The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, set up in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests last year after the murder of George Floyd to investigate racism in British life, was always going to upset the apple cart.

And so it has, with some organisations such as the Runnymede Trust describing the report as a whitewash while others, including the TUC, labelled it a PR stunt.

What they objected to was that Dr Tony Sewell, the commission’s chairman, and his colleagues have concluded that family structure and social class have a much greater impact than race on how people’s lives turned out.

Dr Sewell and the commission went further, claiming that Britain no longer has a system deliberately rigged against those from ethnic minorities. An educational consultant, Dr Sewell said that while “impediments and disparities do exist”,  they were “varied and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism”. 

More controversially, he said the commission found no proof of “institutional racism” which he said was sometimes wrongly applied as a “sort of a catch-all phrase for micro-aggressions or acts of racial abuse”.

Of far bigger impact on people’s outcomes were the more nuanced and complex set of factors including geography, family influence, culture, religion and socio-economic background. These factors were more powerful an influence “on life chances than the existence of racism”, they said.

Rather bravely, the authors had the guts to take on critics who like to make the issue more binary, by pointing out that there is an “increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of white discrimination” which, they said diverted attention from “the other reasons for minority success and failure”.

Yet the commission’s report was no whitewash. The authors, who include eminent ‘minority’ voices such as economist Dambisa Moyo and Judicial Appointments Commission chair Ajay Kakkar, also all agreed that the reality of racism must be taken seriously,  that they do not deny that “it is a real force in the UK”or that there are historic hurts that need to be healed.

To help break down some of these barriers, they came up with a 24 recommendations which include scrapping the ludicrous BAME acronym – which has done more harm than good –  extending school days for the disadvantaged, access to better quality careers advice ( hopefully that is for all pupils) and further research to examine why some children do better than others so that their success can be replicated.

Doubtless, the report – all 264 pages of it – will now be torn apart by interested parties. And so it should be: this is a sensitive topic and deserves the broadest airing. However,  what we should take away is the heartening story of how the lives of so many of Britain’s ethnic minorities have seen a miraculous transformation over the last 50 years. 

Children from those communities do as well if not better than white pupils in compulsory education ( only black Caribbean pupils do less well) while the average pay gap between all minorities and the so-called white population is down to 2 per cent and for those aged 30 and below, the difference was insignificant.

In professions such as the law, medicine and dentistry, the numbers of those from ethnic minorities are soaring.

 School for Scandal  

The government is on steroids. Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has announced an immediate review into allegations of sexual abuse in schools and a new helpline for victims will be up and running from tomorrow.

He said:  “Sexual abuse in any form is abhorrent and it is vital that these allegations are dealt with properly.” He added that while the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, “I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward.”

Williamson has asked Ofsted to look at both the extent and the severity of the issue,  and undertake an immediate review of safeguarding policies in both state and independent schools.

One of the main priorities that inspectors have been asked to do is to ensure that schools have appropriate processes in place to allow pupils to report their concerns freely, knowing these will be taken seriously and dealt with properly.

The new helpline is to be run by the NSPCC and will offer advice to children and their parents, and also advise on reporting incidents to the police. 

 The government’s swift action follows the outpourings of more than 11,500 testimonies which have been posted on the Everyone’s Invited  blog, which was started by Soma Sara, and which has gathered harrowing material from those who have suffered.  

Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, says he has read most of the testimonies on the site, and is horrified at the scale of abuse at both private and state schools. However, as he writes for Reaction today, parents and wider society as well as schools have a role to play in safeguarding all teenagers from abuse. See below. 

A Fisherman’s Friend Indeed

Doreen Lofthouse is not a household name but she was one of the world’s most extraordinary businesswomen, having turned a nasty tasting diamond shaped lozenge into a one-product multi-million pound global empire. And what a life: she died on Tuesday aged 91. She was the Lancashire genius who turned a small family sweet business – Fisherman’s Friends – into a global brand selling about five billion of the lozenges to 120 countries around the world with sales of £55 million last year.

The lozenges were first made in 1865 by James Lofthouse, a pharmacist living in Fleetwood on the Lancashire coast as a cure for local fishermen suffering from respiratory problems.  The magic potion – made up of  liquorice, menthol, eucalyptus oil and capsicum tincture – became so popular with fishermen they named it their friend. 

The business trundled along until Doreen married the founder’s grandson, Tony, and started experimenting with new varieties – there are now 15 –  and taking them overseas. Margaret Thatcher was a big fan, as is President Macron of France, who is said to have had crates flown in for his presidential campaign to ease his scratchy throat. 

As well as overseeing the spectacular growth of the company, Lofthouse also became the most generous philanthropist, giving away millions  to fund the local football club, new lifeboats and statues for the families of the local fishermen. She is known as the ‘mother of Fleetwood’ but will be remembered by many of us who have become addicts of those foul-tasting lozenges. 

 Maggie Pagano,
Executive Editor