The first annual report of the cross-government strategy, Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society, monitors progress to date and demonstrates a continued commitment to race equality and community cohesion. The new Department for Communities and Local Government, which brings together all equalities and cohesion responsibilities, now has lead responsibility for the strategy, working across Government to tackle these issues.
The report Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society – one year on provides an insight into the work and activities undertaken across government over the last year and outlines the progress towards achieving equality in the key public services; education, the labour market, housing, health and the criminal justice system. It also sets out progress in building community cohesion.
Successes so far include:
There has been an improvement across all groups (except travellers of Irish heritage) in the proportions of 15-year-olds achieving the equivalent of five or more A*-C GCSEs compared to 2004 and 2005.
The Bangladeshi community are most likely to experience overcrowding but there has been a significant improvement from 40 per cent of Bangladeshi households overcrowded in 1996-97 to 29 per cent in 2004-05.
The number of BME staff in criminal justice system agencies continues to grow and in the Probation Service (10.9 per cent) and the Crown Prosecution Service (11.7 per cent) the proportion of minority ethnic staff is higher than the proportion in the general population.
Phil Woolas, Minister for Race, Faith and Cohesion at DCLG said:
“This report re-affirms the Government’s commitment to create a society in which everyone, whatever their racial or ethnic origin, is able to fulfil his or her potential through the enjoyment of equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities.
“DCLG has a powerful new remit to promote community cohesion and equality and I believe this department is the best possible home for these issues. It provides opportunities to bring about stronger, more equal and empowered communities to which the Government remain committed.
“As MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, I am only too aware of the range of issues that can be faced by communities and of the amazing work which goes on at all levels; local, regional and national to drive change and to really make a difference in people’s lives. This report highlights some of the excellent work and projects which we hope and believe are making positive changes to society.”
However, the report recognises that further progress is needed and outlines the challenges for the future. The findings will be used as a lever to drive progress across government by making clear where improvements are needed most.
Areas where more progress is needed include:
Pupils of Black Caribbean and Mixed White/ Black Caribbean heritage and pupils from any other Black background have the lowest attainment levels at GCSE apart from Gypsy/Roma pupils and Travellers of Irish heritage. But they also had amongst the highest rate of improvement between 2004 and 2005.
Some 11 per cent of Black and minority ethnic households are overcrowded – down slightly from 13 per cent in the mid-1990s. Among White households, two per cent are overcrowded.
People from ethnic minorities are almost twice as likely to be unemployed than the national average. Rates of unemployment were highest for Black Caribbean, Black African and Mixed Race groups at nine per cent.
Mr Woolas added:
“We should all be proud of the work done so far to tackle inequalities and increase community cohesion. Many communities have already benefited from the support and funding provided and we will continue to build on this success in the future.
“We should be careful not to become complacent and the figures tell us that we can do more and that some communities still suffer disadvantage in comparison to the rest of society. The report also properly highlights the challenges for the future that still exist. This is not a short term strategy or policy but one which we must continue to tackle long term in order to achieve our vision of a strong and cohesive society in which opportunities are genuinely accessible to everyone regardless of race or faith.”
A DCLG-led national conference will be held in the autumn to discuss the findings of the annual report and how to drive future progress. Delegates will include representatives from central and local government, the private sector and voluntary and community organisations.