Britain’s audit of injustice

A society’s first step to reduce inequality is to make sure government provides services without bigotry. Britain’s new prime minister is trying a novel approach: an audit of government injustice.

Reuters
Supporters of the UK branch of "Black Lives Matter" take part in a demonstration in London, Britain, August 5.

One great hypocrisy by almost every government is its claim to serve all people equally but then failing to do so. A new British prime minister, Theresa May, boldly aims to fix that. She recognizes her government must first discern its own failings, especially any bigotry in how it helps its citizens. Last week, she ordered an “audit” of public services, from education to criminal justice, to root out disparities by race or class.

Ms. May warns that “shining a light on injustices,” as she put it, can reveal “difficult truth.” She should know. Before she occupied 10 Downing Street, she was Britain’s home secretary and conducted an official audit of “stop and searches” by police. Most importantly, she published the data. It found that people from black and ethnic minority communities were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. After the audit, the proportion dropped almost in half. A further decline is expected.

Black and ethnic minority people in Britain face “entrenched” inequality, according to a recent review by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a government body established in 2006. And the country has also seen a recent rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric and hate crimes surrounding the June vote in favor of Britain exiting the European Union (“Brexit”). The United Nations even warned British leaders about the “divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric” and the government’s inadequacy in addressing it.

May’s audits, she hopes, will help heal the rifts in society. The first reports are due next summer and will be conducted annually. They are aimed mainly at government’s role in providing access to good education and child care as well as ensuring less discrimination in hiring for jobs and in salaries. More than half of all young black people are unemployed. Yet the audits will even address one unusual disparity: White working-class boys are the least likely of all groups to go to university.

By reducing bigotry in government services, May is also relying on the people of Britain to do their part in removing social and economic disparities. “We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives,” she says.

The first step, however, is transparency in government and isolating problems with unfairness in services. Taking the log out of its eye will then enable citizens to take the speck out of theirs.

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