Skip to main content
Joy Warmington, CEO of brap, writes about 30 years of equalities practice in Birmingham and the need for clarity, a shared vision and getting on the front foot.

Here’s a quick question for you. For every £100 that a man working in Birmingham earns, how much do you think a woman earns? Ninety five pounds? Ninety pounds? Maybe as low as £85?


We’ll reveal the answer at the end, so while you’re mulling over that here’s another one. The unemployment rate for white people in Birmingham is about 9%. What’s the rate for black people? If you doubled 9%, try again. The answer is actually three times higher – 26%. The unemployment rate for Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents is similarly out of kilter, currently standing at 18%. But here’s the really interesting thing. Back in 2004 the white unemployment rate was 6% while the black rate was 18% – again three times higher. Over the course of a decade, despite all its strategies and plans, the city was unable to reduce this stark inequality.


Why is this? Well, it’s not just Birmingham that’s been asking these questions. A number of cities – from Plymouth to Sheffield to York – have held fairness commissions in recent years to understand why entrenched inequalities persist. As useful and, in some cases, penetrating as these commissions have been they have tended to ignore the nuts and bolts of how public agencies ‘do’ equality – how they go about tackling discrimination, eradicating social patterns of disadvantage, and fulfilling their legislative equalities duties. This is a serious gap. Understanding why these approaches have failed may go some way to explain why serious inequalities continue.


New research From Benign Neglect to Citizen Khan, providing a bird’s eye view of equalities practice down the decades shows that many ideas have been resistant to change. Whereas society has changed greatly over the last 30 years, our equalities tools have remained remarkably similar. For example, in 1984 Birmingham City Council set up a Race Equality Unit with the aim of addressing institutional racism and improving access to council services. By 1989 the Unit had 31 staff, including race relations advisers in housing, education, and social services. The Unit’s annual report for that year shows its activities included training, monitoring uptake of services, helping different departments devise race equality schemes, improving access to services (mainly by translating information), and organising outreach events. If you were to include something about community development (helping local community groups to support disadvantaged people) these activities would all be part of the Standard Six – the half a dozen key actions that have dominated equality strategies and policies over the decades. They’re the things that crop up time and time again, regardless of the organisation’s sector or the demographics of its service users. Ideally, equality approaches would be dynamic – constantly evolving as we better understand what works. Unfortunately, this generally hasn’t been the case.


We don’t want to suggest that no progress at all has been made, of course. For one thing, the number of excluded groups considered by equalities practice has increased. For example, public authorities in Birmingham didn’t fund any lesbian or gay groups during the 1970s or 80s – a situation which would be subject to serious scrutiny today. In addition, equalities practice is beginning to explore the impact of leadership and organisational vision when it comes to embedding best practice, and organisations are beginning to focus more on partnership working. However, there are still some things we need to get better at.


Firstly, as agencies work together more closely we need to be crystal clear about what ‘equality’ means. This may sound simple, but if you speak to people in different organisations you’d be surprised at how many answers you get. This is no longer an option. Different agencies have to be on the same page when it comes to delivering fairer outcomes for the most vulnerable. Secondly, and connected with this, we need a shared vision of what good quality of life looks like for Birmingham’s residents. This needs to be informed by what people think is important and by the common needs of people from different communities in the city. In other words, it will involve much more clarity about the ‘domains’ of equality that are important to a wide range of people in the city. Thirdly, we need to devise a series of entitlements necessary to guarantee these needs and measure the provision of these through a multi-agency, multi-sector programme of activities.


Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we need to take equality, cohesion, and integration seriously. In addition to the Standard Six, the clearest feature arising from a historical survey of equalities practice is that we’re constantly reacting to things. Whether it’s an influx of new migrants, riots, or legislative changes, equalities practice has always been devised in response to a particular crisis or problem. We have never stood back, thought about the type of society we want to create and then pursued this vision with vigour. It’s clear that equalities practice has usually been seen as a side show to the main business of delivering services. This can’t continue. We need to get on the front foot. Rather than react to problems we need to proactively shape the future.


Which brings us back to where we started: how much does a Birmingham woman earn compared to a man? The answer is £81 for every £100 he earns – a gender pay gap of 19%. This is bad enough itself, but it’s also worth noting that at our current rate of progress it’ll be 2038 before pay equality is achieved (and this is assuming there will always be progress: between 2012 and 2013 the gender pay gap actually increased). It’s becoming increasingly obvious that our traditional approaches to equality are delivering progress at too slow a rate. If we do what we’ve always done we’ll get what we’ve always got. And what we’ve always got has let down too many people.


It’s time for a change.


A new report by the Counting Women In coalition Sex and Power 2014: Who Runs Britain? has found that progress on women’s representation in politics has stalled and in some cases declined.


The coalition – made up of The Fawcett Society, the Hansard Society, the Electoral Reform Society, the Centre for Women and Democracy, and Unlock Democracy – was formed in 2011 to address the lack of women in politics.  They believe the under-representation of women in Westminster, the devolved assemblies, and town halls around the UK represents a democratic deficit which undermines the legitimacy of decisions made in Parliament.  Their aim is to ensure women have an equal presence and voice within our democratic system. The report found that:


  • The 2015 General Election presents the next big opportunity for all parties to make progress.  Fielding women in target and retirement seats is the most reliable way of achieving this.
  • The Labour Party are leading the way with women making up 53.5% of those fielded in target and retirement seats.  The Liberal Democrat Party comes next with 40.5% and the Conservative Party is lagging behind on 34.5%.


In terms of current levels of women’s representation in national politics, women currently comprise only:


  • 22% of Cabinet Ministers
  • 23% of MPs
  • 23% of Members of the House of Lords


Women are also seriously under-represented in local government, particularly in leadership roles.  Only 13.1% of local government leaders are women – a 3.5% decline since 2004. And Britain is falling down the global league tables.  When it comes to women’s representation in politics, we have slipped dramatically from 33rd place in 2001, and 62nd place in 2010, to 65th in 2014. The report’s key recommendations are that:


  • All political parties should take (or continue to take) immediate action to increase the number of women candidates at all levels of election, using positive action if necessary.
  • Election authorities should use monitoring forms so that we can get a much better understanding of who is (and isn’t) standing for election in our democracy.
  • The media should ensure that their coverage of political issues includes women and their views, treats all contributors with the dignity and respect to which they are entitled, and accords with the Code of Conduct published by the National Union of Journalists.

RobBRob Berkley, Director of the Runnymede Trust, explains why they are working to end racism this generation.

Over the last weeks we have witnessed commemoration of the March on Washington, the high-point of the US civil rights movement. A timely reminder of the difference that movements can make, but also a challenge to this generation to take action to end injustice. In 2013, racism is still a problem which pervades our society. Since our inception in 1968 Runnymede has been fighting to achieve race equality in the UK. We’ve done this through research, network building, and policy engagement. But recently, we’ve been feeling as if this isn’t enough. Race equality seems to have been filed in the ‘too difficult’ box. In order for discrimination to stop, the struggle against racism needs to be part of the public consciousness. We need to change our approach; we need everybody to not just feel that racism is not good for society, but to act to eliminate it.

Although the Equalities Act 2010 protects ethnic minorities from racial discrimination, your ethnic background still significantly impacts your life chances. In education, if you are from a Black Caribbean background you are three times more likely to be excluded from school, and data revealed by the BBC shows that 87,915 racist incidents were recorded between 2007 and 2011 in British schools. After school, youth unemployment is experienced by one in five white men, but one in two young black men. When seeking work you will have to send out 78% more job applications if you have a ‘foreign sounding’ name. On the street, you will be 7 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than your white counterparts, and 2 times more likely if you are Asian. In health, black and Asian people with dementia are less likely to receive a diagnosis or receive it at a later stage than their white British counterparts. Chillingly, 106 people have been killed in racist and suspected racist attacks since Stephen Lawrence’s death in 1993.

It is everybody’s responsibility to change this. Racism is a product of society and as a society we have the power to end it. It can be solved, if we work together. We believe that it everybody makes changes in their own lives, workplaces and communities, we can cause a fundamental shift where treating people equally and accepting difference will become the norm.

This September we are launching ‘End Racism This Generation’, a movement to end racism in the UK. The key to its success will be informing people about the continued existence of racism and the damage it causes to all of us, and sharing knowledge of what works in combating it.
Fighting for racial equality is everyone’s business. End Racism This Generation will create an online platform where those who want to make change can gather, learn, and create new networks for change. We will also be hosting events all around England and Wales to connect people together and spread the message.

People will be able to pledge the action they plan to take on the End Racism This Generation website. Their pledges will be mapped by area, which will allow individuals, organisations and businesses to see what is going on around them. It will present the opportunity for people to create partnerships to end racism. Crucially, these pledges will inspire others to take actions, and show what works.

We want the pledges to be non-restrictive, no action is too small, no pledge too insignificant. We want everybody to feel empowered to end racism, regardless of the resources at their disposal. A pledge could simply be to find out more about racism in the UK or to spread the word on how to tackle it through social networks. On a larger scale, organisations could pledge to show how their work already reduces racial inequality or use the momentum of the campaign to launch new activities. Businesses can pledge to work harder to ensure employees reflect the make up of the population at all levels of the business, including the boardroom. Schools and universities can pledge to take action in ensuring equality of educational experience for its minority ethnic students. And everybody can support the campaign by a donation, by giving money, time or offering the resources at their disposal.

We want this collective action to signal a shared commitment to work towards a Britain without racism; a Britain which accepts differences between people but treats them equally in all aspects of their lives. No one person, or organisation can achieve this by themselves but together we can end it.


You can find out more about the campaign on the Runnymede Trust’s website, on Twitter and on Facebook.