– Eleanor Baldwin
The tragic death of George Floyd jolted the US after he was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May this year. In response, thousands of protestors took to the streets demanding that the government reassess the inherently racist systems that platform racist officers and promote ongoing racial discrimination and inequality in the US. These protests have not been exclusive to America; protests sprung up across the UK in the weeks that followed Floyd’s death, with attendees demanding the identification and stamping out of racism on both sides of the Atlantic.
Incredibly, Boris Johnson came forward to deny Britain as being a systemically racist country in response to this, evidently in complete denial of the devastation that his and preceding governmental policy have had on black, Asian and minority-ethnic (BAME) communities in the UK.
One such example of this is the Windrush scandal which erupted in the Summer of 2018. This saw hundreds of black, Windrush-generation citizens harassed, threatened and deported by the UK government, despite having a legal right to abode. After the scandal was exposed, the UK government pledged to fund up to £500 million in compensation to the victims. Despite this, this May, only 60 out of the 1,300 people who applied under the scheme have actually received compensation.
The nature of the Windrush scandal has its roots in racist policies aiming to restrict the eligibility of specific groups from living in the UK. Those invited to work in Britain from overseas were offered the right to abode in the UK, only to have it torn from them under Theresa May’s hostile environment policy, decades later. The way in which Britain’s government turned its back on law-abiding citizens has since been described as demonstrating ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness.’
Unfortunately, the Windrush scandal (and the government’s ongoing lack of support for its victims) is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to forms of institutional racism in the UK. The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a 2016 report which highlighted the ways in which racism seeps through into education, employment, housing, pay and living standards, health, criminal justice and participation.
According to the report, Black and Asian Minority households across the UK are twice as likely to live in persistent poverty than White households. In schools, Afro Caribbean children are almost three times more likely to be permanently expelled than White British pupils. Parents of racial and ethnic minority children have expressed concern over racially motivated bullying in schools, as well as the teachers lack of discipline for such bullying.
The situation is no better in healthcare; BAME people continue to face a wealth of inequalities. For instance, babies who are Black or Black British, Asian or Asian British have over a 50% higher risk of perinatal mortality. The situation isn’t helped by austerity measures and benefit cuts for many of those in vulnerable situations. Further, the hostile environment policy has left many racial and ethnic minority individuals fearing attending hospital, thus potentially resulting in serious health issues.
The hostile environment policy has had a serious detrimental effect on both BAME migrants and people with British citizenship. The Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016, which were rolled out as part of the policy, passed the enforcement of immigration law to private citizens and civil servants, which resulted in subjective, discriminatory decision-making. The policies serve as a way of scapegoating minority groups and creating a racist rhetoric, ultimately serving as potential excuses for racist behaviour.
One example of this is the encouragement of the hostile environment policy for landlords to scrutinize potentially non-British tenants. According to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, those with ‘foreign-sounding names’ are likely to be rejected accommodation from landlords.
It is evident that Boris Johnson’s tone-deaf claim that Britain is not racist only serves to highlight how out-of-touch the UK government often is to the needs of BAME communities. Those in minority groups are as entitled to protection and support from the UK government as those who are not. Until the UK government accepts and addresses this issue, it is clear that protests are still necessary to raise these concerns.
Eleanor Baldwin is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors.