Sixty foundations are the latest group to strongly criticise the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, in a letter to the prime minister.
The letter, coordinated by the Association of Charitable Foundations, says that by downplaying racism, the Sewell Report dismisses the lived experience of communities and could damage efforts to create a better society.
The commission published its report shortly before Easter, and has since face widespread criticism from charities, racial equality experts and the United Nations.
Kemi Badenoch, equalities minister, is due to make a statement to the House of Commons about the report this afternoon.
‘There is no place for any level of racism in a fair and just society’
Signatories to the letter come from across the foundation sector, including leaders from the Barrow Cadbury Trust, Comic Relief, the Indigo Trust, Sprit of 2012 and Access – the Foundation for Social Investment.
In the letter, foundations admit that they themselves have not always done enough.
“As institutions, we know we have more to do to be equitable and to include and reflect the diverse communities in our society,” the letter says. “We have not always got this right ourselves but we are clear in our commitment to stand against racism in all its forms – covert and overt; individual and institutional. We believe there is no place for any level of racism in a fair and just society.
“We therefore welcome attempts to better understand the ways in which race, class and culture interrelate.”
The letter adds that the “downplaying” of institutional racism is “at odds” with what funders and the wider charity sector sees.
“Our partners and communities who face racism have been unduly dismissed and their lived experiences denied by the way that the report’s conclusions have been presented,” it says. “We believe this to be unhelpful, divisive and potentially damaging to much of the work we and our partners passionately drive towards to create a fairer society.”
The letter highlights that Covid-19 acts as a “point of reflection”, and urges the government to consider racial inequalities as part of its levelling-up agenda.
“Levelling up should not mean a choice between action against racism and action to improve life chances within differing classes. Instead it requires action on both (and their intersections) to be truly successful.”
MPs complain to the Charity Commission about Runnymede
Elsewhere the Runnymede Trust, a race equality charity which was one of the earliest critics of the Sewell report, said it has been told that MPs have reported it to the Charity Commission.
In a statement this morning, the charity said: “We understand that 15 MPs from the government backbenches have written to the Charity Commission about the Trust’s work, in a repeat of similar actions several of those MPs have taken against other British charities.”
The charity believes that the complaint was “motivated by the Trust’s thorough and well-prepared response to the utterly discredited Sewell Report, and our legitimate participation in a judicial review relating to aspects of equalities legislation”.
The charity is also concerned about the timing of the complaint.
“Britain is a shining light for democracy,” it explains. “Any attempt by politicians to ‘weaponise’ the Charity Commission or use it as a bulwark against organisations that express their dissenting voice on matters of national importance, and that relate to the core functions of the organisation in question, should be a cause for significant alarm.”
Nonetheless, Runnymede said it would fully co-operate with the Charity Commission, but is “confident that we have acted in accordance with our legal obligations”.
Its statement concludes: “Having pointed out what we believe to be the predictable and highly politicised nature of the letter sent to the Charities Commission, it is our considered view that the actions of the MPs in question will cause significant concern to each and every person in this country who, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, stands opposed to racism and prejudice in all their forms.
“As the Runnymede Trust has done for more than 50 years, we intend to continue working in a collegiate spirit with the government of the day at every opportunity we have. We will do so to achieve genuine racial equality in this country, and that commitment extends to all politicians and parties.”
The Charity Commission did not confirm whether it has received a complaint, but a spokesperson said: “We take all concerns raised with us about charities seriously, and assess them carefully to determine whether they fall within our remit as regulator”.
Runnymede was criticised by MPs in the House of Commons earlier this year over an interview with its chief executive in the Guardian. At the time the charity accused MPs of misrepresenting its points.
Backbench Conservative MPs have also criticised the National Trust about its work to understand links to colonialism and racism. The Charity Commission cleared the National Trust of breaking any charity rules.