Page last updated at 17:32 GMT, Monday, 30 November 2009

Minister says councils 'blind' to needs of white people

John Denham
John Denham says high immigration has led to 'insecurity'

Local councils and government agencies have been "blind" to the needs of white working-class people, communities secretary John Denham has said.

In a reversal of previous Labour policy, Mr Denham said officials in charge of tackling inequality should no longer just focus on ethnic groups.

He urged greater consideration of the needs of disadvantaged white people.

The Conservatives have accused Labour of "hypocrisy" over its change of tone on race and immigration.

They say the party has only begun to take action because it is losing votes to the BNP in its traditional heartlands.

Mr Denham, who recently launched Connecting Communities, an initiative aimed at reducing alienation and resentment in 100 mainly white working-class areas, said places with high immigration levels felt a sense of "insecurity and unfairness" because of the impact of new arrivals on jobs and public services.

'Powerful legal framework'

Unless councils act, these could lead to tensions and resentment, he said in a speech to the TUC.

He said: "Many local agencies have a clear and good commitment to tackling racism and race inequality and are right to do so. But on its own this is not enough.

"We can only challenge racism and race inequality effectively as part of a strategy that tackles all forms of inequality and disadvantage.

"This must include poorer white working class communities, as well as disadvantaged minority ethnic communities.

"Agencies which have been blind to these issues, or thought their only remit was to address minority issues, must re-assess the way they work.

"The new Equalities Bill will give a powerful legal framework for this broader attack on inequality."

Under the Equalities Bill, which is due to begin its passage through Parliament, local authorities would have a statutory obligation to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

'Not racist'

In his speech, Mr Denham said disadvantaged white boys had more in common with their poor black classmates than with middle-class white people.

And he said the inequality agenda should focus on "need" and not "outdated ideology or assumptions which may no longer be true".

These could lead to white working-class boys being "overlooked".

If government policies are seen to be unfair, he said, they could be exploited by groups seeking to "drive people apart".

"We have to avoid the perception that some groups are singled out for special treatment," Mr Denham said.

"When we target help at one group, we cannot allow others to be left behind, or to feel disconnected."

"By ensuring that our policies are both fair, and seen to be fair, we reduce the risk that they can be exploited by others who would distort them to drive people apart.

"And we properly address the complexities of the problem: ensuring that the white working-class boy struggling in class gets the support that he needs, just as his black and Asian classmates do."

Mr Denham's words follow a speech by Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier this month in which he said it was "not racist" to talk about immigration.

Speaking at the time, shadow home secretary Chris Grayling added: "Labour have spent the last 10 years trying to cover up a deliberate policy of uncapping immigration whilst accusing their opponents of irresponsibility when raising the issue.

"Now they've discovered that they are losing votes as a result and are desperately trying to do something about it."

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