of public bodies within whose ambit the socio-economically disadvantaged so often come. The current duties that are in force require such public bodies “to have due regard to the need to: eliminate discrimination; advance equality of opportunity; [and] foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities” (Guidance notes).

Now that the Conservatives, who have studiously failed over a decade to bring in Section 1, suddenly and fortuitously realise how important socio-economic issues are, surely it is the time to impose similar duties on public bodies to have due regard for socio-economic disadvantage?

This would also play well in the “Red Wall” seats the Tories hope to hold on to in the next election. Presumably the Tories did well last time around owing to a certain resentment among traditional working class voters that Labour (metropolitan, liberal, heavily into LGBT and ethnic identity politics) no longer spoke to their needs. In educational terms (which is mostly what the CRED report was about) there is a good deal of disadvantage that has a socio-economic basis (in that white working class boys in particular fare less well than other groups). The report notes:

“it is widely documented that socio-economic status is strongly implicated in low educational achievement. This is not to ‘explain away’ any ethnic achievement gaps, but to better understand the root causes and identify relevant policy interventions.” (CRED report p 79)

So white boys from low socio- economic backgrounds are down there with black boys from low socio-economic backgrounds regarding educational achievement. Class disadvantage is the crucial factor, not specific ethnic disadvantage. Section 1 would be a policy that would direct help where it was needed – including government money, which ministers would be duty-bound to direct to the disadvantaged, whatever their ethnicity. 

Is this just a pious hope? After all, the Tories have shied away from bringing Section 1 into force, presumably out of fear of its implications – that public bodies’ efforts would be redirected from causes and people close to Tory hearts (the better off in leafier areas). But see this:

“The [Equality] Act has, in the main, tended to support and promote those who are already closest to their destination, rather than digging down into supporting those in genuine need, perhaps due to the lack of provision around socio-economic circumstances.”

That was the thoroughly right-wing Brexity Conservative MP Ben Bradley speaking on his own Early Day Motion on “ensuring that the Equality Act 2010 protects children from disadvantaged backgrounds” (EDMs are parliamentary devices to prompt debate). He went on to point out that Section 1 covers the ground but was never brought into force:

“It seems clear that socioeconomic status or social class is, in fact, the greatest indicator of life chances, but that is not a protected characteristic [such as race, sex, disablement] nor is it enacted in section 1” (he means brought into force).

So – we are all, kind-of, Marxists now: it might seem odd that the last desperate roll of the socialist dice by Red Gordon in 2010 might suddenly be a good bet for the new brand of Red Tory in search of a policy that plays well with the white working class and handily plays into the culture wars while decrying identity politics (and the “fundamentally flawed diversity agenda”, as Bradley puts it). But we live in strange times.

Twitter: alrich0660

This was the answer from the Education Minister Vicky Ford to Bradley’s question about Part 1 of the Equality Act:

“My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield also asked, most perceptively, about the socioeconomic provisions in the Act. Social status is not one of the characteristics protected by the Act, and we need to be careful not to use it as a vehicle for social engineering rather than as a shield against discrimination. A duty of that kind would more likely result in public bodies trying to retrofit a levelling-down agenda, rather than offering better opportunities for all disadvantaged groups and levelling up.”

Note: The Welsh Government on 31 March 2021 has brought in Part 1 of the Equality Act. Here is a piece by Ekklesia that notes “polling by Opinium for Compassion in Politics found that over half (56 per cent) would like the Government to enact the Dutypolling by Opinium for Compassion in Politics found that over half (56 per cent) would like the Government to enact the Duty. Welsh consultation material is here.

• Here is a profile of Munira Mirza, the Johnson aide who put together the commission. It gives very clear evidence of her anti-institutional racism view, which she clearly wanted reflected in the commission’s report.

Here in Crikey is some background on the Revolutionary Communist Party and its recent offshoots, with which Mirza is/was associated. 

Here in Byline Times Jonathan Portes pulls apart the statistics that the Sewell commission used and abused for its report. He notes the report itself does not assert there is no such thing as institutional racism in Britain, merely that Sewell said there was no evidence of institutional racism.

 

About alrich

Journalist and blogger on legal and financial/economics issues

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