Training materials that sparked #CharitySoWhite were racist but isolated, says Citizens Advice

The charity previously admitted an item of guidance on its website was 'unacceptable' but had stopped short of saying it was racist

Citizens Advice has acknowledged that training materials that sparked the #CharitySoWhite campaign last year were racist, but said the guidance was “isolated”.

But the #CharitySoWhite campaign group said the guidance was evidence of structural racism at the organisation and no meaningful change could be made until this was acknowledged.

The 2017 guidance, called Working with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities, was used to prepare staff in local offices to deal with the public. It included a section on "barriers we find in BAME communities", which it listed as “low levels of literacy”, "an intrinsically cash-centric culture, a society that revolves around religious belief, a distrust of British authorities" and "evidence of gender bias and discrimination".

When the guidance was discovered and tweeted in August by Fatima Iftikhar, founder of POCIMPACT, a community for people of colour in the social impact sector, it prompted an online discussion of racism in the charity sector and led to the formation of #CharitySoWhite.

At the time, Gillian Guy, the charity’s chief executive, said the guidance was “unacceptable” and apologised unreservedly, but stopped short of calling it racist.

Six months on from the initial tweet, Guy told Third Sector the charity had “accelerated our activity to become a more diverse and inclusive organisation” after the incident.

“Alongside our staff and two new dedicated roles created to provide additional focus and expertise, I am personally leading our continued efforts to deliver this ambition,” she said. 

“We’ve also been engaging with staff to listen to their insights and recommendations on how we can improve together. We’re continuing to build a diverse team of talented people and supporting them to succeed.”

Guy said she believed Citizens Advice should be leading the way on issues of diversity, inclusion and culture and she would work alongside staff to continue ensuring the organisation reflected the communities it served.

A report on how the guidance came to be published was released two weeks after the initial tweet, saying the guidance had not been through a proper approval process and had been developed without the appropriate expertise.

But in a statement to Third Sector, #CharitySoWhite said that, although the practical actions outlined by the charity’s leadership were welcome, “we firmly believe that there will be no meaningful and sustainable change until senior leadership acknowledge that this is a conversation about structural racism”.

The statement said: “Citizens Advice has repeatedly been asked to acknowledge that the training they produced was racist and evidences issues of structural racism at the organisation.

“In the six months since the training materials were uncovered, their response, including an 11-page investigation report, has failed to name and address the issue of racism specifically, ultimately demonstrating a complete disconnection with, and lack of empathy for, racialised communities – including some of the most vulnerable that the charity claims to serve.

“Citizens Advice is a national charity with a national reach and access to millions of pounds of public funding. It should be leading the way, and not hiding away from conversations about racism.”

In response to #CharitySoWhite, Guy said: “This training material promoted racial stereotypes and accordingly was racist.”

But she added: “The investigation found the material was unauthorised and isolated. We withdrew it immediately and acted swiftly to make sure this could not happen again.”

She said the charity wanted to do more to confront racism wherever it appeared and looked forward to meeting #CharitySoWhite to discuss the issue and the wider role Citizens Advice could play in dismantling inequality and racism.

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