We should work together to reverse the big drop in ethnic minorities on the honours list

Oringinally Published – Evening Standard

Britain has a long history of welcoming people in need from the Kindertransport, to Ugandan Asians and more recently Ukrainian families escaping the horrors in their homeland. Along with economic migrants, families who went on to live here have gone on to help build our country. We have all witnessed how these first and second generations of migrants have not only shaped our country, but the world.

However, despite some inspirational people — whose stories I tell below — appearing on the new honours list, for the first time there has been a significant drop of successful candidates coming from an ethnic minority background.  If you are inspired by their actions, as well as by many of our other diverse community volunteers, help make the honours system more representative and nominate someone today at www.gov.uk/honours. Julien Isaac, Miranda Lowe and Raghib Ali are all fantastic examples of how children of migrant families have not only contributed to shaping our country but also shaping how the world views us. 

The knighthood awarded to filmmaker and installation artist Julien Isaac highlights how a son of migrants from St Lucia — his mother a nurse and his father a welder — is now making an international impact shaping the arts and culture world.  Julien’s work is held in collections that include Tate, London to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and he is now inspiring the next generation of artists as the professor of arts at UC Santa Cruz, California.

Miranda Lowe’s parents migrated to the Britain in the early sixties.  Both her parents were also the backbones of our public services with her Grenadian mother a nurse, and her Barbadian father a train driver.  From a young age Miranda’s parents would organise — “excursions” — coach trips for migrant Caribbean families to visit the beautiful countryside.  This was extremely rare for minority families in the sixties and seventies, and it helped shape their values of the importance of the environment and the role we each must play to protect it.  Inspired by her parents, Miranda went on to become a Principal Curator at the Natural History Museum and one the world’s leading scientists.  For her contributions in highlighting the hidden and often unseen black botanists of the past and every year inspiring hundreds of young diverse people who can identify with her and her life’s journey to have a career in science and become the future advocates for our planet, she was awarded a CBE.

When Dr Raghib Ali’s father arrived in Liverpool from India, he was met by a cold reception.  Not only was this the first time he had seen snow but also the first time he experienced racism and prejudice.  Sixty years on during the COVID-19 pandemic, Raghib took leave from his university work as an epidemiologist and volunteered to return, unpaid, to frontline NHS duties.  His work helped with understanding the causes of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minorities and improved the vaccine uptake as well as preventing an unnecessary lockdown in Christmas 2021.  Raghib’s awarding of an OBE shows how first generation born children to migrant families despite the significant adversity in their childhood can overcome these challenges and have gone on to help and support our country in our darkest days while also shaping Government policy.

There are also many recent examples of migrants supporting and improving our country.  Suleman Raza migrated to the UK from Pakistan in 2000 with just fifty pounds in his pocket.  Celebrating a Platinum Jubilee can only happen once in our lifetime and for Suleman he is also able to celebrate an extremely rare coincidence of being awarded a MBE personally and also at the same time, as part of a group, the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which is a MBE for voluntary groups.  His personal MBE was awarded for being one of the country’s leading takeout’s “curry-preneur”, running a chain of Pakistani restaurants – with his flagship restaurant in tooting, Spice Village, which is regularly visited by international figures from Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London to Shah Rukh Khan Bollywood legend.  This first known occasion of someone receiving both a MBE as an individual and as part of voluntary group is not surprising, given his voluntary group Spice Village Uplyft has feed thousands of the homeless and vulnerable communities.

Suleman Raza is just one among many migrants who are coming into our country daily who will not only help strengthen our economy but also support the most vulnerable in society, and we as a country we are better for it.