Inaugural meeting of the Race Equality Policy Working Group

On 13 February, eve of Valentine’s Day, members of the Race Equality Policy Working Group met for the first time at LDHQ. I mention Valentine’s Day because this is very much a labour of love for those of us who have volunteered to assist the Party in its policy making on this important subject.

The first meeting was also timely for another reason: it follows the issue last week of Lord Alderdice’s report on Race, Ethnic Minorities and the culture of the Liberal Democrats and an email from our leader, Vince Cable MP, calling on each and every member to play their part in changing the culture of the Party.

Dubbed “Morrissey 2”, this was the long-awaited report pushed for by certain members of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) in the footsteps of the Morrissey Review in 2014 that had focussed on gender issues. The Policy Working Group could not sensibly proceed to criticise the Government or various institutions for not tackling race inequality if we have not examined our own Party’s reputation and record. In fact, Lord Alderdice had in his report referred to both EMLD and our Working Group as having significant roles to play.

The remit for the Working Group is extremely wide, from Education and Employment to Health, Criminal Justice system, under representation in Politics and more. To help navigate the vast waters, Debbie Weekes-Bernard, policy and research manager from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation came to share about her seminal work on “Poverty, Ethnicity and the labour market.”

Highlighting the drivers of poverty such as unemployment, economic inactivity, austerity and the freezing of benefits, as well as in-work poverty, she provided evidence of why those from BaME communities have been the worst hit. 14 million people currently live in poverty (defined as living on 60% of median income) 19% of these are white, 50% Bangladeshi (for example), while 30% of Black African graduates are over qualified for the jobs that they are in.

We had an interesting interchange of ideas including looking at ways of encouraging employers to raise the wages of the lowest paid as a way of increasing productivity, by ranking companies for their record of diversity and inclusion and for better retraining of skills. A question posed on the effectiveness of Job Centre Plus brought the loudest guffaws.

The Working Group will be meeting another 5 times before the Autumn Conference when we will be presenting a Consultation Paper. In the meanwhile, we are open to suggestions and would welcome evidence not only from experts from think tanks but also from ordinary members to learn from your experiences. Please do not hesitate to contact either myself or Jonathan Everett of the Policy Unit at LDHQ.

The following are members of the Working Group (in alphabetical order):

Sam Al-Hamdani, Susannah Austin, Hina Bokhari, Brendan d’Cruz, Kishan Devani, Andrew de Whalley, Neville Farmer, Issan Ghazni MBE (Vice-Chair), Jon Hannah, James Jennings, Susan Juned (FPC rep), Dr Mohsin Khan, Tahir Maher, Dr Bablin Molick, Meher Oliaji, Marisha Ray, Pramod Subbaraman and myself (Chair).


* Merlene was co-founder of Chinese Liberal Democrats and on the executive of the LibDems Overseas. She co-edited “Rise of China – Fresh Insights and Observations” published by the Paddy Ashdown Forum (2021)

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  • Mick Taylor 15th Feb '18 - 5:33pm

    I welcome the start of this working group. However if it only considers the effect race has on how ethnic minority members of our party are perceived and treated, it will fail.
    There are many aspects of race equality that will be difficult to discuss, especially the way some ethnic minority groups treat women and LGBT Plus people.
    In a party such as ours where we have a basic belief in equality regardless of race, gender, sexuality or religion, we cannot turn a blind eye when people who want to be members of our party treat women badly or refuse to accept LGBT plus people.
    So good luck to the working party but please don’t forget the rights of women , or LGBT plus individuals in your deliberations.

  • Pramod Subbaraman 16th Feb '18 - 7:26am

    It was a good first meeting and I’m happy that I’ve been able to dial in. An important need for those not in or near London. Thanks to Merlene for chairing our group and I do hope we are able to fulfil our remit and go further where we see fit. We had good discussions on day 1. Let’s make this a seminal piece of work and not another one for the shelf at HQ.

  • @ Mick Taylor

    I think it is fair that a Race Equality Policy working group focus on issues with regard to…Race equality.

    LGBT+ and Women, will also havign working groups focusing on LGBT+ and women specific issues and no doubt there is an intersection between all three.

    What’s different between the way, some people of a skin colour which is different degrees of brown, yellow and brownish orange and say some other people with a white skin colour, in the way they treat women and LGBT+ people?

    Or is just another bland and ill thought generalisation of some kind..?

  • Interesting comment about how the intersections of gender and sexuality are seen / or perceived within BME groups, I would guess looking at the flip side there is also how race is viewed from the lens of gender or sexuality. Merelene has pointed out how wide the remit is of the policy group, a part of this is the untangling of intersectionality, as has been mentioned different BME groups have different barriers. It will be interesting to see some of recommendations and evidence put forward by the various organisations we will be hearing from.

  • Bablin Molik 19th Feb '18 - 2:41pm

    Glad to be part of the group and like Pramod able to joined through dial in. This is a Race Equality forum and whilst there will be intersection with other parts of equality strands as with LGBT, Women and disability. There are other active groups to focus on those strands and it would be unfair to suggest that supporting one strand would mean opposing others. I look forward to working with the group to come up with liberal democratic stance on addressing race inequality that exists in our society.

  • Simon Banks 2nd Apr '18 - 5:21pm

    Interesting comments on interaction of different equality factors. Clearly the working group is charged with addressing race inequality and not gender, sexual orientation, disability or other factors as such. However, it’s very much the case that some groups defined by two or more characteristics (Pakistani, Muslim, female, say, or African-Caribbean, male, Gay) may experience difficulties that can’t be analysed purely in terms of race/ethnicity and yet are not the same as the experience of people who have a different ethnicity. It’s also often so that groups or individuals are clearly experiencing discrimination (albeit very likely indirect and unintended), but it is’t obvious whether it’s on grounds of race, gender, age or religion, for example. Fact is, in the Liberal Democrats as with so many other groups, especially voluntary groups, some faces appear to fit and others don’t and it doesn’t take any ill-will at all for some newcomers to a group to feel out of place.

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