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

By “ethnic minority” we mean all people except those in the “White” ethnic group in Great Britain, and all those apart from the “White” and “Irish Traveller” categories in Northern Ireland. In 2019 about 14.4% of the UK population was from an ethnic minority background, ranging from 2.2% in Northern Ireland to 16.1% in England.

The proportion of people from an ethnic minority background has risen in recent years, and so has the representation of ethnic minorities in political and public positions. However, in most cases, the proportion of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in such positions is lower than in the population as a whole – and often markedly so. The exceptions are the NHS and social work sector.

UK Parliament and Government

Following the 2019 General Election, 65 or 10% of Members of the House of Commons were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Four ethnic minority MPs were elected in 1987, the first since 1929: Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant and Keith Vaz. 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 93 Members from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Of the 65 ethnic minority Members, 41 (63%) are Labour and 22 are Conservatives (34%). There are two Liberal Democrat MPs from an ethnic minority background. More than half (37) of the 65 minority ethnic MPs are women. 

In March 2020, 50 or 6.3% of Members of the House of Lords were from ethnic minority groups.

Three Cabinet Ministers are from an ethnic minority background: Rishi Sunak (Chancellor), Priti Patel (Home Secretary) and Alok Sharma (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy). In addition, Suella Braverman, Attorney General, attends the Cabinet and is 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 Welsh Parliament 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, eight (32%) of the 25 Members of the London Assembly were from ethnic minority backgrounds in October 2020, compared with about 40.6% 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 ethnic minority councillors at all.

Public sector staff

Ethnic diversity among public sector staff varies noticeably across services and countries of the UK, although figures are often hard to compare.

Two sectors stand out as having high levels of ethnic minority staff, especially in England: the NHS and the social work sector.

In NHS England, 22.1% of staff reported as being from an ethnic minority background in 2020, compared with 14.5% of the economically active population. 46.0% of doctors and 40.1% of hospital consultants in NHS England were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Representation of Asian staff was particularly high, at 32.8% of doctors and 31.2% of consultants, compared with 7.7% of the economically active population.

In 2019, 21.9% of social workers in England were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Representation of Black social workers was particularly high at 12.0%, compared with 3.7% of the economically active population.

The ethnic profile of the UK Civil Service and the UK Army was similar to that of the wider economically active population.

In most other public services, ethnic minority representation was significantly lower, although many have reported gradual improvements. 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.

Finally, in the majority of cases where data is available, ethnic minority representation is often lower in the higher pay grades.


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