White working class left behind by Labour, ministers admit
White working-class people have been left behind by Labours policies and can suffer greater social disadvantage than successful members of ethnic minorities, ministers have admitted.
By James Kirkup, Political Correspondent
Published: 4:52PM GMT 14 Jan 2010
In a shift in Labour's approach, John Denham, the Communities Secretary, said that social class is sometimes more important than race in determining the progress someone makes in life.
His attempt to move on from more than a decade of Labour thinking on racial equality and social policy comes after the British National Party made electoral breakthroughs in Labour heartlands last year.
In another departure, Mr Denham also accepted that the unprecedented levels of immigration Labour has overseen have had a big impact on race relations in Britain.
The BNP last year won its first seats in the European Parliament after a campaign that argued that the main political parties have abandoned the white working class.
Some Labour MPs have said that should force the Government to do more to respond to the concerns of white working class voters.
In response, Mr Denham has already revised rules to allow councils to favour the children of long-standing residents when allocating council houses, and announced a 12 million fund to address the sense grievance felt by people in poor white areas.
Yesterday, Mr Denham attempted to argue that Labours race policies have addressed many of the race-based inequalities that minorities used to suffer, allowing ministers to broaden the focus to address the class divide.
In a report on the Governments approach to race, Mr Denham's department said that working-class children of different races have more in common with each other than with middle-class children of the same ethnic group.
Socio-economic status and poverty affect people's chances in life regardless of race or ethnic background, the report said.
Mr Denham also said that it was important to acknowledge and celebrate the growing black and Asian middle class. Many members of minority groups have a degree, a good job and own their own home, he said.
“We must avoid a one-dimensional debate that assumes all minority ethnic people are disadvantaged,” he said. Non-white people are no longer automatically disadvantaged because of their race, he said.
Mr Denham said there is “no evidence” to show that the white working class are held back simply because of their race. Rather, he said, they suffer “social disadvantage” because of their class.
That disadvantage can be a greater handicap than the prejudice that is experienced by some people from minority ethnic groups.
He said: It is no longer enough to make simple judgements or assumptions which equate race with disadvantage. That would overlook, for example, the striking achievements of Indian and Chinese students, but it would also overlook the fact that white working class boys are struggling to keep up.
He also accepted that immigration had played a part in the rise of far-Right groups.
Migration has had a big impact on the debate about race in Britain, he said.
In some places we've seen antipathy against Eastern Europeans or Muslims becoming more acceptable justified on the grounds of religious difference but manifesting itself in terms of racial prejudice and gaining a political voice through the BNP and other far right groups,”
The Conservatives said Labour had been forced to admit that white working class people had been neglected.
Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary, said: In the past decade the Government has framed its rhetoric on social inequality around marginalised groups and it now appears to be repositioning itself when it sees that approach has failed
She added: While Gordon Brown has played class warfare politics, social mobility has gone backwards under Labour.
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