THE ETHNIC MINORITY GROUPS’ CONTRIBUTION TO POLITICS AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT DECISION MAKING IN THE UK
7th, March, 2013
The government of the United Kingdom (UK) considers participation of its entire people in politics and local government decision making as an important factor. This includes the participation of the ethnic minority groups, as well as the general population. The UK government therefore, focuses on strengthening this participation by adopting policies that will help achieve this. However, loopholes still exist in the UK regarding equal contribution for the whole population. It is widely reported that the black and minority ethnic (BME) groups in the United Kingdom are underrepresented in politics and decision making in governance issues. For instance, in electing political leaders, many studies have shown that most people from the ethnic minority groups do not participate in elections in the UK (Anwar 1986).Therefore, the UK government has focused on addressing this inequality, by ensuring equal involvement of all the citizens, regardless of their ethnicity. This study therefore, addresses the issue of unequal involvement in decision making in politics and governance issues in the UK. First, the background of the issue, showing the roots of this situation, is addressed, as well as the perspectives of stakeholders. This study also focuses on the policy adopted by the UK currently to address the issue, and finally recommendations on how this issue could be resolved appropriately.
The issue of political involvement is important in most countries. However, in ensuring this, multicultural countries experience more challenges because of the presence of different people. The United Kingdom is a multicultural country, as it accommodates different people from other countries, besides the native white British people. The BME population in the UK has been excluded from full political involvement in the country’s politics and decision-making in governance (Wolbrecht & Hero 2005). There are however, various reasons and factors, which are attributed to this situation. The BME population in the UK forms part of the UK population, therefore, should be granted an equal consideration in decision-making, since the decisions made in governance, equally affect their lives. When they are allowed equal political involvement, they will be able to raise their concerns, which will be addressed. The fact that the different BME groups have different cultural traits, different languages, and other different social and political profiles, poses a challenge to the UK’s policy makers in developing policies that will ensure equal involvement of all the citizens (Saggar 2000). This paper therefore, focuses on the unequal political involvement by the BME population in the UK and ways through which this situation could be improved. Different evidence used in this essay point to the diversity of the UK population, disparity in political involvement, its outcomes, as well as participation in decision-making by the BME groups, as far as governance is concerned.
Context of the Issue
The United Kingdom is a multicultural society, and Meien (2007) and Tran (2010) note that the population of the BME populations in the UK is on the rise. In the year 1981, this population stood at 4.2% of the whole UK’s population. In the year 1991, the BME population was 5.5% of the total population of the United Kingdom. This population rose to 7.9% in the year 2001, which is approximately 4.6 Million people. Therefore, this trend shows that the BME population in the UK keeps growing. In the future, this number is still expected to grow, going by this trend, also considering the fact that this BME population comprises more youth and children, compared to the whites, whose population mainly comprises the elderly. The minority ethnic group with the highest population is the South Asian group, with close to a half of the BME total population. The Blacks, both from Africa and from the Caribbean make up close to 1.15 million. Blacks from Africa account for half a million of this population, while the Caribbean blacks account for the remaining 0.6 million (Gill n.d). A large number of the BME population is located in England (Owen n.d).
Political debates in the UK have included issues regarding multi-culturalism and diversity in the country. Multiculturalism and diversity are relevant and important issues in the current United Kingdom. This is because, for the past decades, the immigrants in the United Kingdom have formed part of the culture, both in the economic and political perspective (Jones & Welhengama 2000). However, according to David Cameron, multiculturalism has terribly failed in the United Kingdom. Despite this failed state of multiculturalism in the United Kingdom, Cameron thought this could be rectified. “There are things the government can do to give a lead and encourage participation in society, including all minorities” (BBC 2011). Although some people differ with Cameron’s observation, it is a fact that the failure of multiculturalism in the United Kingdom stems from the marginalization of the ethnic minority groups, since these are not entitled to same political involvement as the mainstream British population.
The social divide existing in the United Kingdom can be gauged using various ways. First is with respect to voting, decision making in governance, and generally, involvement of people in politics (Anwar 1986). Most political analysts argue that political involvement is highly dependent on how people in the population interact socially. Therefore, social alienation will lead to poor political involvement as compared to high social inclusions in the population (Wolbrecht & Hero 2005). For an individual to vote, he or she is influenced by different factors. Most importantly, their social context is a great determinant of whether they will vote or not. Voting represents the people’s sense of belonging. Therefore, when individuals in the ethnic minority groups register low voter turnout, this gives a reflection of their social context, as well as their sense of belonging (Heath & Khan 2012).
Different researches have shown that the BME population in the UK does not fully participate in politics and decision making in the country. One research was conducted within the London borough of Tower Hamlets to establish the level of political engagement of the individuals with White British background, and those from the ethnic minority background. Results showed that the whites participated more in politics and governance issues, compared to those individuals from the ethnic minority groups. Among all the individuals studied in the research, the South Asians registered more likeliness to vote, compared to the blacks from Africa and the blacks of the Caribbean.
Since it is eminent that the ethnic minority groups are less likely to vote compared to the mainstream British population, it is important that the root causes of this scenario be established. Social exclusion is the prime reason for this. Therefore, determining the factors behind social exclusion for the ethnic minority groups is important. Theodoropoulos and Dustmann link low participation in politics to a variety of social problems, including unemployment, poor health, unstable family background, lack of education, and poor housing, among other social problems (2008). All these factors are the roots of social exclusion of the ethnic minority groups, thus contributing to their low levels of political involvement. The low level of the ethnic minority involvement is experienced both at the national and local levels in the United Kingdom. Various proven barriers have contributed to this. First, language barrier, then the inconvenience of location, as well as the fear by the minority ethnic groups that the mainstream British population will harass them (Theodoropoulos & Dustmann 2008).
Political behaviour includes a variety of actions, apart from voting only. When a group of people is actively engaged in political behaviour, this shows that these are included in the political process, including governance and decision making process in the country. However, if a group portrays the minimal political behaviour, this might show that these are excluded in the political process. The mainstream white people are more likely to come out and vote in large numbers. Apart from voting, these can participate in other political behaviours such as petition signing, participating in a protest, working for or with a political party, being in contact with a politician, and conducting fund raising for political purposes, among others. However, the ethnic minority groups are less likely to get involved in these political behaviours. Different studies have shown that for a group to participate wholly in politics and leadership of their country, they must have a strong connection with the country, and deeply rooted in the practices of the country. Most ethnic minority groups in the United Kingdom feel that they are foreigners in the country, and therefore, do not have the freedom to participate in the social and political contexts of the country (Heath & Khan 2012).
Wolbrecht and Hero (2005) note that political involvement is an important issue in any country as it affects the policies adopted by the country, as well as the leaders chosen. Generally, involvement of the people in the country’s decision-making process and political process influences the type of governance in the country, which is a prerequisite to the development of the country. There are also various stakeholders involved in this issue. These can act collectively and responsibly to ensure that a lasting solution is obtained in order to address disparities in the country, with regard to the involvement of the ethnic minority groups in the political process and decision making in the country. These include the ethnic minority groups themselves, the whites, the government, and different private or public bodies, which are concerned with policy making in the country (Wolbrecht & Hero 2005).
According to Simpson and Finney (2009), the attitudes of the ethnic minority groups greatly influence their participation in politics of the UK. Although most blacks and other ethnic minority groups recognize the fact that they have a civic responsibility to vote, most do not participate in voting deliberately. According to Miki and Tate (2004), most consider their underrepresentation in politics as the main reason for their failure to perform their civic responsibility of voting. Since these are a minority population, most feel that there will never be a political leader in the United Kingdom, from their minority population, as most whites in the mainstream population might never vote for a person from the minority population (Miki & Tate 2004). In addition, the fact that most politicians in the United Kingdom show less concern for the ethnic minority group has contributed to the failure of most of them to vote, since this might not change their plight. Nonetheless, there are different ethnic minority groups in the United Kingdom; therefore, some might register more voter turnout and engagement in the political behaviors more than the others. For instance, the South Asians participate more in politics than the other minority groups. These are followed by the Black Afro-Caribbean. The reason for the difference could be attributed to the fact that the South Asians are many in number, compared to other minority groups (Miki & Tate 2004).
The government of the United Kingdom is also tasked with ensuring that all the citizens in the UK participate in politics and decision making in governance, without any inequalities, and regardless of their ethnicity (Gov.uk 2013). This could be through civic education about the importance of voting, among other issues. In addition, the public is responsible for ensuring that the ethnic minority groups are actively involved in the political process. For instance, the racists among the mainstream British population should shun that, as this influences the ethnic minority groups in a negative way. Therefore, the government, together with the British society should not address individuals in the ethnic minority groups with hostility, as this makes them lose a sense of belonging, leading to them not feeling part of the British society, thus not participating in the country’s politics and leadership process (Gov.uk 2013).
Policy, Theory, and Contemporary Practice
The unequal involvement in politics and local governance by the whole population in the United Kingdom has been experienced over the years, and continues to raise concerns. This has different effects on the public and on the government. The ethnic minority groups are ones disadvantaged, as politics and governance in the UK mainly revolves around the mainstream British population, who register high participation in politics and governance. However, the UK government is focused on ensuring the participation of the ethnic minority groups in the country’s politics and governance. If successful, this will help to eliminate different types of discrimination from the country, including racism (Modrzejewski 2012).
Different theoretical ideas make up the aspect of inclusion of the ethnic minority groups in decision-making. First, political involvement of all citizens might lead to effective decisions, which could spur further development in various spheres of the country. All the people in the society, regardless of their race, religion, education, culture, and economic status, among other differentiating factors, are entitled to equal participation in a country’s politics, provided they are citizens. Inclusion of all citizens also fosters cohesiveness in the society (‘European Regional Development Fund’).Additionally, this makes the different needs of all people to be considered in policy making in the country. When the population participates in the politics and governance of its country, the individuals experience a sense of belonging, as they have a voice in the society, and through their voice, their various concerns can be addressed appropriately.
In the United Kingdom, there has been a gradual increase in the way different practices are adopted by the government and the people to ensure the political involvement of all people in the country, including the ethnic minority. Since the past decades, different people in this country have adopted various practices, which ensure that they voice their concerns on important governance issues (Statham 1999). For instance, this is through the formation of various groups such as trade unions, among others. In these groups, people make their concerns and needs known to the government, as well as ways through which they want these concerns to be addressed. By doing this, they contribute to decision-making in the politics of their country (Perrett 2009).
Additionally, the issue of immigration in the United Kingdom can be traced to the 1960’s when most people migrated from their countries to the United Kingdom to provide labour, which was highly demanded. Since the immigrants had different culture, economic status, and political views, from the mainstream British population, it became challenging for them to be integrated into the political system of the British people (Fanning, Shaw, O’Connell & Williams 2007). Therefore, the exclusion of the ethnic minorities from political participation is not a new phenomenon in the United Kingdom, as this has existed for many decades now. The presence of the immigrants in the United Kingdom resulted in a population that is complex and diverse. This has been blamed for the unequal participation of the ethnic minority in UK’s politics, citing the cultural difference as the basis for lack of cohesiveness between the mainstream British population and the ethnic minority group (‘European Regional Development Fund’).
When the Labour Government came into power in the year 1997, more efforts have been witnessed in trying to ensure equal political participation of all the citizens. For instance, they came up with the agenda of increasing the participation of the citizens in politics and governance (Rudiger & Spencer 2003). The new government developed new strategies through which this agenda could be attained. These include civic education conducted throughout the country, and the emphasis by the government for people to increase their volunteerism. An important step for the Labour government was taken when the Social Exclusion Unit was developed (Rudiger & Spencer 2003). This carried the responsibility of investigating the reasons behind social exclusion of some groups in the population, especially exclusion from politics and decision-making. This unit was also tasked with developing effective ways that would ensure that more people are involved in politics, decision-making, and leadership, regardless of their ethnicity or social or economic status. Local authorities in the United Kingdom also ensured that their services empower and engage the citizens (Rudiger & Spencer 2003). In addition, the aspect of devolution in the United Kingdom has made individuals more responsible and enabled them to participate more in governance, since governance is now closer to the people (Rudiger & Spencer 2003).
The government of the United Kingdom has already come up with policies that aim at reducing the disparity in political involvement among the ethnic minority groups and the mainstream British society. This began in the 1990’s when the Labour government initiated different strategies to ensure equal political involvement of all citizens. Despite all these, disparity in political involvement in the United Kingdom is still existent. However, the rate is not as high as it was in the past decades. Nonetheless, more efforts need to be put in place to ensure that all citizens participate equally in politics, leadership, and decision-making in the country. The government is still tasked with ensuring that the policies developed are enforced to ensure cohesiveness in the country at both the national and local levels.
The policies employed in most local authorities in the UK to ensure equal political involvement are universal in nature, and apply to all the citizens there. This is through communication to the people by council website and magazines, consultation events, canvassing, among others. On the other hand, some policies to address ethnic minority groups include translation facilities, and communication with mosques and churches. These are therefore, more specific. All these are aimed at de-ethnicising the public policy in the country. However, these have not been successful as they were expected. Therefore, more considerations and adjustments need to be undertaken on these policies, to ensure their effectiveness. This shows that there is need for council services to be easily available to all the people the council serves. All people should be well informed about their councils and the services they offer, since most are not aware, specially the ethnic minority groups. In addition, it is important for the council authorities to build trust with the people, specifically the ethnic minority groups. Lack of trust inhibits participation of the ethnic minority groups in politics and decision-making. Nonetheless, the aspect of multiculturalism is multifaceted, raising different challenges, such as social exclusion of the ethnic minority groups, which inhibits political involvement, a problem the United Kingdom continues to fight with, to date
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