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Time to sound alarm for equality


LEE JASPER says abolition of the CRE risks wiping away gains over the last 20 years.

Lee Jasper
Lee Jasper: single equalities body is a step backwards.

Quietly and without much fanfare the Government is pushing ahead with legislation to abolish the Commission for Race Equality (CRE) and replace it with a ‘single equalities commission’ – the Commission on Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

This is proceeding to the delight of an ill-informed section of liberal opinion and right wing critics alike, but with growing trepidation among black and minority ethnic observers.

Accompanying this legislative move is a discourse that suggests multiculturalism is a problem, rather than a source of strength and celebration.

In the context of the push for a single commission, this is conveyed as the seemingly benign: ‘let us stress what we have in common, not our differences’. Or the more loaded: ‘we reject any “hierarchy of discrimination” and support integrated approaches’.

In the real world these translate into a social approach which says: assimilate, accept the hosts norms because if you don’t your ‘failure to integrate’, not racism, is the problem.


In the institutional context of the CEHR, it translates into a proposal for an equality commission with no security of black representation, no transparency of funding, no accountability to black communities.

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In short, a frontal assault on the ideological awareness about racism, black leadership and diversity and on the practical institutions for change that we have – painstakingly – built up over decades.

However limited anyone may think the CRE has been, it stands on the brink of being taken away. We have a chance to stop this – before it is too late.

Next year will see the Commission for Racial Equality celebrate its 30th anniversary. Over this time it has faced criticism – some justified – from black and minority ethnic communities.

But is this a case for abolishing it? And if so, what is to replace it? We need to ask: Is it no longer needed? What will our society be like without it?


Let us recall a few facts. Remember the scandal of racially segregated housing policy? Policies designed to keep black people out of white areas – like ‘sons and daughters’ policies – effectively privileged white applicants for housing over black applicants in greater need.

 - quote - Multiculturalism means respecting – in words and deeds – communities, values, languages, cultures other than the dominant one.  - unquote -
Lee Jasper

Over the last 20 years and more many local authorities have been compelled by the CRE to abandon racist housing policies.

Institutional discrimination and the position of individuals facing racism would be incomparably worse without the record of the CRE.

Since its inception in June 1977 the CRE has carried out 67 formal investigations, whereby major institutions are subjected to full, formal, legal scrutiny with the obligation to comply with recommendations to reform.

Over the same period the CRE has received approximately 40,000 applications to support individual claims against discrimination, and thousands of cases have been informally resolved after the CRE got involved.

After CRE campaigning, in 1994 the ceiling was taken off the amount of compensation that could be awarded in industrial tribunals.

Since then there have been some substantial rewards: Don D'Souza, for example, a former employee of Lambeth Council, was awarded £358,229 in 1997 by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The callous murder of Stephen Lawrence was emblematic of where racist hatred leads. The CRE made a critical contribution to the Inquiry set up after Stephen’s murder.

In 1998 the CRE, firstly, insisted that race had operated as an influential factor in Stephen’s murder, and, secondly, proposed a definition of institutional racism.

The Commission urged the Inquiry to recognise the existence of institutional racism in the police service and other institutions. The CRE called for amendment of the Race Relations Act to make it unlawful for the police to discriminate in any of their activities, and to make policing subject to the Commission’s law enforcement powers.

Although the CRE suffered from 18 years of Tory cuts and weakening of its political influence, under Labour the CRE threatened to reach its potential, as reflected in the passing of the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000

The CRE has been built over the last 30 years on solid activism from black communities, committed trade unionists and anti-racist groups.

It is an institution that is built upon the suffering of thousands of African, Caribbean and Asian communities nationwide. It remains the envy of similar communities throughout Europe. If the CRE did not exist black communities would be fighting to create it.

We would not be fighting to dissolve ourselves, without the most minimum security of representation, into an amorphous, untested institution, and in the context of a political debate that threatens, yet again, to say the victims of racism somehow constitute the problem.

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