Documents to download

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 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 2021/22 about 13% of the UK population aged 16 and over was from a minority ethnic background, ranging from 3% in Northern Ireland to 15% in England.

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

UK Parliament and Government

Following the 2019 General Election, 66 or 10% of Members of the House of Commons were from minority ethnic backgrounds. Four MPs from minority ethnic backgrounds 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 – as the chart below shows. But if the ethnic make-up of the House of Commons reflected that of the UK population, there would be about 85 Members from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Minority ethnic MPs by election

Source: British Future (2019), House of Commons Library Briefing Paper CBP7529, UK Election Statistics: 1918-2019

Of the 66 minority ethnic Members, 41 (62%) are Labour and 23 are Conservatives (35%). There are two Liberal Democrat MPs from a minority ethnic background. More than half (37) of the 66 minority ethnic MPs are women.  

In September 2022, 55 or 7.3% of Members of the House of Lords were from minority ethnic groups.

Seven Cabinet Ministers are from a minority ethnic background: Kemi Badenoch (International Trade); Suella Braverman (Home Secretary); James Cleverly (Foreign Secretary); Ranil Jayawardena (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs); Kwasi Kwarteng (Chancellor of the Exchequer); Alok Sharma (COP26 President); and Nadim Zahawi (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster). This is the highest number ever and the first time none of the Great Offices of State are held by a White man (Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer).

Other elected bodies in the UK

Six (4.5%) of the Scottish Parliament’s 129 members and three (5%) of the 60 Members of the Welsh Parliament are from minority ethnic backgrounds, including the first woman of colour elected since the start of the devolution. 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, eight (32%) of the 25 Members of the London Assembly were from minority ethnic backgrounds in September 2022, compared with about 40.6% of London’s population.

Minority ethnic representation in local government is lower than the corresponding population in all countries of the United Kingdom. A 2019 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 minority ethnic staff, especially in England: the NHS and the social work sector.

In NHS England, 25.2% of staff reported as being from an minority ethnic background in 2022, compared with 15.7% of the economically active population. 49.5% of doctors and 41.9% of hospital consultants in NHS England were from minority ethnic backgrounds. Representation of Asian staff was particularly high, at 34.5% of doctors and 32.2% of consultants.

In September 2021, 23.4% of social workers in England were from minority ethnic backgrounds. Representation of Black social workers was particularly high at 12.3%, compared with 3.7% of the economically active population that year.

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, minority ethnic 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 (the latest available data for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue service is for 2019).

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

Documents to download

Related posts