Boris Johnson’s most senior black adviser within Downing Street is stepping down, intensifying pressure on the British government as it faces a backlash over its commissioned report on inequality within the UK.
Samuel Kasumu, who is Number 10's special adviser for civil society and communities, will continue in his post until the end of May, Downing Street said on Thursday, adding that his departure was not linked to the report's publication.
In February, Mr Kasumu submitted then later retracted a letter of resignation. In that letter, he said the Conservative party was pursing “a politics steeped in division”, adding: “As someone that has spent his whole adult life serving others, that tension has been at times unbearable.”
Confirmation that he will now leave Downing Street follows criticism of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report after its publication on Wednesday.
The report, which offered recommendations on how best to tackle ethnic disparities within healthcare, employment, the criminal justice system and education, was accused of downplaying the existence of racism by campaigners, unions and Labour MPs.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour's shadow women and equalities secretary, said: "To have your most senior adviser on ethnic minorities quit as you publish a so-called landmark report on race in the UK is telling of how far removed the Tories are from the everyday lived experiences of Black, Asian and ethnic minority people."
Writing in the foreword to the commisison's report, its chairman Tony Sewell argued that "very few" racial disparities within the UK were linked to racism, adding: "Too often 'racism' is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined."
Other factors including, geography, socio-economic background and culture had more of an influence on life chances, according to Mr Sewell.
‘Shocking and racist’
His comments in the report on slavery were met with particular criticism. Mr Sewell wrote: “There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodelled African/Britain.”
The Runnymede Trust think-tank argued that the comments on slavery were "nothing short of shocking and racist", while Ms de Cordova said the report had put a "positive spin" on slavery.
Other remarks within the report, such as those on institutional racism were also criticised. Rehana Azam, the GMB union's national secretary for public services, called it a "deeply cynical report", adding that the findings were "gaslighting" black and other minority ethnic people.
Simon Woolley, a founding director of Operation Black Vote and a former equality and human rights commissioner, said the report left him with a feeling of "great sadness".
“In 2021, are we still having to justify whether structural race inequality exists, rather than tackling it?” he said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Gillian Keegan, minister for apprenticeships and skills, defended the report's findings. "It doesn't glorify the slave trade," she told Sky News. "It is an independent report ... the most important thing is to read the report, and not reports of the report."
Downing Street said on Thursday: “Mr Kasumu has played an incredibly valuable role during his time at Number 10. As he previously set out, he will be leaving government in May – this has been his plan for several months and has not changed. Any suggestion that this decision has been made this week or that this is linked to the Cred report is completely inaccurate.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021