If Lady Hallett is to gain the public’s confidence, she must show that issues including racism will be addressed
Only by learning from the past’s mistakes can we hope to avoid repeating them. That is why public inquiries have become part of the machinery of the British state and society. Live inquiries include those on the Grenfell Tower fire, the Manchester Arena attack, undercover policing, and child sexual abuse. Scrutiny of the UK’s Covid-19 response and its glaring failures is anxiously awaited. That 20,000 responses to a consultation on the inquiry’s terms of reference have poured in from bereaved families, frontline workers, their representatives and others indicates the strength of interest and feeling.
Heather Hallett, who will chair the inquiry, has yet to feed back to ministers. But if the process is to gain people’s confidence, its terms should be adjusted to reflect the public response. The many social injustices thrown into brutally sharp relief by the pandemic must be a strong focus of any meaningful investigation. So politicians, as well as Lady Hallett, should be worried that the leaders of several black, Asian and minority ethnic groups do not believe that the effects of race and racism will be given sufficient weight. In a letter, they have called for an examination of racism to be a “specific programme of work”, rather than subsumed under a broad commitment to look at disparities relating to protected characteristics, which also include disability, age, pregnancy and maternity.
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