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Social Mobility: Research Shows Class Is As Big An Issue As Race

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The Government reiterated its commitment to tackle racism and race inequality this week.  And Communities Secretary John Denham said yesterday a real commitment to challenging inequality and disadvantage also means tackling the problems faced by white working class young people.

Since the watershed  was published ten years ago, the Government has introduced a number of measures to improve race equality:  the extended laws against discrimination; over 43,000 public bodies were charged with promoting race equality (which has led to a more representative police force and a halving of racially motivated incidents since 1995); in addition, there has been a 20% increase in the number of pupils of Black Caribbean heritage gaining five GCSEs of grade "C" and above.

But John Denham said more needs to be done: "We know that in education, for example, there are greater similarities between black and white working class children than between working class children and their middle class counterparts."

Mr. Denham said that this research highlights the need to continue the progress in education which has seen all disadvantaged children improve their education results above the national average and young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) children make an even faster improvement.

At the same, entrenched discrimination still remains a real issue, including for BME middle classes.  Research from Manchester University carried out amongst teachers from a BME background shows that half of those interviewed (including 70% from an African background) felt they had been victims of institutional racism in the schools system which had prevented them from winning promotion to leadership roles.

Mr. Denham said:

"The picture may be more complex than ten years ago.  But that does not mean we should reduce our efforts to tackle racism and race equality.  Rather we must recognise that we will not succeed in addressing racism without tackling all forms of prejudice and disadvantage."

Research from Bristol University shows people born into poverty in certain areas are likely to spend their lives suffering from the same levels of poverty, with no notable levels of improvement - literally from cradle to grave.  This affects 'social mobility' at all levels and is not just affected by issues of race, but by class.  In short, achieving 'equality of opportunity' is as difficult for white working class communities as it is for other minority groups.

Mr. Denham gave a commitment to tackling racism and race inequality, adding:

"We must redouble our efforts to promote greater equality for all.  And combine that with efforts to target the specific problems faced by particular communities such as tackling social exclusion, child poverty, poor housing and raising standards in schools.  This is not a job for one public service, or one Government department, but for us all."

Mr. Denham said that the forthcoming race equality strategy will be broader to meet these challenges and to reflect that class is as important a factor in social mobility as race and will set out a three pronged approach:

  • effective enforcement;

  • a strong legal framework to challenge all forms of inequality, set out by the Equalities Bill; &

  • targeted action for particular problems and disadvantaged groups such as the for young Black men and , designed to reassure White working class communities.

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