Posted on January 20, 2009

Britain Is the Least Racist Country in Europe, Says Equality Head Trevor Phillips

Aislinn Simpson, Telegraph (London), January 20, 2009

Britain is the least racist country in Europe, Trevor Phillips, the head of Britain’s race watchdog, has said.

Mr Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said that the younger Britons were, the more tolerant they were, thanks to an increasingly racially diverse country where different races meet at school, work and “even across the breakfast table”.

But he said some inequalities do still exist for both whites and ethnic minorities.

“Of course, there are still problems–racially motivated attacks on immigrants, the lamentable failure of some institutions to move with the times. But I believe that Britain is by far–and I mean by far–the best place to live in Europe if you are not white,” he said.

“When it comes to issues of race, then, this country has a lot to be proud of. When we are at our best, integration works for us because at heart we believe that everyone should be treated with fairness. It’s a solid, unflashy, very British sentiment, but it’s one of the values that make this country what it is.”

He made his comments on the 10th anniversary of the Macpherson report into the 1993 racially-motivated murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, which labelled the police who bungled the inquiry “institutionally racist”.

Mr Phillips said the term, which has been the watchword of many a Whitehall department ever since, was now redundant and undermined the work of those fighting racism.

He added that it was a “badge of shame that has hung over” the police for the past decade, saying: “Ten years on, is the accusation still valid? I don’t think so. The police have shown a much better understanding of how to deliver a public service that doesn’t discriminate just because of the colour of your skin.”

He said the tenth anniversary should act as a “watershed moment” for a new approach to tackling broader inequality and called for a “grand debate” on the way Britain approaches the issues of immigration, race and discrimination.

He said: “This new world we live in is about being treated fairly, whoever you are.

“Inequality today is as much to do with whether you are struggling economically as it is to do with the colour of your skin, your gender or your sexuality.

“It means that equality laws, often seen as a way of ‘helping’ under represented groups get a fair crack of the whip, can be as importantly applied to poor, white people (who often feel that no one is on their side) as it can to anyone else.”

But he added that some civil servants still had a “box-ticking” approach to inequality laws and some aspirations about promoting equality were yet to be fulfilled.

“It’s as if there is a gap between the country we feel we have become, and the country we actually live in,” he wrote in the Daily Mail.

“We want minorities to succeed, yet they are absent from many of the best jobs. We want women to be equal, yet they are poorly represented in the boardroom.

“We want disabled people to be respected, yet they are still often obliged to enter the building through the back door.”

He will follow his comments with a keynote speech in central London today, marking the 10th anniversary of the Macpherson inquiry.

The EHRC also commissioned research that showed one in 10 children in the UK is now part of a mixed-race family. The study predicted that, if current trends continued, some ethnic minorities may disappear as people from mixed-race backgrounds become increasingly common.