Black History Month, for me, always starts off on an especially appropriate day, sharing Nigeria's Independence anniversary on October 1st. It gives me twice the reason to reflect on the joys and challenges of my father's country, with its hundreds of languages and ethnic groups, and how the UK and Nigeria can share our multicultural experiences and seek to create a better world.
I am luckier than most to be able to hear about and meet with inspiring people from African and Caribbean backgrounds throughout the year as one of the Conservative Party's two Vice Chairmen for Communities. Nevertheless, Black History Month is a fantastic way to shine a light on individual's contributions to making the UK a more equal and progressive society.
I had the pleasure to meet Wade Lyn CBE earlier this year. Since moving to Birmingham from Jamaica in 1966, he has been appointed an Honorary Consul of the Jamaican High Commission in the UK, as well as being CEO of the famous Jamaican Patty business he built from scratch. He is synonymous with the mantra I subscribe to, that where you end up in life should depend on how hard you're prepared to work using the talents you have, not where you're born, your ethnicity or who your parents are.
I've been there myself: growing up in a single-parent household of humble means, to becoming the Conservative Party's first female Anglo-African MP – which is why I am pleased this government is committed to creating a fair society for all, with organisations reflecting the communities they serve.
Following 2017's world-first Race Disparity Audit, which aimed to get a clear understanding of how people of different ethnic backgrounds are treated across society, the government has this month launched a new Race at Work Charter. It introduces a series of measures designed to improve recruitment and progression prospects of black and minority ethnic employees in the workplace.
A number of high-profile businesses have already signed up, including KPMG, Saatchi and Saatchi, and Lloyds Banking Group - which is also the first FTSE 100 company to set a goal to increase its representation of ethnic minority employees at senior levels. These measures will ensure opportunities for people to fulfil their potential at work – and to reach the top of their field – are open to everyone, regardless of background.
Additionally, the Prime Minister has launched a consultation on ethnicity pay reporting, after the Race Disparity Audit found significant inequalities between what people from ethnic backgrounds earned compared to their white counterparts. This is welcome news after the success of gender pay gap reporting earlier this year - and particularly when you consider pay discrepancies for ethnic minorities can be even worse.
The fact that we can even begin to focus on true equality in the workplace is testament to the work of this government, which has raised BAME employment to a record high. This is particularly striking when considering where we started in 2010, after unemployment among minorities more than doubled under Labour.
This government is also backing black and minority ethnic communities in entrepreneurial endeavours, with more than 11,000 BAME-led start-ups receiving government funding. Unsecured loans of between £500 and £25,000 are still available, together with free support and guidance for business planning, and up to 12 months of free mentoring for successful applicants (click here for details: www.gov.uk/apply-start-up-loan).
Black History Month for me is not just about recognising our past, but also about heralding hope for the future.
This is a comment for The Voice newspaper written by Helen Grant MP within her role as Vice Chair (Communities) of the Conservative Party.
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