Black people, racism and human rights Contents


In response to the awful killing of George Floyd in the US, Black Lives Matter protests in the UK have highlighted once again the racism and inequality that exists here. Racial inequalities in the protection of human rights raised by the Black Lives Matter movement led this Committee to commission polling which found that over three quarters of Black people in the UK do not believe their human rights are equally protected compared to white people.

Whilst the issues of racial inequality have been the subject of repeated reviews, the lack of progress in implementing the findings of those reviews has become a source of intense frustration and concern. Where actions have been taken, they have often been superficial and not had lasting effect. Our aim for this inquiry emphatically was not to embark on a new round of fact-finding in areas where the facts are already well established and considered recommendations have been made. Instead we call for action to implement these recommendations and look to how best to overcome the seeming inability for Government to act. To that end, we call on the Government to set out a comprehensive cross Government race equality strategy. This must have at its heart improved data collection on racial inequality. Our report focuses on four issues where inequality in the protection of human rights is of particular concern: (i) health, (ii) criminal justice, (iii) nationality and immigration and (iv) democracy.

Over 60% of Black people in the UK do not believe their health is as equally protected by the NHS compared to white people. The death rate for Black women in childbirth is five times higher than for white women. The NHS acknowledge and regret this disparity but have no target to end it. This must be rectified. The impact on the Black community of Covid-19 has been disproportionately severe. Any lessons learned review or public inquiry into the Government’s response to Covid-19 must prioritise consideration of this unequal impact.

85% of black people are not confident that they would be treated the same as a white person by the police. The police should carry out their own polling on this issue and set a target for reducing this startling lack of trust. The Lammy Review was commissioned in 2016 to address the issue of over-representation of Black people in the Criminal Justice System. Four years on, the recommendations of this review must be taken forward as a matter of priority. Likewise, recommendations from the Angiolini review of deaths in custody which reference institutional racism, race or discrimination must be acted upon as a matter of urgency.

The Windrush scandal revealed that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens, many of whom were Black people from the ‘Windrush’ generation or their children, had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights. We expect the Government to fulfil its promise to implement the recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, in full, as a matter of urgency. In particular, the Home Office needs to embed the culture change needed to ensure that people are treated with humanity. We are hugely disappointed by the delays in making payments under the Windrush Compensation Scheme. Those affected must receive the compensation that they are entitled to without further delay.

It is of serious concern to us that 25% of Black voters in Great Britain are not registered to vote compared to a 17% average across the population. We urge the Government to consult on the introduction of automatic voter registration with the aim of reducing this disparity.

The failings of successive governments to act in response to the successive reports and reviews shows that something is wrong with the architecture which is supposed to protect human rights and promote racial equality.

We find that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been unable to adequately provide leadership and gain trust in tackling racial inequality in the protection and promotion of human rights. For the EHRC to be, and be seen to be, effective Black people must be represented at the top level of the organisation, including as commissioners. The Commission needs adequate resources. And its enforcement powers must be strengthened to enable it to undertake investigations where it is suspected that an organisation has breached the Human Rights Act 1998 and provide legal assistance to individuals in Human Rights Act cases.

Even if the EHRC’s capacity to promote and protect Black people’s human rights is enhanced as we recommend, there would still be the need for a high profile, organisation at national level whose priority it is to champion and press for progress on race equality. This capacity has not existed since the Commission for Racial Equality was folded into the EHRC. The re-creation of a body along the lines of the CRE must now take place, along with a network of bodies at local level to fulfil a role similar to that previously performed by the race equality councils.

The Government should consider whether changes are required to equality legislation to make it more effective as a tool to enforce Black people’s human rights.

Published: 11 November 2020