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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 “ethnic minority” 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 an ethnic minority background, ranging from 2.4% in Northern Ireland to 15.6% in England, as set out in the table below.

The proportion of people from an ethnic minority background has risen in recent years, and so has the proportion of ethnic minorities in political and public positions. However, in most cases, the proportion of people from non-White backgrounds in such 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

Following the 2019 General Election, 63 or just under 10% 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. Their number has increased at each general election since then – most notably from 2010 onwards. 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.

39 (62%) of the 63 ethnic minority Members are Labour and 22 are Conservatives. There are two Liberal Democrat MPs with an ethnic minority background. More than half (35) of the 63 are women.

In March 2020, 48 or 6.1% of Members of the House of Lords were from ethnic minority groups, according to research by Operation Black Vote.

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 24.2% and 23.4% non-White respectively.

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

Other elected bodies in the UK

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 ethnic minority backgrounds. None of the 90 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly were recorded as being from an ethnic minority group.

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

Ethnic minority representation in local government is lower than the corresponding population in all countries of the United Kingdom. An audit by Operation Black Vote found that while councils 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; 20.7% of NHS England staff is non-White, compared with 14.3% of the economically active population (that is, people aged 18-64 who are employed or available for work). 40.3% of doctors and 39.3% 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, ethnic minority 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.


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