Today I attended the launch of Labour’s BAME manifesto in Leicester. The audience in the room alone highlighted our diversity in Britain – the diversity that won us the Olympics and makes us proud as a nation.
In the three years since I was elected I have been incredibly proud to serve as one of Labour’s 16 BAME members of parliament, serving the community where I grew up. I represent a constituency that is over 50 per cent ethnic minority – and every day I hear from constituents struggling to get a job and make ends meet.
And we know what is important. Breaking down the barriers still facing so many people. We are the party that believes in equality. It is in our DNA.
And we know that no society that believes in everyone having the chance to get on can tolerate the inequality we know exists.
That’s why today I am proud that today, on Vaisakhi (new year), Ed Miliband launched our cross-government race equality strategy to drive progress across every area of government – a strategy led by Sadiq Khan and Gloria de Piero, building on the work started by Yvette Cooper.
We have come a long way since 1987 when today’s launch host Keith Vaz and Paul Boateng who was also present today were two of the first four Labour BAME MPs elected.
But we still only have 4.2 per cent ethnic minority MPs in the House of Commons. If the BAME population was fully represented, there would be around 84 minority ethnic MPs.
Our BAME manifesto starts from the basis that Britain only succeeds when all working people succeed.
But this simply is not the case currently. Over 750,000 young people are unemployed. Almost a million people are now using foodbanks, up from 60,000 in 2010.
And for ethnic minorities the situation is worse.
• Long-term unemployment for ethnic minority young people has increased by almost 50 per cent in the last five years.
• If you are under 25 and black you are twice as likely to be out of work.
• BAME communities are still overrepresented in minimum wage jobs, and are more likely to earn less than the living wage, with half of the Bangladeshi community earning below the living wage.
But equally I know from my own constituency the difficulties residents are having accessing health and other public services.
That is why our policies of raising the national minimum wage to more than £8 an hour and banning exploitative zero-hours contracts will help close the BAME pay gap.
That is why ensuring better and more inclusive public services, with our parliament, public services, police and judiciary more representative of all the communities they serve will make a big difference.
That is why we need to build stronger and more cohesive communities, with tougher action against hate crime, including rising antisemitism and Islamophobia.
And why we need to engage proudly on the world stage to promote human rights, justice and religious tolerance.
But we know that ethnic minorities remain grossly underrepresented in our parliament and in our political debate and that we need to increase the voice of those underrepresented.
Labour has had a positive track record in increasing representation in our politics and public life. But much more needs to be done.
Over the three years before the 2010 election, Labour increased ethnic minority representation within the civil service by 11 per cent.
But since 2010 this progress has been all but wiped out, and the proportion of ethnic minority staff working at the most senior level – has fallen.
Even in London, which has a BME population of some 40 per cent, just six per cent of those in the top jobs are from those communities.
That pattern is replicated in front line services as well. Just five of 195 nursing directors are from BME backgrounds. There are 85 black lecturers out of a total of 18,510 in our universities. Less than seven per cent of police across the country. Less than four per cent of firefighters. The list goes on and on and on.
And on public boards the Tories took away BAME targets for new public appointments. The number of BAMEs appointed to public boards then dropped from 7.2 per cent to 5.5 per cent.
We also need to increase the voice of all in our political debate and increase the engagement of minority communities in our politics and in our election.
That is why we have been holding events to encourage registration for example through national voter registration day.
Just yesterday I was out in my constituency with people continuing to register in the final few days.
We need to spread the word that for inequalities that still exist – such as stop and search, high unemployment, poor educational outcomes – that the way to help tackle them is by voting.
Indeed it is by being involved in politics that we can work to make the changes we need.
And our minority communities are an economic asset to Britain. Because in being diaspora communities we maintain links with home nations. And so for Britain to do well, we need all our communities to do well.
So as well as the moral imperative to help everyone realise their potential, there is quite clearly an economic imperative to make progress on this too.
So if you want to see the cause of equality furthered, then you need a government for which equality is the overriding priority, then you need not just to vote Labour this year, but to get involved and be part of the campaign to convince your friends, neighbours and colleagues to vote Labour too.
Indeed it was Labour’s 1968 Race Relations Act that made it illegal, for the first time, to refuse housing, employment or public services to people on the basis of ethnicity or background.
We have seen recently how much this is still needed with regard to housing by the expose by the BBC where 10 housing agencies in west London were caught on film saying they would not rent to African-Caribbean people.
So there remains a lot to do. A lot to fight for, to create the Britain of tomorrow we can all be proud of. A fairer Britain. A better Britain.