Britain's equalities watchdog is missing something crucial: BAME representation

Britain's equalities watchdog is missing something crucial: BAME representation
Comment: If the EHRC can't root out racial discrimination under its own roof, asks Taj Ali, what hope is there it will do an effective job at tackling systemic racism?
5 min read
17 Nov, 2020
David Goodhart was appointed as a commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission [Getty]
Last Thursday, the UK government appointed David Goodhart, a supporter of its "hostile environment" policy as a commissioner on its equalities watchdog. The "hostile environment" policy was the precursor to the Windrush scandal that saw hundreds of people from Black and other ethnic minority backgrounds wrongly deported.

In July 2018, Goodhart claimed, in a Policy Exchange Paper, that despite the Windrush scandal, Britain's border was far more "fit for purpose" than it was a decade ago. In the same month, Goodhart went a step further by arguing in a Telegraph article that the Windrush scandal should not lead to "a radical watering-down of the so-called 'hostile environment'".

Given the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is currently investigating the Home Office over the Windrush scandal, this appointment is nothing short of tone deaf.

To add further insult to injury, in June this year, during worldwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and systemic racism in general, Goodhart claimed in an UnHerd article that it was "statistically naive" for anti-racist campaigners to highlight statistics demonstrating widespread institutional racism within the criminal justice system in the UK.

It is astonishing that the British government thinks someone who downplays the very real issue of systemic racism in Britain is suited to the role of commissioner on its equalities watchdog.

The appointment of Goodhart was announced on the same day that the British parliamentary Joint committee on Human Rights released a report on racial inequality in the UK. The committee criticised the EHRC for failing to protect Black people and called on the government to take action to promote equal rights. The report said that the EHRC had been "unable to adequately provide leadership and gain trust in tackling racial inequality in the protection and promotion of human rights".

It is a deep source of shame that there is not a single Black commissioner on the EHRC's current board

It is a deep source of shame that there is not a single Black commissioner on the EHRC's current board. The parliamentary committee also highlighted this in their report and said it had "left the Black community without a clear visible champion for their rights". Over 75 percent of Black people who were surveyed for the report said they did not believe their human rights were equally protected compared to white people. Such a finding only further emphasises the need for the composition of the EHRC to be more representative of Britain's diverse communities.

Earlier this year, Newsweek revealed that two former commissioners on the EHRC, who were the only Black and Muslim commissioners at the time, said being "too vocal about race" cost them reappointment. Both Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, who was the only Muslim commissioner at the time, and Lord Simon Woolley who was the only Black commissioner, lost their positions in 2012.

Baroness Hussein-Ece highlighted how herself and Lord Simon Woolley often "spoke more on race" and race equality was often 
"put on the back burner" during their time as commissioners.

Read more: There is nothing unconscious about Tory bias

If the EHRC can't root out racial discrimination within its own organisation, what hope is there that it will do an effective job at tackling systemic racism within the rest of society?

The EHRC has also let the Muslim community down on numerous occasions. In May, it dropped plans to hold an external inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, despite evidence it is widespread. Just last month, Hope Not Hate revealed poll findings that 57 percent of Conservative Party members had a negative view of Muslims, with nearly half of Conservative Party members describing Islam as "a threat to the British way of life". Some have called for Muslims to be sterilised or thrown off bridges.

An EHRC investigation into Islamophobia within the party of government is long overdue. For years, British Muslims have been calling for an investigation into Islamophobia within the governing party and we are still waiting. By failing to take the issue seriously and conduct its own impartial investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, the EHRC is letting the Muslim community down and allows bigotry and hatred to go unchallenged.

The EHRC is letting the Muslim community down and allows bigotry and hatred to go unchallenged

"Belief and religion" are protected characteristics of the EHRC's agenda, and yet the EHRC has often remained silent when issues of Islamophobia have been uncovered by others. For instance, in 2016, when the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights called for an inspection of the UK's controversial counter-terrorism programme, Prevent, over allegations of racial profiling of British Muslims, the EHRC remained silent and failed to provide any scrutiny of the policy.

While the EHRC turns a blind eye to Islamophobia and allows anti-Muslim rhetoric to go unchallenged, British Muslims continue to suffer from increasing anti-Muslim sentiment. With Islamophobic hate crimes increasing and nearly half of all recorded religious hate crimes directed towards Muslims, it is abundantly clear that Islamophobia has become pervasive in our society.

That our own equalities watchdog is failing to ignore this very serious issue is a damning indictment of a society where systemic racism goes unchallenged. It shouldn't be this way. The equalities watchdog should be at the forefront of the fight against racial inequality and systemic racism in this country. The EHRC is in need of serious reform. It is imperative that it rebuilds trust with Britain's ethnic minority communities by actively listening to our concerns and engaging with our communities.

Taj Ali is a freelance writer and political activist based in Luton. He recently graduated from the University of Warwick with a BA in History and Politics.

Follow him on Twitter: @taj_ali1

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.