Youth Cabinet lead racial inequality debate

West Sussex County Council members and staff, MPs and the High Sheriff took part in the virtual discussion


Released: 25 November, 2020

“An uncomfortable conversation that we all need to be having.” That was the message as West Sussex Youth Cabinet members hosted an important debate exploring racism and racial inequality and the action the county should be taking.

They were joined by West Sussex County Council members and staff, MPs and the High Sheriff in a virtual discussion on Thursday, 19 November, for the annual event normally held at County Hall.

The topic - ‘How to improve and influence the pastoral curriculum at schools and colleges, to ensure all young people have a better understanding of discrimination and how those experiencing it get the support they need’ – led to wide-ranging discussion.

Opening speakers from the Youth Cabinet, Iffat, Anah and Alisha, gave powerful accounts of their own experiences of racial discrimination.

A highly informative two-hour discussion then covered many of the wider issues relating to racial inequality, including the effect on an individual’s mental health and self-worth; national and global issues of racial inequality; and disproportionate access to university and employment.

Contributions came from Paul Marshall, Council Leader; Nigel Jupp, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills; Jacquie Russell, Cabinet Member for Children & Young People; Lucy Butler, Executive Director of Children, Young People and Learning; Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, Chief Fire Officer at West Sussex Fire & Rescue; and Dr Tim Fooks, the High Sheriff of West Sussex. West Sussex MPs Sir Peter Bottomley, Tim Loughton, Henry Smith and Gillian Keegan also took part.

Participants discussed:

• Unconscious bias and the need for everyone to take responsibility to educate themselves and be willing to have uncomfortable conversations.
• Saying ‘I’m not racist’ isn’t enough, we should all be actively anti-racist.
• Saying ‘I don’t see colour’ can be hurtful to someone’s identity, instead we should celebrate different cultures.

There was discussion around what schools can do to better educate pupils and staff. Nigel Jupp and Paul Wagstaff, Director of Education and Skills, spoke about a new curriculum working group being set up to look at improving inclusiveness in schools and invited representation from the youth cabinet. Mr Wagstaff also said the new Ofsted inspection framework introduced last year looked more at a school’s pastoral pupil care.

Jacquie Russell said: “The experiences shared so openly by our youth cabinet were extremely powerful, emotive and at times difficult to hear. It’s clear that issues around discrimination exist in West Sussex as they sadly do in all parts of society. We all have a duty to learn about and take a stand against racism of any kind.

"I’m grateful to our youth cabinet for articulating these issues so well, and for all of those who joined together to discuss the action we can take to end racial discrimination.”

Daisy Watson, Chair of the Youth Cabinet, chaired the meeting and said: "This debate symbolised the beginning of a new relationship, and conversation between the Youth Cabinet and the Council, Cabinet and MPs. We all have a lot to learn from one another, and this was a brilliant opportunity to begin just that. It's all of our responsibility to tackle issues of discrimination, and to take a stand.

"A massive thank you to everyone who contributed to such a relevant topic."

Tackling racial inequality is one of the Youth Cabinet’s key campaign’s this year, along with the environment and mental health. As part of their racial inequality campaign they held three webinars recently, covering black history, religion and culture and racial inequality which can be watched online.

Chair Daisy Watson gave an update on the work the Youth Cabinet has done this year to Cabinet at the public meeting on Tuesday, 24 November.

West Sussex County Council will continue to hold debates and meetings virtually throughout the pandemic to ensure democracy can continue. Members of the public can watch live and archived council and committee meetings on our website.

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