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Inaugural meeting of the Race Equality Policy Working Group

February 16, 2018 2:20 PM
By Merlene Emerson in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats

Merlene Emerson London BridgeOn 13 February, eve of Valentine's Day, members of the Race Equality Policy Working Group met for the first time at LDHQ. I mention Valentine's Day because this is very much a labour of love for those of us who have volunteered to assist the Party in its policy making on this important subject.

The first meeting was also timely for another reason: it follows the issue last week of Lord Alderdice's report on Race, Ethnic Minorities and the culture of the Liberal Democrats and an email from our leader, Vince Cable MP, calling on each and every member to play their part in changing the culture of the Party.

Dubbed "Morrissey 2", this was the long-awaited report pushed for by certain members of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) in the footsteps of the Morrissey Review in 2014 that had focussed on gender issues. The Policy Working Group could not sensibly proceed to criticise the Government or various institutions for not tackling race inequality if we have not examined our own Party's reputation and record. In fact, Lord Alderdice had in his report referred to both EMLD and our Working Group as having significant roles to play.

The remit for the Working Group is extremely wide, from Education and Employment to Health, Criminal Justice system, under representation in Politics and more. To help navigate the vast waters, Debbie Weekes-Bernard, policy and research manager from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation came to share about her seminal work on "Poverty, Ethnicity and the labour market."

Highlighting the drivers of poverty such as unemployment, economic inactivity, austerity and the freezing of benefits, as well as in-work poverty, she provided evidence of why those from BaME communities have been the worst hit. 14 million people currently live in poverty (defined as living on 60% of median income) 19% of these are white, 50% Bangladeshi (for example), while 30% of Black African graduates are over qualified for the jobs that they are in.

We had an interesting interchange of ideas including looking at ways of encouraging employers to raise the wages of the lowest paid as a way of increasing productivity, by ranking companies for their record of diversity and inclusion and for better retraining of skills. A question posed on the effectiveness of Job Centre Plus brought the loudest guffaws.

The Working Group will be meeting another 5 times before the Autumn Conference when we will be presenting a Consultation Paper. In the meanwhile, we are open to suggestions and would welcome evidence not only from experts from think tanks but also from ordinary members to learn from your experiences. Please do not hesitate to contact either myself or Jonathan Everett of the Policy Unit at LDHQ.

The following are members of the Working Group (in alphabetical order):

Sam Al-Hamdani, Susannah Austin, Hina Bokhari, Brendan d'Cruz, Kishan Devani, Andrew de Whalley, Neville Farmer, Issan Ghazni MBE (Vice-Chair), Jon Hannah, James Jennings, Susan Juned (FPC rep), Dr Mohsin Khan, Tahir Maher, Dr Bablin Molick, Meher Oliaji, Marisha Ray, Pramod Subbaraman and myself (Chair).

* Merlene Emerson is is Vice-Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee and an executive member of Liberal International British Group. She is Co-founder of Chinese Liberal Democrats.