Government must take action to narrow the gulf between the earnings of ethnic minority Britons and their white British neighbours, argues Rushanara Ali MP
On Monday, the Resolution Foundation published research that laid bare the shocking inequality in the household incomes between ethnic minority families and their white British counterparts. To be a member of a Pakistani, Indian, black Caribbean or black African family in 2017 in Britain means earning less than your white British neighbours. This inequality, which grows when you take into account household costs due to more than half of white British families owning their homes, reveals that the starkest disparity in household income is between white British families and Bangladeshi families, whose incomes are 35 per cent lower, equivalent to £8,900.
How in 2017 are such wide income inequalities possible? Hard work in improving the quality of education in areas with high numbers of ethnic minority children has resulted in positive steps forward. Research by the Social Mobility Commission, chaired by Alan Milburn last December showed how children of Bangladeshi origin are outperforming other ethnic groups in schools. Moreover, data from the Department for Education shows how students from some ethnic minority groups have improved their grades over the last two decades, outperforming their white British counterparts.
But when it comes to later in life, these bright pupils find it increasingly difficult to move into the world of work. As the government’s press release of Milburn’s publication last years bluntly put it: ‘Asian Muslims and black people do better in schools, worse in work’.
Some of the reasons these bright school children from ethnic minority backgrounds find it so difficult to lead a life that is rewarded with higher salaries is in part down to the effects of austerity. When the Conservative-led coalition in 2010 cut the education maintenance allowance for teenagers, the cut disproportionately impacted on ethnic minority students with government figures from 2008 showing that of the 43 per cent of all 17 to 18 year olds who were studying full-time, 67 per cent of black African students and 88 per cent of Bangladeshi students were receiving EMA before it was scrapped.
But barriers to a higher-income job are not removed merely with a university education. It is also to do with the difficulties they face once they graduate from university. Research from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex last year found that ethnic minority graduates are between five and 15 percent less likely to be employed than their white counterparts six months after graduation.
As the figures suggested, some graduates find this transition from the classroom into the workplace challenging. To successfully move into the fiercely competitive world of work, charities such as Uprising, which I co-founded in 2008, can help open pathways for talented young people. Uprising, a United Kingdom-wide youth leadership development organization, offers a range of leadership and employability programs to 16-25 year olds. By providing young people with a support network and the soft skills they may be lacking, graduates from ethnic minority and white working class backgrounds can begin to have more success in their job applications and interviews, equipping them with the confidence to navigate the daunting post-university world.
But the government must play an active role too. Since 2010, the government’s body with responsibility for fighting against discrimination, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has had its budget slashed. A cut equivalent to 70 per cent of its budget with a reduction in staff from 500 in 2010 to 204 in 2015 does not allow this regulator to tackle the discrimination faced by people in the workplace. If Theresa May was really serious about tackling discrimination it would give an important body, such as the ECHR the proper funding it needs to do its job effectively.
In light of the revelations of the gender pay gap at the BBC, much more focus needs to be paid to the pay gap not only between men and women but also between races. We need much more transparency on what organisations are required to publish and greater government and public pressure on those institutions that are not transparent to step up. This information should include an employee pay breakdown by race to put pressure on organizations to pay all their staff fairly, irrespective of race.
The government’s focus on tackling these race inequalities must sharpen, but it must also focus on wider social class inequalities in our country. A study by the Sutton Trust last year found that among poor white children, just a quarter of boys and a third of girls achieve five good GCSEs. Moreover, the New Statesman reported last year that only 9 per cent of white male pupils aged 18 on free school meals go to university.
The number of research reports showing the gulf between different ethnic and social class groups in Britain is high, however the amount of action to properly address it is inadequate. As another report is released, it is time for the government to step up and tackle these inequalities rather than exacerbate them.
Rushanara Ali is member of parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow. She tweets at @rushanaraali
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