Legislative Progress: Fighting Racism and Discrimination in the UK

To celebrate Black History Month, Judge & Priestley has produced three articles looking at the struggle to overcome discrimination and to create a more equal society. In this second text, we look at how black campaigners successfully pressed for legislation to outlaw racism and discrimination.

Black people faced widespread discrimination in Britain between the 1940s and 60s, leading to protests and calls for change. Finally, after 20 years of racism in all walks of life, that change was about to take place in the form of a revolutionary piece of new legislation.

The Race Relations Act 1965

One of the most pivotal moments in the UK's fight against racial discrimination was the introduction of the Race Relations Act in 1965. This landmark legislation aimed to combat racial discrimination in public places and promote equality of treatment for all, regardless of their race or ethnicity. The Act was a response to the growing awareness of racial discrimination and the need for legal mechanisms to address it. It was introduced by Harold Wilson’s new Labour government as soon as it was elected in 1964. The Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins in public places such as hotels, restaurants, and theatres. It marked a crucial step forward in addressing racial discrimination in everyday life and promoting social integration. It was a good start but there was still a long way to go. 

The Race Relations Act 1968

The black community welcomed the 1965 Act but were quick to point out that it didn’t go nearly far enough. Pressure groups like the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, led by Dr David Pitt, later Baron Pitt of Hampstead, wanted to see it expanded to tackle racism in more sectors. The result was the Race Relations Act 1968, which further strengthened anti-discrimination laws by covering housing, employment, and other areas of public life. One of the significant aspects of the two race relations acts was the establishment of the Race Relations Board. 

Race Relations Board

The Race Relations Board was active from 1966 to 1976. It investigated complaints, mediated disputes, and pursued legal action against racial discrimination. It also provided individuals with a mechanism to seek redress and hold institutions accountable for discriminatory practices. It laid the foundation for subsequent anti-discrimination legislation, including the Race Relations Act 1976.

Race Relations Act 1976

This act strengthened the previous legislation by making it illegal to discriminate on racial grounds in the provision of goods, facilities, and services, including education. It also established the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) to replace the Race Relations Board. 

Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)

The CRE was a government agency established to promote racial equality and combat racial discrimination. It had the authority to enforce the Race Relations Act and subsequent legislation. The CRE investigated complaints of racial discrimination and took legal action when necessary to challenge discriminatory practices. It worked to promote racial equality and diversity, advocating for policies and practices that would eliminate racial discrimination and foster inclusivity. It also conducted educational and awareness campaigns to inform the public about issues related to racial discrimination and equality. It was merged in 2007 with two other equality commissions, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), to form a single equality body known as the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which still operates today. While the CRE no longer exists as a separate entity, its legacy in promoting racial equality and combating racial discrimination continues through the work of the EHRC and various other organisations and initiatives in the UK.

The Human Rights Act 1998

This also played a significant role in tackling racial discrimination by incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. This provided further protections against discrimination and allowed individuals to challenge human rights violations more effectively.

Equality Act 2010

This consolidated and expanded anti-discrimination laws. The Act combined various pieces of legislation into one, making it easier for individuals to understand and assert their rights. 

The legislative changes introduced in the UK since the 1960s have brought about significant achievements in reducing racial discrimination. These laws have led to increased awareness, empowered individuals to challenge discrimination, and created a legal framework to hold institutions accountable.

However, challenges remain. Despite legislative progress, racial disparities persist in areas such as education, employment, and the criminal justice system. Systemic racism continues to affect marginalised communities, necessitating continued vigilance and efforts to address these disparities.

We shall address some of these challenges in our third #BlackHistoryMonth article.

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