The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has published its fourth report on the United Kingdom. ECRI’s Chair, Nils Muiznieks, pointed out positive steps in fighting discrimination, but also expressed concern that racist incidents had become more frequent, police powers were exercised in a manner that disproportionately affected minority groups, Gypsies and Travellers still faced serious discrimination and asylum-seekers remained in a vulnerable position.
As regards positive developments, the legal framework for combating racism and discrimination has been strengthened. New criminal provisions on the prohibition of religious hatred have been enacted and police forces now apply a uniform definition of racist incidents. In addition, an Equality Bill has been introduced in Parliament with the aim of harmonising discrimination law and raising existing standards; it should provide similar protection against discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief to that provided on the grounds of race.
The United Kingdom authorities have continued their extensive monitoring of the situation of minority ethnic groups in various policy areas in order to address the problems identified better. Considerable efforts have been made to ensure that racially motivated offences are comprehensively and consistently reported and recorded by the police and to streamline practices throughout the criminal justice system.
Some encouraging signs have been noted in terms of reducing inequalities experienced by minority ethnic groups. Educational attainment among Black and minority ethnic pupils has continued to improve and the employment gap between the total population and minority ethnic groups has narrowed. An overall strategy entitled “Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society” has been implemented with the aim of increasing racial equality in key public services such as employment, health, education and building community cohesion.
At the same time, the rise in racist incidents in recent years is worrying. The impact of anti-terror legislation on minority groups also continues to cause concern, with measures such as stops and searches disproportionately affecting members of Black and other minority ethnic communities. As a result, members of these communities, especially Muslims, feel increasingly stigmatised.
Gypsies and Travellers are still most likely to encounter discrimination in all fields of daily life and they face some of the most severe levels of hostility and prejudice. The lack of adequate sites has also frequently been at the root of community tensions.
Asylum-seekers remain vulnerable to destitution, hastily reached decisions rejecting their claims and unnecessary detention. Together with Muslims, migrants, Gypsies and Travellers, they are regularly presented in a negative light both in political discourse and in the media, especially the tabloid press. The tone of public debate continues to include some elements of racist and xenophobic discourse.
In its report, ECRI has made a number of recommendations, three of which require priority implementation and will be revisited by ECRI in two years’ time:
Ensure that legal aid is available in discrimination cases before Employment Tribunals;
Complete the assessment of the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers so as to address their disadvantages in access to adequate accommodation;
Continue to address the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the police.
The report, including Government observations, is available on www.coe.int/ecri.
ECRI is an independent human rights body of the Council of Europe which monitors problems of racism and intolerance, prepares reports and issues recommendations to member states.