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Ethnic diversity in politics and public life

Published Thursday, May 30, 2019

In 2018 about 13.8% of the UK population was from a minority ethnic background. How is this reflected in politics and public life?

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This report focuses on the proportion of people from minority ethnic backgrounds in a range of public positions across the UK.

By “minority ethnic” we mean all people from non-White ethnic categories in Great Britain, and all those apart from the “White” and “Irish Traveller” categories in Northern Ireland. In 2018 about 13.8% of the UK population was from a minority ethnic background, ranging from 2.4% in Northern Ireland to 15.6% in England.

Both minority representation and the minority ethnic population are tending to increase overall. But in most cases, the proportion of people from non-White backgrounds in political and public positions is lower than in the population as a whole – and often markedly so. The most notable exception is the NHS, where the proportion of non-White staff is higher than that of the minority ethnic population in every country of the UK.

UK Parliament and Government

In September 2019, 52 or just over 8% of Members of the House of Commons were from non-White ethnic backgrounds. Four non-White MPs were elected in 1987, the first since 1929. The proportion has increased at each General Election since then – most notably in 2005 and 2010. But if the ethnic make-up of the House of Commons reflected that of the UK population, there would be about 90 non-White Members.

Thirty-one (59.6%) of the 52 minority ethnic Members are Labour and 18 are Conservatives. There are three Liberal Democrat MP with an ethnic minority background. Exactly half of the 52 are women.

In May 2019, 45 or 5.8% of Members of the House of Lords were from minority ethnic groups, according to research by Operation Black Vote and subsequent analysis.

It is difficult to compare figures internationally, but the ethnic make-up of the 116th (current) US Congress is very close to that of the wider population, at 24.5% and 23.4% non-White respectively.

Three members of the Cabinet are from a minority ethnic background.

Other elected bodies in the UK

In May 2019, two (1.6%) of the Scottish Parliament’s 129 members and two (3.3%) of the 60 Members of the National Assembly for Wales were from minority ethnic backgrounds. None of the 90 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly were recorded as being from a minority ethnic group.

As well as the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, seven (28%) of the 25 Members of the London Assembly were from minority ethnic backgrounds in May 2019, compared with about 40% of London’s population.

Minority ethnic representation in local government is lower than the corresponding population in all countries of the United Kingdom. A recent audit by Operation Black Vote found that while councillors in some local authorities, especially in London, closely reflected the local ethnic make-up, many others had no non-White councillors at all.

Public sector staff

Ethnic diversity in staffing levels varies noticeably across services and countries of the UK, although figures are often hard to compare.

The NHS stands out as having high levels of non-White staff in all countries of the UK, ranging from 19.8% in England to 3.2% in Northern Ireland, compared with 14.3% and 2.0% of the local economically active population (that is, people aged 18-64 who are employed or available for work). 42.9% of doctors and 38.6% of hospital consultants in NHS England are non-White.

Civil Service staff in Great Britain and non-officer ranks in the Army had a similar ethnic profile to the wider economically active population.

In most other services, minority ethnic representation was significantly lower, although many reported gradual improvement. Fire and Rescue services typically reported the lowest figures – as low as 0.2% in Northern Ireland, compared with 2.0% of the economically active population.

Commons Briefing papers SN01156

Authors: Steven Browning; Elise Uberoi

Topics: Ethnic groups, House of Commons, House of Lords, Members of Parliament, Parliament

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