CRED report's denial of institutional racism in the UK may have dire consequences – Dr Gwenetta Curry

When the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) report was released last month, the headlines erupted as the writers of the report concluded that institutional racism did not exist in the UK.

Black Lives Matter protesters hold up placards as they gather outside the American Embassy in London in September last year as a trial hearing for four police officers charged with the murder of George Floyd took place in the US (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

Since then, many people have discussed the blatant misuse of evidence in the report and the possible ramifications of the claims being made.

The report highlights the various disparities in education, police arrest, and Covid-19 deaths. The disproportionate number of Covid-19 deaths among people from Black and Asian backgrounds is undeniable.

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With early reports from the Office for National Statistics indicating that Black men and women were over three times as likely to die from Covid-19 than their white counterparts, more attention has been given to investigate the disparity.

The report claims that these differences in Covid-19 mortality rates were mainly due to increased risk of infection – for example, geographical factors such as living in densely populated inner-cities, socioeconomic factors, co-morbidities, and multi-generational housing.

What the authors fail to address is how these groups have been relegated to live and work in certain areas more than their white counterparts. Living and working conditions are a central component in understanding one’s exposure to Covid-19 and racial and ethnic minorities are over-represented in deprived areas and front-facing occupations.

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'Britain is not institutionally racist': what government-backed race report says

While it might be the case that racial and ethnic minorities in the UK suffer from higher rates of type-2 diabetes and obesity, the Covid-19 disparity persists even when co-morbidities are accounted for.

Racial and ethnic health disparities have existed long before Covid-19 arrived on the shores of the UK and the publication of this report, I fear, will contribute to de-emphasising addressing the systemic issues that contribute to increasing these disparities.

Before Covid-19, ethnic and racial disparities were rarely discussed in mainstream media or among funding agencies; now with Covid-19, there has been increased attention and awareness of race issues in the UK.

If research funding becomes limited to study these disparities, it will lead to the failure to address the needs of Black and Asian populations.

As Professor Tommy Curry writes, “The report maintains that societal hierarchies and racial inequities are not born of racist social practices but the inferior cultural practices of some racial and ethnic groups.”

The overall focus on individual behaviours will continue to ignore the systemic problems and blame the individuals for their condition or death.

Scotland is thought to not have the same issues as England when it comes to racism but there is a significant lack of data on racial and ethnic minorities.

According to the last Public Health Scotland report, there continues to be an increased risk in some ethnic minority groups for Covid-19 hospitalisation and those of South Asian ethnicity had a proportionally greater risk.

The authors also note that no inferences could be made based on the available ethnicity data in Scotland because the numbers were so low.

While it may be the case that fewer Black and Asian people are living in Scotland than in England, the available data should be able to account for their experiences.

The CRED report’s total denial of institutional and systemic racism in the UK could have dire consequences for the communities the report was meant to represent.

Dr Gwenetta Curry is an Edinburgh University lecturer on race, ethnicity and health

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