Press release

Deputy Prime Minister: “Economic opportunity is the next frontier for race equality” – Scarman Lecture

The Deputy Prime Minister is today delivering the Scarman Lecture, hosted by the People Can charity, to an invited audience in Brixton.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

In his speech, the Deputy Prime Minister will give a frank assessment of the race debate in Britain since the Brixton riots in 1981:

A great deal has been achieved in the last thirty years.

We have moved forward on a number of fronts: legal rights - where we have seen the most success. Political representation is better - though of course there is still a very, very long way to go. I say that as a leader of a political party that is still too male and too pale. A problem we are working very hard to fix.

But, while these battles are ongoing, there is one front on which the war on inequality has barely even begun:

Economic opportunity - the next frontier for race equality.

That is what I am going to focus on today. Not because we have eliminated discrimination in politics, or in the criminal justice system, but because we urgently need to lift a lid on the injustices hardwired into our economy.

In the 1980s Scarman transformed the race debate because he shone a light where people didn’t want to look. He exposed the fundamental inequalities built-in to the system.

It’s time we resurrected the Scarman spirit to tackle the lack of opportunities for our ethnic communities. The barriers built into everyday British life.


The real lesson from the last thirty years is it is not enough for a society to reject bigotry. Real equality is not just the absence of prejudice. It is the existence of fairness and opportunity too.

The previous Government achieved a lot for race equality - and they deserve credit for it. But their answer to inequality, though benign, was too narrow: they attempted to deliver equality solely through the state.


Greater fairness in the public sector is an important achievement, but it is not enough. The previous Government tried to compensate for inequality in the section of society they could control rather than trying to eliminate it across the board.

The state has been used to hide the sins of the market - and the veil is now being lifted.

If you assume the state has all the answers, you absolve other parts of our society from playing their part. You treat black and ethnic minority communities as passive recipients of state help, rather than empowering them as strong individuals.

The Deputy Prime Minister will look at sport to illustrate the progress that has been made, and how much is still to be done:

Think, for a moment, about football. 

When Premier League teams recruit players now, they don’t care about their race, they care about their ability.

The sporting world has not always been so meritocratic - a fact we were reminded of at the weekend following the death of former cricketer Basil D’Oliveira. He was banned, because of his race, from playing for England in South Africa’s 1968 tour, an event that precipitated the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa.

Such discrimination seems almost unthinkable now.

In football, fans adore their heroes for their talent and character, whether they are black or white.

And when Sepp Blatter dares trivialise racism on the pitch, his comments are rightly met with public outcry.

But how many black managers are there in the Premier League?

How many black or ethnic minority chief executives or senior executives?

The answer is zero.

If you are a white player you have a one in fifty chance of moving into management.

If you are a black player?

One in five hundred.

He will go on to give a clear indication of the Government’s support for the Equalities Act, and announce new research, led by Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone, on bank lending to black and ethnic minority businesspeople.

I want to send out a clear signal today: the Equalities Act is a cornerstone of the UK’s rights architecture. It isn’t there for employers to pick and choose from. And it is not going away.


So I have asked Andrew Stunell to work with the government’s own Ethnic Minority Advisory Group and the EHRC, and to bring together some of the best experts in finance with individuals who understand the problems of building businesses. To look at the barriers preventing black and ethnic minority groups from accessing loans. We have to work out what is going wrong, and then we have to fix it.

Read the full text of the speech here.

Published 24 November 2011