Writing in The Telegraph on the 14th June 2020, in response to the global movement of Black Lives Matter and protests in London on the same weekend, the Prime Minister said “No one who cares about this country can ignore the many thousands of people who have joined the Black Lives Matter movement to protest peacefully, as most of them have, in the last few days. It is no use just saying that we have made huge progress in tackling racism. There is much more that we need to do; and we will…It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life”.
According to the flurry of press reports since The Telegraph article, this new inquiry will be called “the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities”, its formation will be led by Munira Mizra who is the current Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, it is expected to report by Christmas and Number 10 have said that it would “look at wider inequalities, including issues faced by working-class white boys in schools, for example”.
Even at this early stage, the announcement of this new Commission has provoked strong reaction and criticism of Number 10 for the involvement of Munira Mizra, and suggestions that recommendations from previous inquiries have not been implemented. At the time of writing, very scant information is available on the purpose and remit of the new Commission.
The response of the PM is broadly in keeping with the reactions of previous Governments to either national scandals such as the uncovering of widespread sexual abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile, which was one key factor in the announcement of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. That Inquiry which has received thousands of accounts to its “Truth Project” and has closely examined sexual abuse in institutions (including charities, Churches, schools, local authorities and others) has produced several reports and published a number of research papers. But perhaps it would be more useful to look at what happened in this country in the immediate aftermath of #MeToo going viral in October 2017. The timeline following #MeToo shows these actions:
- December 2017, the Equality and Human Rights Commission wrote to the country’s largest employers reminding them of their responsibilities and seeking evidence of their procedures.
- February 2018, the Women and Equalities Committee launched an Inquiry into Workplace Sexual Harassment. It received evidence and submissions from a range of sectors on sexual harassment, reviewed data from the TUC and BBC and published a detailed report in July 2018 with 30 conclusions and recommendations.
- Between July and October 2018 the Government held a consultation on sexual harassment, and then new and detailed technical guidance was published by the EHRC in January 2020 on sexual harassment with guidance also being produced by both the EHRC and ACAS on the use of non-disclosure agreements.
So, if what occurred in the wake of #MeToo is anything to go by, we may see, in due course, a Government consultation and a report on racial abuse which would hopefully hear from victims and survivors of racial abuse and the impact of it on individuals and society. We may see surveys and perhaps new technical guidance on racial harassment for employers. This would clearly be welcome. Alternatively, if the new Commission is more similar to a public inquiry in set up (as in the IICSA example), then we may see individuals organisations or whole sectors used as case studies by the new Commission.
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© Farrer & Co LLP, June 2020