Sutton’s Black and Asian population double in a decade. What does this mean for council policies?

1745._High_Street_Sutton._Xmas_Show_Week_1910._S&W_SeriesNew census figures released today show that the proportion of Black and Asian people in the London Borough of Sutton has almost doubled, making it one of the fastest-growing BAME populations in London.

Meanwhile the total white population (white British, Irish, Gypsy and Traveller and white other) has fallen from 94.1 percent in 1981 to 78.9 percent in 2011, or 80.1 percent if you include the ‘white Asian’ category.

In 1991 just 5.9 percent of Sutton residents were classified as ethnic minority. That had doubled to 10.8 percent in 2001.

Today’s figures show the total non-white population stands at 19.9 percent. That means that Sutton’s BAME population has almost doubled each decade over the past two decades.

I guessed it was around the 20-mark so I’m pleased to say my ‘sense’ of Sutton’s make-up is pretty much spot on.

The Black categories (Black African, Black Caribbean and Black Other) has risen from 2.6 percent in 2001 to 4.8 percent in 2011.

There is an even faster rate of growth for the non-white Asian categories (Asian British, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indian and Asian Other). These communities have grown from 4.7 percent in 2001 to 10.4 in 2011.

If you include Chinese and white Asian, the total Asian population is 12.8 percent.

Interestingly while the proportion of white British residents has fallen significantly, the proportion of ‘white others’ has almost doubled from 3.4 percent to 5.9 percent. I suspect this includes Europeans, perhaps Eastern Europeans, white nationals from South Africa and Australia and Russians.

White British now make up 70.9 percent of all Sutton residents. It suggests that the proportion of white British has fallen by over one-fifth in the past thirty years.

I haven’t modelled any predictions but my pack-of-the-fag-packet calculations suggest that at the current rates of increase (BAME’s) and decrease (white British), non-white residents will be a majority in the borough in 15 years time.

Of course there are a great deal of variables here. Available homes for sale and jobs being just two. Considering these factors I believe the rate of demographic change is actually likely to slow down in Sutton and that it will take a great deal longer for that moment to arrive.

But putting aside any future population predictions, the present-day figures should give all policy-makers, politicians, officers and health professionals alike, pause for thought.

With such a rapid increase in BAME communities, there is a greater need than ever for all public authorities to ensure everyone is accessing services equally. Whether they are thinking about the impact of decisions on Sutton’s diverse communities and doing everything possible to promote good relations and equal opportunities.

When it comes to the council rolling out ‘participatory budgeting’ – handing more funding decisions to the local people – this is a fine Liberal principle that I fully support however it is crucial that those who shout loudest don’t drown out communities that could be in greater need of resources.

We must put in place monitoring to ensure that those residents participating in devolved decision-making at a local level are reflective of the community at large, and that any under-representation of particular communities is flagged up and measures – such as carefully targeted marketing and publicity – are put in place to address this.

The public sector equalities duty, which all councils are obliged to implement, states that authorities should “advance” (not simply “promote”) equality of opportunity and foster good community relations.

In order to achieve this, I believe local authorities need to analyse the various factors that hold back good community relations and devise a strategy for tackling these. I would certainly like to see Sutton undertake such an exercise, and suggested this to the chairman of the Equality and Diversity Forum, Cllr Adrian Davey, a full month ago. I will be chasing up a reply shortly!

Current the government is consulting public authorities to assess how effective the duty has been. I have heard that ministers want to roll in back.

With new census data showing the non-white population of Britain has exceeded 10 percent, and less than 45 percent of Londoners describing themselves as white British, we are a more diverse nation than ever.

Yet all the figures covering issues like unemployed, homelessness, mental health, education and the criminal justice show Britain remains as riddled with racial inequality as ever.

To tackle this we need specific policies, which Britain lacks, but we also need a platform or foundation of awareness and monitoring which the positive duty and Equality Impact Assessments (EIA’s) help to provide.

As the government looks to replace EIA’s with weaker Integrated Impact Assessments (IIA’s), there is an even greater need for councils – like Sutton with rapidly growing BAME populations – to refuse to get swept away by the national wind of ‘burning red tape’.

The moment we burn this tape we will loose a measure for how we are doing on race equality and store up trouble for the future.

Boroughs like Sutton need to take a leaf out of the campaigning councils of the 1980’s and ignore central government’s sidelining of equality to keep local monitoring and devise action for addressing any inequalities revealed by the figures.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

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