How can Croydon foster equality and combat hate?

By - Tuesday 11th November, 2014

Sean Creighton looks at how Croydon deals with hate crime and wonders how the council will response to allegations laid against it

Campaigning for equality.
Photo by Alan Greig, used under Creative Commons licence.

The number of hate crimes recorded by the police in Croydon is falling. 338 were recorded in the year to August, a fall of 4% on the previous twelve months. This contrasts with London’s figure: up 13% to 12,450. Racial and religion-related hate crimes account for 88.5% of the recorded total in Croydon.

This fall is perplexing given the growing intolerance between different social groups and the current toxic mixing-up of racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigration sentiment. The areas with the highest incidents of such crimes include Norbury, Waddon, Bensham Manor and New Addington.

The number of hate crimes reaching court is a small proportion of those recorded

Hate crimes are the tip of the iceberg in respect of race and ethnicity, gender issues, crimes against LGBT  (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) people and crimes arising from religious discrimination. Underlying it is discrimination against people because they are non-white, from Eastern Europe, Muslims, Jews, disabled, mentally ill… the list goes on. Low level discrimination is legitimised by the way politicians talk, for example, about immigrants and disabled benefit claimants. Because the majority of examples of discrimination are at too low a level or regarded as one-off events, they will not be reported. Many people put up with seven to eight incidents against them before they report the problem. The number of hate crimes actually reaching the courts and convictions is a small percentage of those recorded.

A council-run seminar on hate crime was  held on Tuesday 28th October bringing together a wide range of people, particularly council officers and members of community and voluntary groups such as the Mediation Service and Victim Support.

After hearing several speakers, those attending went into working groups. They reported back on two key points from their discussion; the rest of what they did will be written up.

It was clear participants observe a spectrum, from bullying through low level actions such as verbal abuse, up to actual assaults. A strong preventive and educational approach is needed, alongside prosecuting perpetrators.

Such an approach must involve:

  • Developing ways to present diversity positively
  • More preventative work e.g. in schools and colleges on how children and young people treat each other and against bullying
  • The offer of mediation between perpetrator and victim
  • Improvements in the way the agencies and organisations communicate, understand each other and work together
  • The development of a record of low level incidents so that people can be advised on how to get help
  • Easier third party reporting
  • Raising of awareness of support and information services
Croydon’s Labour council stands accused of racism

Interestingly, no mention was made of the current council consultation on ‘Equality and Inclusion Policy for 2014-16’.  So I drew attention to it at the close of the meeting, asking how the day’s seminar fitted in with this work. Mark Watson, the cabinet member responsible for these issues simply responded by saying that it was being consulted on.

It seems to me that several of the points made are relevant to the Equalities and Inclusion consultation document and could form the basis of amendments, along with the addition of a section on hate crime.

The ‘Equality and Inclusion Policy for 2014-16’ states:

‘The council does not tolerate unlawful discrimination, harassment or victimisation and will take decisive and appropriate action against… employees… in breach of this policy… including dismissal… It will [make] sure that the council does not display conduct that is unreasonable and cannot be objectively justified [including] failure to make reasonable adjustments, indirect discrimination, discrimination arising from disability…’.

The document itself is one the most easily understandable so far produced by the new administration under Chief Executive Nathan Elvery’s commitment to plain English. The paper outlines the council’s strategic priorities as:

  • Getting to know the diverse local community and understand its needs
  • Providing responsive and accessible services and excellent customer care
  • Improving engagement with residents and strengthening partnership-working with voluntary and community groups
  • Providing strong leadership, partnership and organisational commitment for the quality and inclusion agenda
  • Working towards becoming an employer of choice by recruiting, developing and retaining an efficient, talented and motivated workforce that broadly reflects the communities we serve at all levels
How will the council handle allegations that it has breached its own policy?

The new Labour administration has been accused of being racist by the church that had hoped to take over the old Ashburton Library building. Questions have been raised about the apparent failure to follow employment equalities procedures in the appointment of Nathan Elvery as Chief Executive Officer, with the mayor ruling out of order a question submitted by a member of the public for the council meeting on 6th October.

Important questions therefore need to be asked in the council’s equalities and inclusion policy consultation including:

  • how will it handle claims that it has breached its own equalities and inclusion procedures?
  • how will it handle accusations that councillors are in breach? (ie elected representatives, not just employees)

If it does not spell this out, perhaps the final version when adopted will just be another document that ticks the boxes and will be ignored in practice.

The consultation document can be downloaded here. The consultation on equality and inclusion ends on 12th November. To be seen to be serious in what it says, the council leadership should consider setting up an independent inquiry panel to deal with any accusations. This could have a minimum of three members, chaired by a non-councillor who is not involved in Croydon’s policies or the community with relevant legal knowledge, with full access to all relevant documentation and the right to question relevant  council officers and councillors.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

More Posts - Website