Headlines: February 25th, 1999

Publication of the Report into the death of Stephen Lawrence has put racism on the public service agenda. The Race Relations Act will be extended to public sector organisations. Home Secretary Jack Straw said: “This is about the whole of British society, the public services within it and what we all must do to make sure these appalling events lead to a change in race relations within our society”. Stephen, 18, was fatally stabbed by white youths at a bus stop in south-east London in 1993. Nobody has been convicted of the murder

Jack Straw’s view of the wider problem of race relations was confirmed by Dr Jane Richards, who chaired the BMA’s working party on racial equality. She said Sir William’s definition of the term would “broadly apply to the health service”. “It would not be an exact fit, because while racism exists in the NHS, it also exists in society as a whole. So while there are health care professionals who are racist towards their patients – unwittingly or otherwise – patients are often racist to NHS staff”.

As well as tackling racism within, the public sector will be part of the response to the issue in society. At national level the Home Office Racial Incidents Standing Committee draws together agencies and Departments involved in tackling racism. It will play a key role to play on the broader public sector front. The Committee brings together policy units in the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Department of Education and Employment, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Commission for Racial Equality, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, and Victim Support.

At the local level, partnership working is already in progress to counter racism. The London Borough of Enfield Housing Department and the Police conduct joint visits to perpetrators of racism on council housing estates and warn them that they may be prosecuted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The Act was designed to deter stalking. A research project will look at the use of the Act in cases where race may be a factor.

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