Race Equality motion passed unanimously

school childrenWhile all eyes were on the Economy debate today, in the hour before Conference debated another important motion. It was entitled ‘A new Liberal Democrat approach to Race Equality’, and can be found on page 36 of the Conference Agenda.  This motion was the outcome of the first report by the Liberal Democrat Race Equality Task Force: ‘Towards Race Equality: A Liberal Democrat Approach‘, which focused on education and employment.

This new approach sought to bring race equality back into focus in public debate. In recent years it has been increasingly subsumed under general equality issues so some of the specific challenges around race have been lost. (Indeed, that argument could also be applied to other equality strands). Janice Turner, who moved the motion claimed: “Progress in racial equality has gone backwards”.

The motion noted a number of areas for concern: the educational underachievement of some groups and the dis-proportionate number of Black Caribbean boys who are excluded from school, Black and Minority Ethnic under-representation in the Russell Group Universities and in teaching. It also noted that there appears to be a pattern of discrimination in the private sector against job applicants with ethnic minority names.

Jemima Bland reminded us that the way we treat minorities shows how we value humanity in general. Gareth Epps said that race equality matters, but is not talked about enough in the party.

Merlene Emerson pointed out that whereas Chinese children perform very well in schools in the UK, they do not do so well when it comes to employment. Neville Farmer reminded us of the most disadvantaged group of all – Gypsy, Roma and travellers’ children – and asked for clear guidance to local authorities on how to redress the inequalities.

Various actions were recommended, mainly in the education sector. The conference supported giving back powers to Osfted to judge schools on their actions in this area, ensuring that the school curriculum reflects the diversity in the UK, reinstating appeals panels against exclusions, and requiring all Universities to be transparent in their selection of students and staff. There is also a detailed recommendation on equality monitoring in the private sector.

The motion was agreed with no-one voting against. Indeed, not one of the speakers criticised any of the elements in the motion. So now there is work to be done to put the recommendations into action.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • >Neville Farmer reminded us of the most disadvantaged group of all – Gypsy, Roma and travellers’ children – and asked for clear guidance to local authorities on how to redress the inequalities.

    The problems with the education of Gypsy, Roma and travellers’ children is largely down to those communities. Until these communities take the education of their children seriously there is little local authorities can do, unless you believe in “saving the children” by forcibly taking them into care…

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 16th Sep '13 - 10:26pm

    When my own father came to this country from a rather ‘well heeled’ existence in Sri Lanka, he was shocked to face discrimination as overt as ‘No Irish, No Black, No Dogs’ on display. Thankfully this level of bigotry is something of the past generally, but for Gypsy/Roma/Travellers communities this is sadly still a reality.

    As a member of the Race Equality Task Force I know that along with the other members we share Neville Farmer’s concerns, about the level of discrimination that these communities and their young people experience. Dr John Coxhead (author of The Last Bastion of Racism?: Gypsies, Travellers and Policing and a personal friend) who was mentioned by Neville actually gave evidence to the Task Force and corroborated all that Neville rightly highlighted. Dr Coxhead is not only an HE educationalist, but has worked as an advocate with Gypsy/Roma/Travellers for many years. This is remarkable as he is also a serving police officer.

    John and I were once both involved in both developing and delivering Equality and Diversity Training within the police service nationally and I can assure you that the level of hostility expressed towards Gypsy/Roma/Travellers communities was and remains unparalleled.

    Is this discrimination only found within the police service, sadly no and one only has to look at how Councils around the country (even those controlled by LibDem’s) in the main treat these communities with what can be described as hostile contempt. I know of a number of ongoing cases that would make most people feel ashamed.

    If as a society we actually got to grips with and tackled the discrimination that these much maligned communities experience on a daily basis then we would actually go a long way to identifying and resolving the discrimination that many other groups also face.

    This is going to be a long struggle though for the hatred is deeply ingrained in society, and even some ‘Good’ LibDem’s may actually be incensed that I have even written what I have, but I would ask that before they tap out a response that they take a deep breath and ask themselves whether the so-called evidence that they are about to present is actually correct or whether they will merely be repeating worn out, but still well used myths to support the last acceptable form of overt racism.

    As for Roland’s response, well it is an example of what I have mentioned, and clearly Roland is not aware of thegrowing number of HE graduates that exist within such communities. Education is of paramount importance to these communities, but the manner in which it is provided is not always appropriate. May I suggest that people invest as little as £1.51 via http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1858563909/?tag=libdemvoice-21 and purchase John exceptional book that will enlighten most readers.

    If anyone wishes any specific contacts and information there is a wealth of positive material on the web, but I am also more than happy to signpost people if they so wish.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats – Vice Chair

    [email protected]
    07886 799 256

  • With Eastern European Roma it depends a lot on the definition of “Roma”. Many Roma who are able to get steady jobs and integrate into the wider community stop self-identifying as Roma and list themselves on censuses as part of the majority community. The most important determining factor in the region for ethnicity is native language, with skin colour less important. Those “integrated” Roma may also be speaking the majority language at home. For very good historical reasons the governments in the region are not allowed to assign racial or ethnic categories to citizens, but that skews the statistics if the most successful members of a “race” in the sense British people understand the term are leaving it. How does the British government decide who is Roma?

    In reality there is a bit of a spectrum both in terms of genetic heritage (with some people looking completely Indian and some people looking European), as well as in terms of language, with some people speaking the majority language of their state or a neighbouring one, others speaking dialects of the majority language with a few Roma words ranging all the way out to speaking a dialect of the Roma language (which may or may not be understandable to speakers of other Roma dialects). Different positions on that spectrum have different problems (where for example there might be no childrens books ever published in the particular dialect one speaks, let alone materials for learning to read). It’s an unfashionable opinion but success depends a lot on the teachers.

  • I applaud the liberal democrats commitment to equality and look forward to sincere attempts to increase the number of ethnic minority liberal democrat MPs in parliament as a first step.

  • @R Uduwerage-Perera – A welcome contribution, particularly as the race equality debate has largely been focused on the larger foreign heritage ethnic groups that have more recently settled in the UK.

    Yes my very short comment could be interpreted in many ways – some negatively. Yes, like many I suspect, I am unaware of HE graduates, but I am aware of the daily problems at my local infant/junior schools, where provision has been made but attendance and (parents) attitudes to attendance and education can leave much to be desired. Hence the basis for my statement, as the way to redress the inequalities isn’t wholly the responsibility of local authorities, which is a conclusion that could be reached from the brief comment on Neville’s point in the article.

  • I would take issue with talking about “Gypsy, Roma and travellers” within the same breath. Certainly if by using the term Roma as distinct from Gypsy, we mean more recently arrived Roma from former communist countries where their nomadic way of life was banned a few generations ago then they have a different culture and often a different set of problems to the others, despite their having some shared distant history with the other groups mentioned.

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