Opinion: Third Voice - There's still much more to be done on race equality

Helen Edwards, director general of the Communities Group at the Home Office

British charities have a mixed record when it comes to addressing race equality and reflecting Britain's diverse population. Some mainstream charities have made great strides in recent years to achieve greater diversity in their staffing, volunteers and trustees, and to take the needs of black and ethnic minority communities into account when providing services.

Many BME organisations are doing well despite historical problems posed by discrimination, disadvantage, lack of funding and lack of capacity.

But it is fair to say that there is still a great deal more to be done.

I would suggest that there are a number of priorities. Under the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, all public authorities are required to promote race equality and provide services that are tailored to the social and cultural needs of particular communities. As a minimum, we must ensure that the commitment and structures are in place to engage and consult with BME communities in policy-making and delivery. Here we can build on and promote the BME compact code of good practice.

A further priority is to really make a difference for those BME organisations still struggling with gaps in their funding and other capacity issues.

The Government's ChangeUp programme makes a commitment to invest in initiatives that will help to build capacity and skills in BME organisations, and we have to make sure this targets resources where they are most needed.

The Home Office's £15m Connecting Communities Grant Scheme aims to make a real difference at grass-roots level by giving disadvantaged groups and individuals access to - and some influence over - policy makers and service providers. But there is further to go.

The last area for debate is arguably the most important and also the most difficult to resolve simply: how do we approach the ultimate aim of 'mainstreaming' needs and promoting a more cohesive society? If BME organisations are successfully serving particular communities, does that let mainstream services 'off the hook'?

The Home Office's Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society strategy provides a basis for moving forward, and it is essential that voluntary and community organisations play a full part in promoting good race relations and equal life chances for all.

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