What we learned from the racism report – and its most divisive findings

The release of Boris Johnson’s review into institutional racism in the UK has been met with fury from campaigners, who branded it “gaslighting” and “an insult”.

And the authors of the report have been accused, among many complaints, of putting a positive spin on slavery.

As Black Lives Matter protests raged around the world the Prime Minister promised a review of racial discrimination and disadvantage in Britain.

But expectations for the report were lowered for some when he appointed a chairman who had previously claimed the existence of institutional racism was “flimsy”.

Even the method of publication was divisive – with cherry-picked lines drip fed out overnight, and a strict ban on approaching interest groups for comment.

But what’s actually in the report – what does it recommend, and which parts are particularly contentious?

There’s a lot to unpack, but here are the main points.

Why the report was always going to be contentious

Commission chair Tony Sewell
Commission chair Tony Sewell

The early stages of setting up the commission drew controversy after Mr Johnson gave Munira Mirza, head of the Number 10 policy unit, a major role in its creation.

And a race equality think tank questioned the suitability of Tony Sewell as chairman of the commission – after he previously claimed evidence of the existence of institutional racism was “flimsy”.

Dr Sewell worked with Boris Johnson in 2013 when he led the then London mayor’s education inquiry into the capital’s schools.

Writing in Prospect magazine in 2010, Dr Sewell, an international education consultant, said: “Much of the supposed evidence of institutional racism is flimsy.”

The way the government released the report also invited scepticism from campaigners.

Cherry-picked lines were briefed to selected journalists overnight ahead of its 11.30am publication.

And they were given strict orders not to seek any reaction.

Tony Sewell was made available for broadcast interviews – but only before the report was published, so it was impossible for journalists to ask informed questions about the report itself.

Considering the report was prepared – at least in part – in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, the people who prepared it are also predominantly of an older generation.

Only one member of the panel – Mercy Muroki, a researcher for the centre-right think tank the Centre for Social Justice – is under 30.

What the report found – and what it recommended

The report found no evidence that Britain is “institutionally racist” – and criticised campaigners who they say use the term too loosely.

The report admitted Britain is not yet a “post-racial society” but added: “We no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.

Instead the report claimed “most of the disparities we examined… often do not have their origins in racism”.

And the report criticised “bleak” thinking among some anti-racist campaigners who seek to blame all disparities on white discrimination.

It said white prejudice is in fact “dwindling” and those campaigners “divert attention from the other reasons for minority success and failure”.

Among its 24 recommendations (listed in full below) are that police should wear more body cameras to improve trust in stop-and-search, and that the school day should be extended in disadvantaged areas.

It also recommends the term ‘BAME’ is dropped as it is “no longer helpful” and arbitrarily combines different racial groups.

The most divisive sections

Captives being brought on board a slave ship on the West Coast of Africa
Captives being brought on board a slave ship on the West Coast of Africa. c1880. Although Britain outlawed slavery in 1833 and it was abolished in the USA after the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War in 1865, the transatlantic trade in African slaves continued.

It appears to suggest there was a silver lining to the slave trade

In a section on why it would be bad to “decolonise” the education curriculum, the report seems to suggest that slavery had an upside.

“We have argued against bringing down statues,” it reads. “Instead we want all children to reclaim their British heritage. We want to create a teaching resource that looks at the influence of the UK, particularly during the Empire period.

“We want to see how Britishness influenced the Commonwealth and local communities and how the Commonwealth and local communities influenced what we know know as modern Britain.”

It goes on: “There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain.”

Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust told PoliticsHome: “I’m absolutely flabbergasted to see the Slave Trade apparently redefined as ‘the Caribbean Experience’; as though it’s something Thomas Cook should be selling – a one-way shackled cruise to purgatory.”

It calls for unconscious bias training to be scrapped

While the report accepts that unconscious bias exists, it calls on organisations to move away from ‘unconscious bias’ training.

The concept of unconscious bias is that people may act based on attitudes and stereotypes not because of malice or overt racism, but because of “gut feelings” that they’re not consciously aware of.

The report seems to suggest that trying to fix this is a bit like boiling the ocean, and isn’t likely to result in improved outcomes.

They suggest that the government should instead work on developing “evidence-based approaches of what does work to advance fairness in the workplace”.

Instead, it suggests hanging pictures of successful people of colour on the wall

The report suggests employers “will want to do something to show a commitment to fairness”.

But it says neither tokenism nor quotas should be used to try to change workplace cultures.

Instead, it suggests “using images of successful colleagues with an ethnic minority background on walls”.

It goes on to claim such measures would produce beneficial outcomes “without alienating people”.

It suggests not all minority disadvantage is because of racism, sometimes it’s the minority’s fault for playing the victim

The report accepts that racism isn’t what it used to be – and the definition is more fluid, “extending from overt hostility and exclusion to unconscious bias and micro aggressions.”

It accepts that minorities have a higher expectation of equal treatment in the modern world, and “rightly, will not tolerate behaviour that, only a couple of generations ago, would likely have been quietly endured or shrugged off”.

But it goes on to suggest some communities are responsible for their own “failures” because of their “attitudes” – and that they can’t blame all their problems on White racism.

It reads: “…there is also an increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of White discrimination.

“This diverts attention from the other reasons for minority success and failure, including those embedded in the cultures and attitudes of those minority communities themselves.”

It appears to misrepresent the ONS on Covid mortality

The report dismisses reports of Black people being disproportionately more likely to die from Covid-19 as “overly pessimistic.”

Citing an Office For National Statistics report, they suggest the increased risk of dying is “mainly due to an increased risk of exposure to infection”, because Black and South Asian people are more likely to live in urban areas with high population density and higher levels of deprivation.

In fact, the ONS report they cite says that the disproportionately increased risk still exists even after you take socio-economic factors and geographic location into account – something which it says is “unexplained.”

It reads: “…there remains twice the risk for Black males and around one and a half times for Black females. Significant differences also remain for Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian men.”

A Black Lives Matter protest in Brighton
“Well intentioned”

It says it understands the ‘idealism’ of the ‘well intentioned’ young people leading Black Lives Matter protests, but…

The report notes that the Black Lives Matter protests last year saw many young people in Britain calling for change.

But it says that, while it understands the “idealism” of these “well-intentioned” young people, it questions whether a narrative claiming that nothing has improved “will achieve anything beyond alienating the decent centre ground”.

It dismisses concern about the racial element of Windrush and tragedies like the Grenfell Tower blaze

The report dismisses the racial element of the Grenfell Tower blaze and the Windrush scandal because, even though the outcome was disproportionately felt by minority groups, nobody did that on purpose.

It noted ethnic minority communities have “rightly” felt let down but said “outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted”.

It claims increased hate crime figures aren’t because there are more hate crimes

The report claims police-recorded hate crime figures are rising because of improvements in the recording process and greater awareness, rather than the problem worsening.

The Commission’s 24 recommendations in full


  1. Challenge racial discrimination by tackling racist abuse online and also by increasing EHRC funding so they can use enforcement and litigation powers
  2. Review how the CQC, which inspects hospitals and care homes, takes account of the diversity of health and social care staff
  3. Improve the transparency of all public sector organisations making policy and funding decisions based on data algorithms
  4. Police chiefs and BAME communities to set up ‘safeguarding trust’ groups to hold local forces to account on their use of stop and search, use of force and internal misconduct
  5. Police chiefs to draw up plan for improved use of stop and search and give officers at all levels de-escalation training


  1. Department for Education to research how to emulate educational success of children from communities like Chinese and Indian to all backgrounds
  2. More funding to reduce educational gap faced by most disadvantaged children, taking into account geography, gender and wealth as well as race.
  3. Bosses to ditch unconscious bias training in favour of sponsorship and skills training, with more research on what works in creating a level playing field
  4. All companies that publish their ethnicity pay gap figures to break this up by ethnic group and publish an action plan to narrow any disparities
  5. NHS England to review its ethnicity pay gap and set out a plan to tackle discrimination where it is found
  6. Set up new Office for Health Disparities to improve life expectancy in all groups – with focus on how ethnic minority groups are affected by different conditions
  7. Tackle disproportionate number of ethnic minority young people going into criminal justice system due to low-level Class B drug possession by referring them to drugs course instead
  8. Extend the school day urgently, initially prioritising most disadvantaged area with those pupils offered extra physical and cultural activities
  9. Police officers who fail to switch on body worn cameras during stop and search must provide written explanation to their boss, which stopped individual has right to see


  1. Poorer children to have access to better quality careers advice in schools, funded by university outreach programmes
  2. Highly-targeted apprenticeships campaign to persuade young people to do apprenticeships in growth sectors
  3. HSBC to work with universities to pilot enterprise programme for aspiring entrepreneurs from under-represented and low-income backgrounds, with other banks to follow
  4. Youth offending teams to set up mobile apps, text line or chatbots for young people at risk of being drawn into criminality and offer local support
  5. Major review on supporting families to look at how parents can be supported to navigate education, work and the justice system – and research parenting in different communities


  1. Independent experts to produce teaching resources so the contributions made by different communities to this country are embedded into the curriculum
  1. Create police forces that better represent the communities they serve
  2. Police forces to design recruitment pilots that match candidates’ life skills with the needs of their communities
  3. Race Disparity Unit to work with official statistics bodies to help ensure media uses ethnicity data in responsible and informed way
  4. The Government to move away from using the term ‘BAME’ and instead focus on disparities between specific ethnic groups


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more