This page contains a number of frequently-asked questions and answers about the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

The Prime Minister established the Commission in summer 2020 to review inequality in the UK, with a particular focus on education, health, employment and criminal justice.

The Commission was launched to conduct a detailed, data-led examination of inequality across the entire population.

The report makes an important contribution to the national conversation about race, and is much broader in scope than previous reviews which have examined disparities in specific areas.

The report also examined the causes of ethnic minority success and set out a positive agenda for change where progress needs to be made.

You can see the Commission's terms of reference on GOV.UK.

The Commission took an evidence-led approach using existing and commissioned research.

You can see:

No. The report says the Commission found no conclusive evidence of institutional or structural racism in the specific areas it examined. The report reaffirmed Sir William Macpherson's definition of the term but argued it should be applied more carefully and always based on evidence.

Previous reviews have come to similar conclusions while acknowledging disparities exist between different ethnic groups for many reasons:

  • the Casey Review of Opportunity and Integration did not use the term institutional racism to explain different outcomes
  • the McGregor-Smith Review of issues affecting ethnic minority groups in the workplace did not use the term institutional racism to explain different outcomes
  • the Lammy Review of the criminal justice system did not use the term institutional racism to explain different outcomes
  • the Race Disparity Audit did not use the term institutional racism to explain different outcomes
  • the Parker Review of company board diversity did not use the term institutional racism to explain different outcomes
  • the Timpson Review of school exclusions did not use the term institutional racism to explain different outcomes

The Commission report did find evidence that outright racism exists in the UK. Unlike previous reviews, it recommended that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission be given the resources it needs to tackle the issue.

The Chair and Commission issued a statement saying they felt misrepresented on this matter. They stated that any suggestion that they downplayed the history of slavery was absurd and deeply offensive.

The report stated that in the face of the inhumanity of slavery, African people preserved their humanity and culture. The Commission recommended new curriculum resources to better teach this complex history of the people of Britain.

Unlike previous reviews, the Commission:

  • did not assume what the causes of disparities are
  • used evidence to identify the causes of different outcomes between ethnic groups and what can be done to address them
  • highlighted the successes and contributions of ethnic minority groups as well as the areas where more progress can be made
  • looked at overall ethnic minority progress in the round by exploring multiple areas (education, employment and pay, crime and policing, and health) rather than just specific issues (McGregor-Smith & employment; Parker & board diversity; Lammy & the criminal justice system)

The report was the first government-commissioned attempt to grip the complex reality of ethnic advantage and disadvantage taking a holistic view of outcomes across multiple areas of public policy.

The report focused not only on persistent race-based discrimination but on the role of cultural factors, including family, within different ethnic minority groups, the overlap between ethnic and socio-economic disadvantage, and the agency we have as individuals.

To understand some of the reaction to the Commission report it is worth reflecting on the reaction to the last comparable project looking at ethnic minority outcomes in the round. This was the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, chaired by Lord Parekh and written under the auspices of the Runnymede Trust in 2000.

The then Chair of the Runnymede Trust (later a member of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities), Dr Samir Shah, described in an article rebutting misreporting of the Parekh report some of the regrettable reaction:

‘The furore over the Runnymede Trust's commission on the future of multi-ethnic Britain was vivid testimony to the continuing power of race to unsettle the nation…subsequent selective and distorted quotations in an interview with one of the commissioners led to a feeding frenzy by the piranhas of Fleet Street, followed by hate-mail, hate-messages and death threats sent to the Runnymede Trust.. Read the report and be surprised. You might even take the view of the report that led to the headline "Critics of a 'racist' Britain are misguided, says report". The article began its story with the words: “Race relations in Britain are the best in Europe - says Bhikhu Parekh author of the report.”’

Professor Tariq Modood, a member of the same Runnymede Trust Commission said recently when reflecting on the report that ‘when the report was published in October 2000 it was met with a very vicious and severe barrage of angry noise’. Lord Parekh also said that the report ‘was criticised in the beginning, as all good things tend to be’.

The Commission made 24 recommendations to change the lives of millions of people for the better across the UK, whatever their ethnic or social background. These included:

  • establishing a review to investigate and take action to address the underlying issues facing families – the Commission identified this as a significant contributing factor to the experience of disparities
  • using data in a responsible and informed way – this includes developing and publishing a set of ethnicity data standards to improve understanding and information gathering, reducing the opportunity for misunderstanding and misuse
  • stopping the use of aggregated and unhelpful terms such as ‘BAME’, to better focus on understanding disparities and outcomes for specific ethnic groups

You can see a summary of the 24 recommendations on GOV.UK.

The Commission met many people and organisations during the course of its work, either to hear evidence or to discuss recommendations. You can see a full list of stakeholders in Appendix D of the report.

The Commission also issued a call for evidence. In response, it received 2,329 responses. Of these, nearly 90% were from individuals and academics. 325 responses were received from public and private organisations, ranging from local community groups and charities to national professional bodies and unions. These organisations collectively represent a large and varied cross section of the UK of millions.

You can see a summary of the responses to the call for evidence.

The Commission sought to build upon the work of previous reviews, and discussed the findings with each reviewer and officials in the relevant government departments.

The Commission’s mandate was to build on these reviews, and to understand why disparities exist.