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Communities and Local Government News Release

Cohesion Minister outlines priorities on race equality

Communities and Local Government News Release 2007/0148

07 August 2007


Efforts to increase race equality and unlock the potential of people from ethnic minority backgrounds to progress in education and business need to be accelerated, Cohesion Minister Parmjit Dhanda said today.

A report published today shows that the cross-government focus to break down the barriers that prevent some members of Black and Minority Ethnic communities from equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities is leading to real improvements.

But in his first announcement as Cohesion Minister, Parmjit Dhanda reflected on his own experience of growing up as a second generation Asian in Britain, and said a new focus is now needed to help more people - regardless of their race, faith or ethnic origin - fulfil their potential and play a fuller part in their communities.

His priority will be to tackle the inqualities faced by many Muslim women and young people. The report shows that the employment rate gap between Pakistani and Bangladeshi women and white women has changed very little since 1970. He believes Government needs to do more to enable their voices to be heard and empower them to engage in their communities - bringing economic and social benefits to society.

Speaking at a community project in South London, Parmjit Dhanda said:

“Many members of the Black and Minority Ethnic Communities are already thriving in Britain today. But the picture is not uniform and we need to step-up efforts to make sure nobody is left behind.

“I grew up as a Sikh and a second generation Asian in a predominantly white community. I was fortunate and benefited by having parents who pushed me to do well at school and to go on to university. Now I need to be a pushy Minister to help minority communities to get the best for their children.

“I want to make sure Government is doing all it can to open doors to women and young people regardless of their background to help them realise and achieve their potential. We need to do more to break down the barriers facing many people from ethnic backgrounds and support them to take on leadership roles in civic life and help shape the places they live to promote greater equality.

“We now have some of the most comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Europe; targeted interventions in school are raising educational achievement and ethnic employment rates are rising. I welcome these positive changes but we still have a long way to go. Across public services and across Government we need to continue to take the steps that are needed to deliver greater equality and build strong communities.” 

The Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society (IOSS) strategy is the Government’s commitment to create strong, cohesive communities in which every individual, whatever their racial or ethnic origin, is able to enjoy equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities.

The Second IOSS Annual Progress Report published today examines what has been done in the last year to deliver on this key area of work. The report makes clear that progress is being made in a number of key areas:

  • In education - between 2005 and 2006, most BME groups showed an improvement in the proportions of pupils achieving the equivalent of five or more A*-C GCSEs (including English and mathematics). Bangladeshi pupils saw the greatest improvements in 2006. There has been a welcome increase in the number of BME teachers - 5.2 per cent of the teacher population in 2006 was from a minority ethnic background, a rise from 5 per cent in 2005;
  • In employment - minority ethnic employment rates have continued to increase and now stand at 60.3 per cent, up from 59.3 per cent in Spring 2005. Economic inactivity rates have continued to decline among minority ethnic groups including among groups with high levels of economic inactivity such as Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups;
  • In housing - There has been 30 per cent decrease in the number of minority ethnic households accepted as homeless 2003-04 and 2005-06. £3 million has been made available for 2006-08 for an Ethnic Minorities Innovation Fund supporting local authorities and their partner stakeholders in developing innovative ways to tackle and prevent homelessness in BME communities;
  • In health - The ‘Race for Health’ programme (launched in 2004 and with 15 Primary Care Trusts now participating) is placing race equality at the core of primary care services and helping to tackle issues such as diabetes, strokes and heart disease within BME communities;
  • In the criminal justice system - between 2001 and 2005 the perceptions of race discrimination in the courts, the prison service, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service improved among minority ethnic groups;
  • There is now better representation of ethnic minorities amongst police officers rising from 3.5 per cent in 2004-05 to 3.7 per cent in 2005-06, prison officers (from 4.4 per cent to 4.6 per cent) and probation staff (10.9 per cent to 11.7 per cent)
  • In the law - in March 2007 Part 2 of the Equality Act 2006 came into force protecting against discrimination on ground of religion/belief, in the provision of services and the exercise of public function. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 creates a new offence of racial or religious hatred and is expected to be implemented in summer 2007.

The report also makes clear, however, that progress in other areas is less significant and underlines the need for further focus and targeted intervention, including:

  • Educational attainment amongst travellers of Irish Heritage, Gypsy/Roma, Irish and Chinese pupils is not improving at the same rate as other groups;
  • In 2005-06, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women had the lowest employment rates (23 per cent and 25 per cent respectively) among all minority ethnic groups and the highest economic inactivity rates;
  • Men from minority ethnic groups were more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be unemployed in 2005-06 (12 per cent compared with five per cent) and the past year has seen rising unemployment rates in most groups.

Parmjit Dhanda was visiting the Triangle Adventure Playground in Kennington, a community project bringing children from different backgrounds together. Playground leaders are also working to encourage the parents from different ethnic backgrounds to volunteer as helpers and become involved in the management committee for the project.

The Minister added:

“Local people know their communities better than anyone. I want to make sure Government is supporting small and locally based projects, who are often best placed to reach out to members of the community and find creative solutions to help people access services, challenge racism and bring people together. 

“I know there is incredible work going on in communities to promote equality and celebrate the diversity of this country. I believe diversity has brought huge economic, social and cultural benefits and I want to support community groups to find the best, hands-on ways to respond to local needs, increase opportunity and build strong cohesive communities.”

Notes to editors

1. A copy of the Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society second annual progress report can be found on the Communities website: www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1512143.

Media Enquiries: 020 7944 3042; out of hours 020 7944 5945 Public Enquiries: 020 7944 4400; Email: press.office@communities.gsi.gov.uk News Releases: www.communities.gov.uk.

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