The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, the worldwide condemnation of the murder of George Floyd, and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement shone a light on the entrenched inequalities faced by ethnic minority communities. These events accelerated the urgency for action and in March 2020 the Welsh Government set out its commitment to develop a Race Equality Action Plan.
The draft Race Equality Action Plan was published in March 2021 and signals a new approach in Wales to tackling race inequality and racism.
‘Being a non-racist society is simply not enough’
The draft plan sets out the vision of a Wales which is ‘anti-racist by 2030’ and includes actions to tackle racism and make ‘meaningful and measurable changes’ to the lives of BAME people. It aims to take an approach to policy making which is transparent and rights based, and one which is driven by lived experience.
Eradicating racism and building an anti-racist Wales will be the subject of a Senedd debate on the 19 October. But what will need to happen during the next nine years to achieve this vision?
Tackling entrenched inequalities
The Welsh Government estimates that 174,900 people in Wales are of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Understanding the issues and experiences of ethnic communities is hampered by the lack of data, particularly relating to different ethnic groups. Despite the limitations, data reveals that:
- People from ethnic minorities are more likely to die from COVID-19, yet vaccination take-up is lower compared to white populations in Wales.
- Despite accounting for 5.8% of the population, just 3% of those appointed to Welsh public bodies in 2018/19 were from ethnic minority backgrounds.
- Employees from ethnic minority groups in Wales earned, on average, 7.5 per cent less per hour than White British employees.
- In 2019/20, there were over 50 race hate crimes recorded every week in Wales, accounting for 65% of all recorded hate crimes.
While successive Welsh Governments have attempted to tackle racism and discrimination, the issues raised by the pandemic prompted the First Minister to establish a COVID-19 Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Advisory Group chaired by Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna.
One sub-group chaired by Professor Keshav Singhal, examined the immediate risk of COVID-19 infection to health and social care workers. To safeguard staff health and wellbeing a Workforce Risk Assessment Tool was developed and is now widely used in the Welsh NHS, social care and in wider employment sectors across Wales.
Chairing the second sub-group, Professor Ogbonna examined the socio-economic factors which contributed to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on BAME people. Its report found that longstanding racism and discrimination of BAME groups was a factor perpetuating racial inequalities in Wales, and highlighted a number of key issues:
- Highlighting the increase in recorded hate crime, the report found evidence of “long-standing racism”. It found some BAME communities experienced “high levels of violence” and “racially orientated micro-aggressions and sometimes overt racism”, and racial abuse and hate speech during the pandemic.
- Investigating the reasons why BAME communities were at a higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19, the report found an absence of good quality health data on ethnicity. The report found difficulties in accessing health services due to cultural and language barriers, concerns about interpretation services for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and reports of different or worse NHS treatment attributable to race and ethnicity as contributing factors
- Overcrowding and higher levels of renting were found to be issues in BAME communities, with serious accommodation issues for asylum seekers.
- A lack of representation in decision-making was found to have led to poor socio-economic outcomes.
- The report found an under representation of BAME groups in apprenticeships despite an increase in employment rates across Wales, and attainment gaps at higher education level.
The report made 37 recommendations and called on the Welsh Government to develop a “substantive and comprehensive Race Equality Strategy for Wales”.
In its response to the findings, the Welsh Government set-up a steering group in September 2020 to develop the draft Race Equality Action Plan. The draft plan was also guided by an evidence review undertaken by the Wales Centre for Public Policy..
Responses to the draft Race Equality Action Plan
A consultation on the draft plan sought feedback on the policy goals and actions but also wider issues of concern including the appropriateness of the term ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people’.
The consultation response is expected soon. Those responses which are publicly available are encouraging, with organisations welcoming the timely publication of the draft plan and supporting the actions. But they also raised challenges and concerns about how the plan will be implemented.
Most responses included concerns regarding the levels of funding and resources required to achieve the goals, the absence of targets and timeframes to monitor progress; and the need to ensure interventions “do not appear as tokenistic” (Royal Pharmaceutical Society).
Thinking about the term ‘anti-racism, Vale of Glamorgan Council stated:
A succinct definition of anti-racism is needed in the same way that a definition has been provided for socio-economic disadvantage so that we are all working towards the same end.
Is the vision achievable?
The development of a Race Equality Action Plan represents a significant move in acknowledging the issues faced by ethnic communities. But to deliver ‘radical action’ and to achieve the vision of an ‘anti-racist Wales by 2030’, every area of government will need to take action. It will require a concerted effort by individuals, communities, organisations across the public, private and third sectors and across political institutions.
You can watch the Senedd debate here.
Article by Claire Thomas, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament