The Greater Manchester Strategy, ‘Our People, Our Place’ launched in 2017 refers to working with and drawing on the resources of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector to deliver its strategy. For several decades, the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voluntary, community, social enterprise and faith (VCSEF) sector has taken on roles as either service providers or representatives of the BME communities they serve to address the marginalisation in politics and public service delivery these communities have experienced. Evidence shows that BME communities in Greater Manchester experience inequalities in social outcomes such as education, housing and employment which is similar to the evidence from the Race Disparity Audit at the national level.
In light of the Greater Manchester Strategy, there is a need for discussion on possible roles for the BME VCSEF sector in addressing the identified inequalities. We applied for an opportunity grant from the Social Policy Association to fund a partnership event between the University of Manchester and the Greater Manchester BME and Manchester BME networks. The event was held on the 19th July hosted by the St Thomas Centre in Ardwick, Manchester, and attended by over 75 delegates, mostly from the BME VCSEF sector. There were two keynote speeches. Dayo Eseonu, doctoral researcher at the University of Manchester, spoke on whether policy and services meet the needs of BME young people. Dr Omar Khan from Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading independent race equality thinktank, delivered a second keynote, with a crucial message was about the importance of solidarity within BME communities. Following each keynote speech, delegates took part in 8 table conversations about the role of the sector in delivering a better future for BME communities across Greater Manchester.
It was clear from the conversations that austerity has affected the BME VCSEF sector in the last decade. Delegates felt that power lay in the hands of politicians and funders which meant that their sense of accountability was towards funders. This therefore heightens the precarity that these organisations face. Furthermore, conversations on the under-representation of BME people in spaces of power meant there was a wider lack of understanding of BME specific issues.
These findings echo previous literature on the experiences of the BME VCSEF sector where these organisations felt removed from the process of decision-making with little power to actually inform planning, decisions and implementation of policy.
Two themes emerged from the discussions at the event as opportunities for the sector to play a role in GM. There was a call for the creation of a BME panel similar to the LGBT and Disabled People panels that have been set up, toallow a specific focus on racial inequalities. A second theme was the potential for partnership working amongst organisations within the sector in order to be stronger together and maximise their limited resources.
The discussions have helped us reflect on how the sector’s voice could be strengthened. In previous decades, political blackness acted as a rallying call for the sector, where the focus was on the experience of marginalisation rather on ethnic differences. However, bringing back the use of political blackness seems to be problematic given that not all ethnic minority communities face the same challenges. (See this podcast by Reni Eddo Lodge and an article by Kemi Alemoru from GAL-DEM, which provide in-depth discussions on the topic of political blackness). Whilst political blackness might not be the solution for solidarity, there is clearly a need to strengthen the voice of the sector within Greater Manchester.