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Race Equality in the UK

This page covers

- the legacy of Race Equality Legislation and Policy in the UK;
- it’s impact on organisations and individuals; and
- provide you with some useful resources that will help you to understand how the legislation works in practice, understand your legal duties and consider any practical changes that you may be required to make to ensure that you are able to demonstrate that you are meeting those duties.

Key moments in Race relations Equality Legislation in the UK

Britain has long used legislation to control immigration and to outlaw racial discrimination. From English kings coping with Danish migrants to the laws passed in parliament in the late 20th century.

Since before slavery, black people have been living in Britain. But only in the last 60 years have black and Asian people settled in these shores within any great number. Today they make up more than ?% of the British population.

In the intervening years, British race relations have come to be seen as perhaps the most important aspect in helping to forge a peaceful and fair society.

The arrival of the cruise ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on the morning of 22 June, 1948, marked the start of modern day mass immigration to Britain. On board were 492 Jamaicans, mostly young, single men, who had made the voyage across the Atlantic in search of work.

The economic depression in post-war Britain had led to a slump in trade with the Caribbean and jobs there were short. At the same time, Britain needed rebuilding and there was a shortage of labour.

The arrival of Windrush had been met with unease by some, and one MP remarked the new immigrants would be on the first boat home once the British winter set in.

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act

In 1962 the Conservative government acted on the growing issue of racism by creating the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, which restricted the immigration rights Commonwealth citizens had been granted in the 1948 British Nationality Act.

Labour leader Hugh Gaitskill referred to the act, which had a focus on skilled workers and introduced work permits, as a “cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation”. Activist Claudia Jones described it as “a deliberate attempt to restrict the flow of people of colour to the UK from British colonies.”

Its impact was that those who had been previously encouraged to come to the UK to work in the NHS and be a founding part of the welfare state now found the invitation rescinded. 

Bristol bus boycott

In 1963 the Bristol Omnibus Company was operating an unofficial colour bar. Four young West Indian Men, Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Audley Evans and Prince Brown, formed an action group called the West Indian Development Council and set up a test case against the bus company to prove that the colour bar was in place. 

They set up an interview and told the bus company that the candidate was West Indian. The interview was promptly cancelled. 

Inspired by Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in America 1955, the men called a press conference and announced that none of the city’s West Indian communities would be using the bus service from there on and that many white people would be supporting their actions. 

The boycott drew national attention to racial discrimination and lasted four months, after which the company finally backed down and overturned the colour bar. 

Following the boycott’s coverage, in 1965 Parliament passed a Race Relations Act which outlawed discrimination “on grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origin

Page updated: 24/09/2021 Page updated by: Gloucestershire County Council

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