Page last updated at 17:18 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

Ethnic minorities 'no longer always disadvantaged'

John Denham: "There has been real progress over the last ten years"

Being black or Asian in the UK no longer means you will be automatically disadvantaged, Communities Secretary John Denham has said.

He said progress made since 2000 meant that, while racial discrimination still existed, disadvantage was now more linked to poverty, class and identity.

Mr Denham said the problems of white working-class areas must be tackled.

The government is trying to get a major equalities bill through Parliament before the election.

'New trends'

Launching a review of government policy on race on Thursday, Mr Denham said the UK was now so used to diversity that many of the historic problems with racial discrimination were fading, even if they had not yet died.

In their place, he argued, there was a more complex and subtle challenge for policy makers and public services, where people did not achieve their full potential because of other factors beyond their ethnicity.

Clearly there are still huge racial disadvantages in our society
Lord Ouseley, former chairman of Commission for Racial Equality

These included their social class, community and identity. While children with Chinese heritage tended to excel at school, boys from white working-class areas were doing far worse.

"Britain today is not the same place as it was a decade ago," Mr Denham said. "We therefore have to make sure that our efforts are tackling problems of today and not those of the past.

"New trends that are linked to race, class and identity make the situation much more complex.

"That does not mean that we should reduce our efforts to tackle racism and promote race equality but we must avoid a one-dimensional debate that assumes all minority ethnic people are disadvantaged.

"If the cause of disadvantage is social class, we will promote opportunity. And if the cause is a combination of racism and social class we will tackle both together."

Social mobility

The Department for Communities has earmarked £12m to look at entrenched social problems in 130 predominantly white working-class areas.

The move has been widely seen as an attempt by Labour Party leaders to counter the rise of the BNP, after criticism from within the party that it had failed to heed the warning signs of a backlash against new economic migration.

Mr Denham has denied claims that these areas have been forgotten - but has acknowledged that the far-right gains where people do not believe their grievances have been dealt with.

The government's Equalities Bill, currently in its final Parliamentary stages, is designed to change the way public services work by ordering them to take into account the needs of all groups in society.

Caroline Spelman, for the Conservatives, said Mr Denham's new initiative was an acknowledgement that its policies on social equality had failed.

"While Gordon Brown has played class warfare politics, social mobility has gone backwards under Labour.

"Britain can't go on with a government that has seen the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.

"In contrast to Labour's approach, Conservatives will support aspiration so that people from every background have the chance to get on in life."

'Hidden discrimination'

Lord Ouseley, former chairman of the Racial Equality Commission and chairman of a campaign to end racism in football, Kick It Out, said the government deserved praise for its actions over the past 12 years.

But he added: "Clearly there are still huge racial disadvantages in our society."

"There is quite a considerable amount of hidden discrimination that still takes place in our society," he said.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber welcomed Mr Denham's statement, saying: "The introduction of the duty on public bodies to promote race equality has undoubtedly made a real difference to the way in which our schools, police forces, NHS and local councils serve and employ people from ethnic communities, but more will always need to be done.

"In particular in the private sector, employers are not required to promote race equality, just to avoid discrimination which relies on individuals pursuing complaints against employers before anything is done."

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