What is Wales doing to eliminate racial discrimination?

Published 22/03/2021   |   Last Updated 22/03/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

The evidence of COVID-19’s unequal impact on different ethnic groups and last year’s Black Lives Matter protests have strengthened public awareness of persistent racial inequalities.

The Welsh Government aims to publish a Race Equality Action Plan for consultation by the end of March.

Among the plan’s intended objectives is a stark acknowledgment that “current policy and practice has not gone far enough to dismantle systemic and structural racism in Wales”. Reasons for this include a culture of ‘non-racism’ rather than ‘anti-racism’, an implementation gap between policy intention and practice, and lack of engagement with affected communities.

Sunday 21 March marked the UN International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. But what is the Welsh record on eliminating discrimination and what needs to change?

Legal context, data, and terminology

The UK Equality Act 2010 protects nine characteristics from discrimination. ‘Race’ as defined by the Act can encompass many aspects of an individual’s identity and experience, including colour, nationality, and ethnicity. Ethnicity is most widely monitored for the purpose of equality indicators. This can raise some challenges, as ethnicity is also a subjective identifier.

Discrimination can be direct, where hostility is explicitly targeted at someone for belonging to a protected group, or indirect, where an action or policy appears to treat everyone the same, but in practice it disadvantages members of a protected group, whether intentional or not. It can also include harassment, and victimisation, when a victim of discrimination is treated badly for making a complaint.

The Equality Act’s general public sector equality duty (PSED) places an onus on public authorities to: eliminate discrimination, advance equality, and foster good relations between people. The specific public sector equality duties for Wales require public authorities to do a number of specific things to achieve the general duty, like producing equality plans and objectives, undertaking equality impact assessments, and collecting data.

Data provides an essential insight into the challenges faced by specific groups. But last year the Senedd’s Equality Committee highlighted (PDF 478KB) the lack of disaggregated data by race or ethnicity as a factor that risked limiting the effectiveness of the PSED in Wales.

The Welsh Government is considering creating a department similar to the UK Government’s Race Disparity Unit., which collects, analyses and publishes data on the experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds.

The ONS recommends using 18 distinct groups to record ethnicity, yet racial difference is often still indicated by the umbrella term ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic’ or ‘BAME’. Research commissioned by the Welsh Government notes the problems with the term, saying that it can be “stigmatising, depersonalising and ‘othering’”. The UK Government recently committed to not using this kind of terminology.

Wales is less diverse than the rest of the UK but it is not free of racial discrimination

Wales has the second highest White British population in England and Wales, according to the 2011 Census. The results of the 2021 census won’t be published for a while, but more recent data shows Wales to be a multicultural nation.

Data from 2019 shows that 12% of pupils aged 5 and over in Wales were from non-White British ethnic backgrounds. Nearly one-fifth of Cardiff’s population are from ethnic minorities, and it’s home to one of the oldest multi-ethnic communities in Europe.

Currently the Senedd has two members from ethnic minority backgrounds, and people from ethnic minority groups make up only 3% of 2018-19 public body appointments, despite accounting for 5.8% of the population in Wales.

And even as people from ethnic minorities are more likely to die from COVID-19, their vaccination rate is lower than for White populations in Wales. There are multiple reasons for this, but evidence indicates that distrust in public authorities is among them.

The pandemic has also had a negative effect on perceptions of racial difference. Cardiff University’s digital research hub into hate speech, HateLab, observed a rise in anti-Chinese or Asian, antisemitic, and Islamophobic online hate speech, which can predict hate crimes offline.

What might the Race Equality Action Plan focus on?

The Welsh Government has targeted some action at the issue of racial inequity in Wales, in keeping with the ‘First Minister’s COVID-19 BAME Advisory group’s’ recommendations.

This includes the workplace risk assessment tool, a dedicated ‘BAME Helpline’, and commitments to improve data collection practices, particularly in the health sector. Chief among the group’s recommendations, the creation of a Race Equality Action Plan is currently underway, and its publication is expected soon.

To inform development of the Race Equality Plan, the Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP) identified six key policy areas with recommendations for action for each:

  • Leadership and representation – the research recommends leaders should be held to account for racial diversity in their organisations, and take action to change organisational culture. It highlights the importance of data collection, pathways for career progression, affirmative action, recruitment practices, and overcoming barriers to leadership.
  • Health and social care – recommendations include improving recruitment and progression opportunities, targets and positive action, non-discriminatory and culturally-sensitive service provision, improved data gathering, and equitable public health approaches. It also highlights the need for transformation of the working culture to account for the needs of diverse workforces and service users.
  • Employment and income – the research recommends tackling workplace discrimination and the enforcement of anti-discrimination policies, addressing recruitment and progression barriers, improving organisational culture, including social value provisions in procurement, and reducing the ethnicity pay gap - all sustained and supported by senior leaders and middle management.
  • Education and policy – the research recommends redressing unequal representation in the workforce alongside anti-racist training for employees, supporting minority ethnic students, limiting permanent and temporary exclusions, reviewing school policies and inspections, and better data collection.
  • Housing and accommodation – recommendations include further research and data collection on housing quality and availability, accounting for the needs of minority ethnic groups (including refugees) in homelessness policy, and encouraging community cohesion and residential counter-segregation.
  • Crime and justice – the research recommends bringing the ‘explain or reform’ principle into devolved competences, requiring the Crown Prosecution Service and HM Prisons and Probation to report annually on race disparities to the Senedd, improving data collection, tackling hate crime, addressing racial disparities in the youth justice system, reducing violence against women and girls, increasing access to justice, and using devolved levers that impact crime rates.

The WCPP also notes that action on data collection, leadership and representation, organisational cultures, and engagement and outreach must underpin any sector-based policy.

Cultural change through education

As the proposals for the Race Equality Action Plan acknowledge, change comes from long-term cultural shifts.

The new Curriculum for Wales is due to be rolled out from 2022, moving from a content-driven approach to a purpose-driven one. Schools will have flexibility to cover a broad framework of ‘Areas of Learning and Experience’, rather than a list of prescribed topics that must be taught.

In July 2020, the Welsh Government appointed Professor Charlotte Williams OBE as chair of a working group called ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities, Contributions and Cynefin in the new school Curriculum’.

The group’s final report was published on 19 March, and makes recommendations about improving educational resources, workforce training and professional development, and Initial Teacher Education.

Upon its publication, the Welsh Government stated:

In the new curriculum […] the history of Wales and its diversity will be mandatory within Humanities, one of the curriculum’s six Areas of Learning and Experience.

The Humanities What Matters Statement, the ‘big ideas’ and key principles in each Area, refers to a common understanding of the diverse history, cultural heritage and ethnic diversity of Wales and the wider world.

During the passage of the Curriculum and Assessment Bill, amendments to explicitly include the history and contributions of people of colour in Wales as mandatory elements of the curriculum framework were rejected, as the Welsh Government argued that there will be adequate opportunities for it to be taught.

As this Senedd draws to an end, inequality is at the forefront of political debate. The new Senedd and Welsh Government will have to grapple with the unequal impact of the pandemic alongside historical disparities.

Article by Marine Furet, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament