Building a Regional Response
The brief for today’s presentation is two-fold – firstly to share with you how JUST West Yorkshire has responded to the rolling back of the race agenda in our region. Secondly I want to address why there is not only a moral and social imperative for developing a racial justice framework but critically an economic one too.
JUST was set up by Joseph Rowntree Chartitable Trust (JRCT) in 2003 – and this year marks the 10th anniversary of JUST’s founding. The fact that we are still standing and continue to challenge the myth of a post-racial society is a testimony to our continuing relevance. In the last few years the attack on the Race sector has been relentless, yet against the odds JUST has not only grown from strength to strength but has been able to expose the double-speak behind much of the rhetoric around Race.
We have to thank JRCT for their on-going support for our work on racial justice and their refusal to be swayed by the bandwagon that many other funders have leaped on to in terms of framing their funding priorities according to whatever the government in power decrees to be the political flavor of the season.
So why did the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust establish JUST? You may recall the general euphoria that BME communities felt – albeit for a brief moment – following the outcome of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. When Lord Macpherson introduced the term Institutional Racism – we heaved a collective sigh of relief because we believed that finally the lived reality of Black experience was being acknowledged by the State.
However as soon as the Bradford Riots broke out – the community cohesion policy – blamed the riots on BME people, and particularly Muslims living ‘parallel and segregated lives.’ It introduced an ‘Us and Them’ policy paradigm, that created a deficit narrative of Race in which BME people were seen as a problem.
What the Cantle theory failed to highlight was the parallel and segregated lives of predominantly White affluent communities in places like Ilkley, Bingley, Burley in Wharfedale and large swathes of Bradford’s rural belt. Whilst living in these mono-cultural bastions is a life-choice, for the predominantly Muslim and immigrant residents of inner-city Bradford, poverty was a key determinant of where they lived.
In 2001 following the attack on the Twin Towers the ‘Us and Them’ paradigm took on decidedly Islamaphobic overtones. The government’s PREVENT policy that was introduced in the aftermath of 9/11 now blamed Muslims for extremism and terrorism.
In 2005 following the London bombings – PREVENT morphed into CONTEST – a step change which no longer just put Muslim communities under the security spotlight – but led to the rolling back of civil liberties that made ALL of us suspect communities.
For those of us who live and work in the North, it was patently clear that the factors that were shaping government policy towards BME communities had Northern antecedents yet Northern voices were patently absent in these debates.
I am aware that one of the potential outcomes of this conference is the desire to explore the possibility of a North-Eastern response to addressing racial inequality and I would like to set out why it is important to draw on your experience and develop a regional response that articulates your priorities in much the same way we did with JUST West Yorkshire.
There may be some of you who might legitimately ask – why should we worry about fighting for racial equality in the North East because the region has only have a small BME population The answer is simple: While there are crosscutting issues that affect ALL BME communities across the country, there are clear regional variations. BME communities in the North East have a right to have their lived realities and their voices heard so that policy, services and legislation are responsive to the needs of YOUR local communities.
This is where democratic accountability is key – in West Yorkshire, JUST has created a vital electoral hustings programme which holds politicians to account in terms of their accountability to the BME communities they represent. As we approach the 2015 elections – although the combined BME population in the North East is about 5% – according to Operation Black Vote there are a number of constituencies in Newcastle for instance that are key marginals where BME voters can decide the outcome of the elections. This is where a regional forum can be critical in giving BME communities a voice and a focus to ensure that their needs are not marginalized.
It is about needs not numbers – if BME people in the North East are disproportionately stopped and searched; if they are under the surveillance spotlight as part of the government’s war on terror; if they are victims of hate crime; if they experience barriers in employment and service access, then colour blind approaches have the real potential for corroding good community relations.
I would also urge you not to under-estimate the influence of the Far Right – West Yorkshire and particularly Bradford, which has a large Muslim community, has been consistently targeted by the English Defence League. They may be weak at the moment after the departure of Tommy Robinson. However we know that the North East Branch of the EDL has one of the largest following in the country and this is where having a racial justice organisation is critical if you want to develop a unified resistance to the Far Right. JUST has produced a documentary on the EDL entitled ‘When Hate Came to Town’ which is used nationally as a model of best practice – it gives a unique regional perspective on community resilience which is testament to the solidarity of Bradford’s diverse communities. You need to create your own template that unites communities and ensuring that BME voices are integral to this is critical.
3rdly the existence of a regional race equality framework is also critical because it helps counter the myths that are used to divide communities – for instance when a local Conservative Councillor in Shipley campaigned against investment in gypsy and travellers sites – JUST worked with local organisations to expose the lies behind his scurrilous campaign. Likewise when another local Tory MP in Keighley used the issue of street grooming to create the impression that it was a White-on-Muslim issue, JUST was able to draw on research data to highlight that child sexual exploitation is an opportunistic and not an ethnically motivated crime. JUST has taken on a number of highly effective campaigns – from challenging Theresa May’s racist van initiative; to undertaking research on the impact of Stop and Searches in eroding BME trust in policing; to challenging Equality Impact Assessments that have been used to justify the closure of specialist services.
While challenging racial injustice is a key element of JUST’s work – changing the narrative on Race is just as critical. What does this mean for you? The North East has a burgeoning health sector reliant on BME health professionals – you have world-class universities that rely on the research excellence of White and non-White academics; you have small BME and Eastern European businesses that generate employment and contribute tax pounds to the Exchequer. We too have the same BME assets in our region, and much of JUST’s research output has highlighted the positive contribution of the BME pound to the West Yorkshire economy. These are things to be proud of and you need your own racial justice framework to frame these positive stories.
Critically the neér-sayers and doom mongers have to be challenged, because diversity and migration are critical to your long-term survival. What we have found particularly useful in West Yorkshire is to produce a weekly racial justice bulletin which challenges the Coalition government’s colour-blind and ‘no problem here’ approach to Equality – this is a government that wanted to get rid of the Equality Act – but for the 9 protected groups the legislation offers vital protections that are worth safeguarding through collaborative campaigns. Having a Race Equality Forum or a racial justice organization like JUST provides an organizational focus that enables such joint work.
Here in the North East you face overwhelming barriers and challenges that a BME-led forum or a race-equality organization can work collaboratively with key stakeholders to address:
I would like to suggest that both West Yorkshire and the North East have similar economic challenges. – The North East has the highest unemployment rate of all English regions – in the last quarter of 2012 almost 1/10 people were unemployed.
Your Gross Domestic Household Income was £13,600/ per head – the lowest of the entire English region – or 15% below UK average
The North East Local Economic Partnership area has suffered from a net out-migration of residents and in the next 20 years the population is expected to increase by only 120,000. So you have a demographic challenge that requires you to look at migration as a survival response.
This story of economic and manufacturing decline is a Northern tale that successive governments have done little to arrest. When you set this against the backdrop of austerity – it is clear the North has paid a disproportionate price for the banking failures of the South.
In an incisive analysis of what the June spending review means for the North East, the IPPR calculated that the cuts would reduce public expenditure in the North East by £57/ person while it is only £39/person in the South East.
However if the cuts are set alongside the size of the regional economy the North East suffers three times as much as London. And when we consider capital spending – the investment in London is ten times that of the North East.
The Guardian data blog provides a useful authority-by-authority analysis of the net loss for North East authorities on a per person basis.
|North East Authority||£ Cumulative Change per person|
|Newcastle upon Tyne||-144|
|Redcar and Cleveland UA||-139|
On the other hand it does not take a genius to work out that the local authorities that have received less than £10 cut in the austerity cuts are predominantly in the South-East and South-West – and what should be apparent is that these areas are a world away from the Labour strongholds of the North.
|Local Authority||County||Cuts £0-10|
|Basingstoke and Dean||Hampshire||0|
|Reigate & Banstead||Surrey||-6|
|Weymouth & Portland||Dorset||-10|
|Isles of Scilly||Isles of Scilly||0|
|Richmond upon Thames||London||-4|
So if this government has effectively abandoned the North, it is pretty much left to the regions to engineer their long-term economic survival.
You are fortunate here in the North East as the North East Economic Enterprise Partnership has ambitious economic plans to make your region the industrial and manufacturing hub of the North by establishing a combined authority for Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear in order to ensure better local co-ordination to achieve the region’s economic vision.
It is a huge challenge because it requires a strategy which can attract the equivalents of the Nissans and Hitachi into those core areas identified as investment priorities – chemicals, health care, life sciences, automotive, engineering, energy, low carbon technology, digital media and animation industries.
But where are North East communities – particularly those that do not have a voice – in the framing of this vision? What we have found in West Yorkshire is that having an organization like JUST can serve as a catalyst for mobilising grassroots and VCS view, or there is a real risk that those voices will be sidelined.
Your economic survival dictates that racial equality and racial justice sits at the heart of your economic vision. No foreign investor, tourist, academic, doctor or professional will choose to come to the North East if they know that their experience is going to be marred by hate crime, racial prejudice or institutional discrimination. Likewise given the North East’s demographic challenge you have no choice but to draw from an international pool of skills and expertise if you want to achieve economic excellence. Critically the sectors you have identified as areas for economic growth can only succeed if your goods and services have access to global markets.
In short your economic survival requires you to oppose racism; challenge parochialism and embrace diversity and multiculturalism with open arms.
This keynote speech was prepared by JUST’s Director Ratna Lachman and delivered by Maureen Grant (Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust) at the Racial equality, diversity and public policy in the North East region Conference at Durham University on November 13th 2013