The New Labour party elected to government in 1997 came to power inheriting a legacy of ethnic inequalities in housing, education, employment, health and criminal justice outcomes. The early research evidence from the First Survey of Ethnic Minorities carried out in the mid-1960s documented racialised disadvantage and discrimination in the lives of all minority ethnic groups, most of whom had arrived from Britain’s colonial territories to fill job vacancies in the post-war period (Daniel, 1968). Since the mid-1970s, however, while the broad pattern of ethnic inequalities has persisted, there has also been considerable differentiation, with those of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, and to a lesser extent those of black origin, generally faring worse than those of Indian and Chinese origin (see, for example, Smith, 1977; Jones, 1993; Modood et al, 1997). While the earlier period provided unequivocal evidence of both direct and indirect racial discrimination, the empirical research has additionally, over the intervening years, accumulated to reveal a complex interplay of socioeconomic, demographic, institutional, structural and cultural factors as contributing to the less favourable outcomes for minority ethnic groups.
In its first period of office, New Labour’s policy response to ethnic inequalities was framed by the public inquiry into the Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation of the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993. The government is to be applauded for fully endorsing the inquiry team’s findings that ‘institutional racism’ had played a part in the flawed police investigation, and that it was endemic to public organisations such as the police, schools and government departments.
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