THERE is no evidence of “institutional racism” in Britain, although there is evidence that “overt” prejudice exists, the man behind a Downing Street study set up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement has said.

Tony Sewell, chairman of the Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities, said while there was anecdotal evidence of racism, he denied there was any proof that it was structural, saying there was data to show some ethnic minorities were doing well in the jobs market and in education.

It follows wider discussions around racism following the death of George Floyd last year, subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, elite sports stars taking the knee before football matches, and a claim by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey that a member of the family – not the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh – had made a racist comment about their son Archie.

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Sewell, a former teacher who grew up in Brixton, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No-one denies and no-one is saying racism doesn’t exist.

“We found anecdotal evidence of this.

“However … evidence of actual institutional racism? No, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that.”

Sewell also said the term “institutional racism” was “sometimes wrongly applied” as a “sort of catch-all phrase for micro-aggressions or acts of racial abuse”.

He added: “I don’t want anyone to think this (report) doesn’t deny that companies themselves have to go out and really do better in terms of getting a broader and more diverse workforce.”

Asked whether he was hired by the UK Government specifically to repeat his previous findings that there was no institutional racism, Sewell – who was chairman of Boris Johnson’s Education Inquiry panel when the now-Prime Minister was London mayor – replied: “We have some very focused recommendations on changing the landscape for ethnic minorities, and I think that’s the key thing.

“We’ve got to acknowledge that overt racism does exist.”

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The report, which will be published later today, said there have been improvements such as increasing diversity in elite professions and a shrinking ethnicity pay gap, although disparities remain.

It also found that children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than white pupils in compulsory education, with black Caribbean pupils the only group to perform less well.

And it said the pay gap between all ethnic minorities and the white majority population has shrunk to 2.3%, and is not significant for employees under 30.

The commission said education is “the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience” and the most important tool to reduce racial disparities.

Success in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries”, it added.

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It also said that issues around race and racism are becoming “less important”, and in some cases are not a significant factor in explaining inequalities.

Different outcomes are complex and involve social class and family structure along with race, it said.

The report states: “We found that most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism.”

However, it notes that some communities continue to be “haunted” by historic racism, which is creating “deep mistrust” and could be a barrier to success.

The 264-page report makes 24 recommendations, including for extended school days to be phased in, starting with disadvantaged areas, to help pupils catch up on missed learning during the pandemic.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds should also have access to better quality careers advice in schools, funded by university outreach programmes.

And it is calling for more research to examine the drivers in communities where pupils perform well, so these can be replicated to help all children succeed.

The Commission also recommends that the acronym BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) should no longer be used as differences between groups are as important as what they have in common.

And it calls for organisations to stop funding unconscious bias training and for the UK Government and experts to develop resources to help advance workplace equality.

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Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said she had not yet read the full report, but said action was needed.

She told Sky News: “It’s right to recognise that progress has been made and it’s right to celebrate it, but that shouldn’t in any sense mean we don’t see the very real problems in front of us and start to act on them.

“The Government has report after report after report … what we really need now is some action to implement them.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter UK said while the report focused on education, “it fails to explore disproportionality in school exclusion, eurocentrism and censorship in the curriculum, or the ongoing attainment gap in higher education.

“We are also disappointed to learn that the report overlooks disproportionality in the criminal justice system – particularly as police racism served as the catalyst for last summer’s protests,” they said. “Black people in England and Wales are nine times more likely to be imprisoned than their white peers, and yet, four years on, the recommendations from the Lammy review are yet to be implemented.”

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Halima Begum, of race equality think tank Runnymede Trust, said: “As we saw in the early days of the pandemic, 60% of the first NHS doctors and nurses to die were from our BAME communities. For Boris Johnson to look the grieving families of those brave dead in the eye and say there is no evidence of institutional racism in the UK is nothing short of a gross offence.

“The facts about institutional racism do not lie, and we note with some surprise that, no matter how much spin the commission puts on its findings, it does in fact concede that we do not live in a post-racist society.”

Maurice Mcleod of Race on the Agenda commented: “We would argue that you cannot tackle structural racism if you don’t believe it exists. The only substantive thing in the report is the decree that the public sector should stop using the term BAME; 250,000 people didn’t march through our cities during a pandemic demanding better syntax.”