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The Tories' Austerity Programme Is Officially Racist

If you hold the budget to the standards of the government's own equality legislation, it looks like discrimination.

Wail Qasim

Chancellor George Osborne (Photo via)

Three weeks ago George Osborne delivered his budget speech to parliament. Since then, we've been picking over just how disastrous the details will be for the worst off in our society. Now a new report from the Runnymede Trust highlights the disproportionate impact the Treasury's policies will have on Britain's Black and Minority Ethnic communities.

BME people already face economic inequality in today's Britain, but the analysis carried out by the Runnymede Trust suggests several distinct areas where it is set to get worse over the next five years as the fully-Conservative budget is implemented.

It has been widely reported that those in low-income groups, regardless of their ethnic background, are likely to suffer cuts to their weekly income. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, for example, have shown that 13 million households are set to be in a worse position following this budget. If we were to (wrongly) assume that White households and BME households were equally affected by the changes to come, approximately 1.25 million BME households and 4 million BME people would be worse off.

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But, as if that weren't bad enough, people of colour are over-represented in the poor working-class. To take just one indicator, the average White British household has assets of around £221,000 compared to £21,000 for Black African households and £15,000 in Bangladeshi households. Relatively speaking, very few people of any ethnicity will benefit from the increase of the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million, but it's even more unlikely if you're from a BME background.

On the other hand, you're way more likely to be concerned about the changes to Child Tax Credit criteria that mean Black British and Asian families will see a cut to their income if they've decided to have more than two kids. 24 percent of Black and Asian families have three of more children, compared to 8 percent of White families.

Even if you have what is deemed an acceptable amount of children by the government, your benefits aren't safe. The proposed lowering of the cap on benefits disproportionately affects people from BME backgrounds. The Runnymede Trust already noted during the last parliament that 40 percent of people hit by the benefits cap would be BME.

Surely the government checked to see whether its policies discriminate against particular communities before they brought them to parliament? Well, kind of. A Treasury spokesperson said: "HMT has fully considered equality impacts on different protected groups."

If a government were pursuing policies with the express intention of harming BME people, you'd call that racist. So what about a government that says it has taken BME people into account but is still disproportionately harming them? Insofar as we even need to, can we "officially" stick the racist label on the government's actions?

Britain's anti-discrimination legislation, the Equalities Act 2010, explicitly sets out to "require Ministers of the Crown and others when making strategic decisions about the exercise of their functions to have regard to the desirability of reducing socio-economic inequalities".

It's difficult to see where the 2015 budget pays much regard to "reducing socio-economic inequalities" at all, least of all in relation to how BME people are likely to be impacted. Other than the pernicious logic of pushing most people to the brink in the vain hope that they will all somehow buck up their ideas and become millionaires, the budget definitely reads more like a manifesto for increasing socio-economic inequalities than one for curbing them.

The problem goes even further. Not only does it seem like the government isn't fulfilling its duties under the act. The specific "protected characteristic" of race is disproportionately impacted by this budget. That means there may be a case for describing the budget – and austerity as a whole – as racism, even in the eyes of the law.

Under the narrow definition of discrimination that the legislation covers, you don't have to be a card carrying member of the National Front screaming racist slogans in the street to be a racist. It also counts when your racism is hidden – say perhaps in the way that sweeping policies could come to harm some ethnic groups over others.

The classic example, in this case of age discrimination, goes like this: a school asks one of its longest serving and older staff members to take a cut in hours due to financial constraints. They come to an agreement where to make up for the lost hours, they will inform her of any future positions that became available at the school. But when a position becomes available, the school's advert says, "would suit candidates in the first five years of their career".

That last bit is where the indirect discrimination comes in. They've stipulated a practice, policy or rule that, while applying to everyone in the same way, indirectly discriminates against those of the staff member's age group. When this happened in real life, an Employment Tribunal rightly decided that this constituted discrimination.

Shouldn't the budget be held to the same standards? If it has been shown that the practice, policy or rule of the Treasury means that 50 percent of Pakistani children and 40 percent of Bangladeshi children live in poverty before the new changes even come in, there seems to be a little indirect discrimination taking place. And where half of all overcrowded households in Britain are BME, the cuts in housing benefit entitlement among under 21s can only serve to make this worse.

A few months ago when they were trying to secure votes, the Conservatives lead with the slogan "A Brighter, More Secure Future". It'll come as little surprise that they didn't mean for that to apply to everyone, and mainly just their business-savvy friends. But as they rush headlong into implementing their dream budget, it's becoming easier to see just who they're willing to leave behind, especially when it comes to race.

@WailQ

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