Labour’s BAME manifesto was a missed opportunity

The problem with Labour’s ‘BAME manifesto’ – and its approach to understanding minority communities more generally – boils down to this: In the Labour lexicon, BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) is simply a question of skin colour.

The term is exclusively meant to denote non-White groups. It’s an approach that makes as much sense as assuming you need to be a wheelchair user to be a disabled person.

The party shows a poor grasp of the complexity of the UK’s contemporary racial and ethnic mix and the often very specific and nuanced issues they face.

As a result, the document falls back on 1980s norms. Hence, all the photos in the document show group shots of smiling Black and Asian people. So far, so clichéd.

The manifesto shows little understanding of just how fluid it is to be a member of, say, the Afro-Caribbean or Muslim communities these days, while seeming utterly oblivious to the concept that there may be White ethnic minorities out there and they, too, may have needs.

For instance, the numbers of Polish-born people living in the UK have increased 10-fold in a decade, from around 60,000 in 2001 to 580,000 at the time of the 2011 census. To this we can add a further 200,000 ethnically Polish children and grandchildren.

Nearly a million-strong. Yet, the manifesto utters not a single word about their particular needs.

At the very least, the manifesto could have included promises to crackdown on unscrupulous gangmasters and tighten regulation of the casual labour market, an issue that disproportionately affects migrant eastern Europeans coming here in large numbers to work.

Neither is there any mention about Gypsies and Travellers. This is especially remiss given the massive cultural and social disadvantages they face, including a level of overt public ridicule and discrimination for their lifestyles and customs that would (rightly) be beyond the pale if targeted against any other minority group.

Indeed, a 2009 report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission talked of the “pervasive and corrosive impact [on them] of experiencing racism and discrimination throughout an entire lifespan.”

Again, the manifesto could have promised a crackdown on those local authorities that simply ignore their legal responsibilities to provide adequate traveller sites, resulting in the types of illegal settlements we saw at Dale Farm in Essex.

The document does promise “action” to reduce health inequalities, such as the higher rates of cancer and shorter life expectancy faced by many minority communities, but provides few details.

Yet, early death and the susceptibility to certain chronic conditions are perhaps the main unifying experiences of diverse BME groups. As is poorer mental health and wellbeing, but, yet again, there are few specifics.

The manifesto could have included a new statutory duty to measure directors of public health on their outcomes in tacking health inequalities. This might persuade them to tailor their strategies to understand the complex needs of different ethnic groups.

All too often, no attempt is made to do this, resulting in health and social services that are often planned with little regard or insight into the people they are meant to serve.

Linguistic barriers and poorer literacy mean some ethnic groups struggle to access health services, often heading straight for A&E instead.  Gypsy and Traveller communities, in particular, face horrendous health inequalities. Four-fifths die before the age of 65, with a third dead by 25.

There are real, pressing issues facing BME communities, but the BAME manifesto feels a tired ruse to get media coverage in various minority community titles.

Fair enough, perhaps, there‘s an election on; but in which case, the party should turn down the dial on the hyperbole. While the document promises a “laser-like focus” on reducing inequalities affecting BME groups, most of the pledges are simply retreads from the main manifesto.

Abolishing employment tribunal fees is a welcome step for those bringing discrimination cases, but it’s just as relevant to any average working person pursuing a grievance. In the main, the offer boils down to increasing the minimum wage, doing more to tackle youth unemployment and introducing (unspecified) measures to improve diversity in the civil service. Important, yes, but does this amount to a “laser-like focus?”

Labour really needs to do more to show that the party is serious about addressing the social, cultural and economic barriers that hold people from minority communities back.

Its ‘BAME manifesto’ is a missed opportunity to do just that.

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5 Responses to “Labour’s BAME manifesto was a missed opportunity”

  1. John P Reid says:

    We’ve nearly gone as far as we can with trying to weed out unwitted discrimination, of African and Carribean communities, Mrs T. Managed to appeal to a lot of aspiring Asian women voters who were self employed, so to get African and Carribean communities to rise above the trap of poverty, that can cause , falling under the radar of societies accepted needs, IE too give ones family abetter start than we had, means that the issues that appeal to the working class, we were wrong in condemning outright Michael Goves education reforms, or jump the band wagon condemning the new right too buy

    Why wouldn’t a working class person white British, white European mor third or forth generation African, not be interested in their children being able to have their school opt out of local control or want to too aspire to buy a home off a housing association.

    Take Transport,why waste money on HS2 when we could have more route master trains, the Tories may have slashed neighborhood policing but after transport, that has seen a fall in mugging a in the buses and tubes, is something that more BAME people, ho use public transport for out of hour jobs, when traveling to work,

    And as BAME people bring more into the economy than others,wouldn’t they agree with the cuts in welfare, as when ever,a time appears in the news for being a welfare cheat, are the ever black, have’nt seen it. the libDems have at least started to address the real issue of mental health, with the NHS ,and councils having social workers deciding mental health issues are due too Alcahol or drug dependency, or withdrawn child hood suppressed memories, MHI, is often dismissed as just addiction or trauma causing anti social behavior,and when the NHS doesn’t deal with it, all the police can do is arrest people with illness for their drug/Alcahol addiction, but like any community, dealing with people who have addictions should be greeted by the authorities as victims

    Why wouldn’t some one from ABAME community, who sees another BAME person no want to see that person first dealt with for their addiction, while at the same time contained if their anti social behavior causes problems ,rather than just having them committed, and then if imprisoned, unfortunately, there have been 371 deaths in mental institutes or prison and very few unlawfully of BAME people in the last 18 years,
    EU migrants who’ve been here more than a generation are more likely to be registered to be able to vote, yet excessive EU immigration causes lower wages as working in security In Meet many car mechanics, my job from 25 years ago,many of the ones I meet now are EU migrants, and have English a their second language, it Occured to me, that the unpleasant job I had of being out in all weather,is something I wouldn’t want to do now, but if people want that job, it’s because EU citizens do,

    it’s the same as 60 years ago,white people didn’t want to be bus drivers so when the windrush came over, they were doing the jobs, that no one wanted to do, but BME people like white people , have been pushed over for cheaper wages as we have moved to a retail economy, many jobs that should require a level of qualification like Catering, have been replaced by unskilled workers.

  2. swatantra says:

    We still need a greater emphasis on ‘integration’ of BAME communities’ in the British way of life, whatever that means, and not allow this silo mentality to continue for fear of treading on toes and to approaching fundamental problems within communities and challenging beliefs that have no place in an egalitarian modern day Britain. This is the main reason why some sections are held back, the fear of challenging by authorities, because it may not been seen as PC. And this may be one of the reasons why we have seen a rise in radicalisation of some young people because they have lacked the proper guidance.

  3. Dave Roberts. says:

    I have always felt like the little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Kings New Clothes. I must be the only person on the left who disputes the fact that there is a black Asian minority ethnic community at all. It is as obvious as the fact that the king had no clothes that there is no such community or communities and never has been.

    The whole thing was a political and financial construct by the race relations industry, and I can define that, to give self appointed leaders political clout and access to lots of money. At no time was any ethnic group in this country consulted as to whether they wanted to be included in these mythical communities or if any of the self appointed or anointed leaders actually represented them.

    The tenor of the debate has changed, largely due to the demise of the Commission for Racial Equality and disappearance of huge amounts of public money available to the fraudulent organisations with Ken Livingstone’s fall from power and grace, proof if any were needed that non of these groups or leaders had any real substance.

    What has happened is that the white working class has been re-discovered and the fact that it too suffers from high levels of deprivation. On with the debate! I’m off to breakfast.

  4. Michael Worcester says:

    Birmingham Labour council BAME representation apart from one Sikh is 100% male 100% Sunni Muslim of 100% Pakistani heritage. The two BAME MPs are from one family from the same community (both have failed to impress in Parliament and against real interrogation on programs like Daily Politics). Focusing on one minority and sex to represent all minorities has already backfired. Galloway was elected in 2010 in a formerly rock solid Labour seat mostly appealing to female Muslims and those disaffected by the control of Labour by male Birideri politics. It is the same in many northern cities and will increase their vulnerability

  5. Dave Roberts. says:

    All eyes on Court 38 at The High Court in London today from 10 30 for the judgement on the electoral corruption in Tower Hamlets.

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