Blacks in Britain are lagging behind in society, a damning report from United Nations experts has found.
The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent spent last week assessing the experiences of Black people living in the UK.
It found that African and Caribbean people were still subjected to rampant inequalities and that politicians were not “acting fully on this evidence” although supporting data exist.
The five-member panel, chaired by leading Jamaican historian and gender specialist, Professor Verene Shepherd, praised the UK for good practices, such as the implementation of ethnic breakdowns of data and legislation like the Equality Act 2010.
Overall, however, the experts said they were disappointed by a lack of progress.
Areas of particular concern included deaths in custody, disproportionate stop-and-search statistics, the over-representation of young Black men in the criminal justice system and differential treatment within the mental health services.
The panel also noted that Black professionals were failing to reach the top levels in their respective careers, Black students were still under-performing in schools and were not being given enough opportunities to excel.
“Despite the effort to promote equality of treatment among all sectors of the population, the working group learnt about manifestations of racial discrimination that disproportionately affect people of African descent,” said Shepherd, director of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
Outlining the group’s preliminary findings, she added: “Despite the large amount of disaggregated data which highlights inequality faced by people of African descent, it does not appear as if the Government acts fully on this evidence.”
The group also observed that moves towards a “holistic approach to equality was masking the inequality faced particularly by people of African descent.”
This reflects criticisms from campaigners in the UK who protested when the Commission for Racial Equality was amalgamated with other groups to form the present day Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
Concerns were also raised by the UN experts over the Government’s austerity measures, which they feared could further undermine efforts to stamp out discrimination.
Shepherd warned: “The working group emphasises that responses to the crisis must not lead to a situation which will potentially give rise to racial discrimination against people of African descent and exacerbate their already precarious economic conditions.”
Based on anecdotal evidence, the group was concerned that young Black Britons were assumed to be “foreigners” based on their skin colour. Shepherd said the assumption changed a little when these youngsters spoke and revealed British accents.
In Liverpool, home to one of Britain’s oldest Black communities, Shepherd described the Black presence as “invisible” – despite making up more than 2 percent of the population.
She said the UN group had hoped to see more physical presence of Black business owners and professional people, and not just limited to subjects in the city’s International Slavery Museum
The report said that more must be done to tackle these issues, including more research into the experiences of Black people working within the police and justice system “to identify barriers to recruitment, retention and very importantly promotion.”
The group has also backed calls for the creation of an independent public inquiry into Black deaths in custody. The UN group said that a lack of accountability on the issue was “damaging trust and confidence.”
Shepherd added: “The working group urges the Government to amend the legal framework for stop and search in order to abolish stop and search powers without reasonable suspicion.”
The Government will now be given a chance to respond to the criticisms.
Full findings will be outlined in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2013.