Manon Roberts compares and contrasts the Welsh and UK Governments different approaches to combating structural racism.
Following the tragic murder of George Floyd in the USA, a wave of Black Lives Matter protests, and growing evidence of the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people, both the UK and Welsh governments have been prompted to examine how far current policy and practice are addressing race inequality.
Whilst there has been much justified and necessary criticism of the UK Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (Cred) report since it was published in March 2021, there has been comparatively less focus on the Welsh Government’s rather different approach to their development of a Race Equality Action Plan, which was launched for consultation in the same month.
Contrary to the UK Government’s approach, parallel work in Wales has been underpinned by anti-racist values, co-production with people with lived experience of racism, and independence and academic integrity.
Much of the criticism of the UK Government’s Cred report centres around the report authors’ conclusions that they ‘no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities’, and that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion are more significant determinants of life chances than racism.
It has been argued by critics of the report that this overlooks the ‘causes of the causes’ and the persistence of health inequalities between ethnic groups even after controlling for socioeconomic variables, which are driven or explained (in part) by structural racism.
The Welsh Government’s Race Equality Action Plan takes a very different stance. It is important to highlight that its aims were very different to those of the UK-commissioned report – the latter aimed to analyse the evidence to better understand what underlies disparities, while the former is intended to be a practical plan, outlining specific actions to tackle race inequality.
It is also important to highlight the less contentious areas of the Cred report, such as a recommendation to stop using the acronym BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) as it downplays the differences between ethnic groups – a conclusion that was also reached by the Welsh Government within their Action Plan.
These caveats aside, the framing, findings and conclusions of the Welsh Action Plan is very different to the Cred report as are the key reports that informed its development.
The Welsh Government’s Action Plan takes an explicitly anti-racist approach both in its language and the values that have underpinned its development and aims.
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The Action Plan acknowledges that taking a non-racist approach is insufficient to effect meaningful change, and that an action-oriented, conscious, and pro-active approach is required.
A number of differences emerge between the Action Plan and the Cred report as a result of the explicitly anti-racist stance of the Welsh Government.
For example, the Welsh Government’s Action Plan explicitly recognises the legacy and continuing impact of colonialism and slavery, such as in the way it manifests in negative stereotypes of ethnic minority groups and the way in which these periods of history are commemorated in public spaces.
The Cred report on the other hand has come under fire for only mentioning slavery once in the report, and in doing so discusses it in terms of the ‘Caribbean experience’ and as ‘not only being about profit and suffering’. This has been attacked by historians and other academics as ‘vicious historical revisionism’ and an attempt to sweep history under the carpet.
The Welsh Government has already shown action in this area, with an audit of statues, street and building names associated with slavery, as well as a curriculum review to improve the teaching of themes relating to Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and experiences.
In effect, while the Cred primarily perceives racism as a problem of the past, the Welsh Government’s approach recognises its persistence across contemporary social, economic, cultural and political spheres of life.
This is perhaps not surprising given the importance placed on the lived experience of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in developing the Welsh Action Plan, and the extent to which the process relied on co-production.
Representative groups and individuals with lived experience of race inequality fed into the plan at all stages, and also interacted directly with the Welsh Government policy officials responsible for developing the Plan through paid consultancy positions.
Visioning exercises were conducted in which stakeholders were asked how it would look and feel to achieve the goals of the plan and its overarching aim of an anti-racist Wales by 2030.
Further key elements of the co-productive process included the involvement of a diverse Steering Group, in addition to extensive community consultations, the results of which were considered to be as, if not more important, than the academic research that fed into the Plan.
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These processes ensured that the Action Plan was meaningfully informed by the experiences of those who live with the impacts of racism in Wales, and that the policy-making process directly involved the people and communities whose lives the Action Plan ultimately aims to improve.
This bottom-up approach was bolstered by visible buy-in and representation from the most senior levels of the Welsh Government, with the Permanent Secretary co-chairing the Steering Group and ensuring the Welsh Government were leading by example, for example, by commissioning training on institutional racism for all senior civil servants at the Welsh Government.
The way in which different reviews of evidence were commissioned and represented in the final Action Plan speaks to a greater level of independence and academic integrity compared to the Cred report.
While the Cred report has attracted much criticism for cherry-picking data and findings, in addition to a perception that the conclusions had been decided prior to writing the report, the Welsh Government commissioned an external organisation to prepare rapid evidence reviews on what works to improve race equality.
These reviews were written mostly by academic experts who were themselves from an ethnic minority background and the Welsh Government also set up the community consultations by offering a grant scheme to small community groups and race-based organisations to run community engagement exercises with over 2,000 people for the lived experience evidence.
“It certainly helps the process of long-term, cultural and systemic change to have a government that visibly recognises the extent of the challenge and leads by example.”
While it is not possible to predict the long-term impact or effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s Race Equality Action Plan, the reactions to the Action Plan and the Cred report could not be further apart.
There are early indications of buy-in and support from key race equality organisations in Wales such as Race Council Cymru, who described the Cred report as ‘fundamentally flawed’ and not reflecting the lived experiences of minorities in Wales, who also claimed they were listed as stakeholders without being consulted.
While the Cred report has left many disappointed about what they saw as the regressive leadership of the UK Government when it comes to race equality, the work of the Welsh Government provides a hopeful example of what can be done and how work in this area can be conducted and progressed.
It is important to highlight that the response to the Cred report demonstrates that its conclusions do not represent the feelings of key stakeholders, and that change for a common cause can be (and often is) driven from outside of government.
However, it certainly helps the process of long-term, cultural and systemic change to have a government that visibly recognises the extent of the challenge and leads by example – and we can hope that in Wales, at least, this will lead to the successful implementation of the Welsh Government’s Race Equality Action Plan, and an anti-racist Wales by 2030.
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