Labour has let down white working-class people who have suffered from the impact of largescale immigration, a Cabinet minister admitted yesterday.
Communities Secretary John Denham said councils and government bodies had been ‘blind’ to the needs of this section of society.
The backtracking came in the face of the growing threat to Labour’s core vote from the far-right British National Party.
Yesterday Mr Denham said in a speech to union members at the TUC that efforts to tackle inequality ‘must include poorer white working-class communities, as well as disadvantaged minority ethnic communities.
Mr Denham said areas with high immigration levels felt a sense of ‘insecurity and unfairness’ because of the impact of new arrivals on jobs and public services.
Unless councils act, these could lead to tensions and resentment, he said.
He said: ‘Many local agencies have a clear and good commitment to tackling racism and race inequality and are right to do so. But on its own this is not enough.
‘We can only challenge racism and race inequality effectively as part of a strategy that tackles all forms of inequality and disadvantage.
‘This must include poorer white working class communities, as well as disadvantaged minority ethnic communities.
‘Agencies which have been blind to these issues, or thought their only remit was to address minority issues, must re-assess the way they work.’
His comments are the latest attempt by ministers to address fears over immigration in Labour heartlands, and confront the threat from the British National Party.
They follow a speech by Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier this month in which he said it was ‘not racist’ to talk about immigration.
Addressing the Trades Union Congress today, Mr Denham pointed to similarities between black and white working class groups.
Poor white boys had more in common with their poor black classmates than with middle class whites, he said.
The inequality agenda should focus on ‘need’ and not ‘outdated ideology or assumptions which may no longer be true’, he said. These could lead to white working class boys being ‘overlooked’.
If Government policies are seen to be unfair, he said, they could be exploited by groups seeking to ‘drive people apart’.
‘We have to avoid the perception that some groups are singled out for special treatment,’ he said.
‘When we target help at one group, we cannot allow others to be left behind, or to feel disconnected.’
‘By ensuring that our policies are both fair, and seen to be fair, we reduce the risk that they can be exploited by others who would distort them to drive people apart.
‘And we properly address the complexities of the problem: ensuring that the white working class boy struggling in class gets the support that he needs, just as his black and Asian classmates do.’