Black and minority ethnic (BME) people in Britain face extensive and persistent economic inequality, finds Runnymede’s latest report The Colour of Money: How racial inequalities obstruct a fair and resilient economy. Runnymede Director and report author Dr Omar Khan outlines some of the findings, which entirely fit the current COVID-29 pandemic context.
While there is some dispute about how far inequality in Britain has risen or fallen in the past decade, there is increasing recognition that it has significant economic, social and political costs.
The Colour of Money, released 27 April 2020, focuses on how these economic and wider social inequalities affect BME people in Britain. Importantly, it also considers whether and how a range of policy changes could address the issues, within a wider context of how the economy might tackle inequality more broadly.
Covid-19 and Race Disparity
The Covid-19 crisis has thrown into sharper focus they way racial and other inequalities blight people’s lives from cradle to grave. The findings in this report (produced before the pandemic) are unchanged yet the evidence supports and illuminates what we are seeing play out in harsh reality: that racial discrimination is, like poverty, a ‘social determinant of health’.
For example, people from ethnic minority groups are more likely to be in insecure employment or to become unemployed, finds the report, and so less able to benefit from government policies that focus on full-time employees. In addition, ethnic minority people are held back from progressing as quickly or as much at work, are more often subject to work-related discipline, and so are therefore disproportionately delegated with menial tasks. In the context of Covid-19, this means that BME people are more likely to be be undertaking greater risk tasks. This, in part, may explain their much higher mortality rate among the health and social care professionals.
Just as important are the consequences of the stark wealth inequalities revealed in this report. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there are concerns both about how people will replace their lost income, and about how they will manage with increased costs.
Economic and social inequalities vary by ethnic group, according to the report; they are more significant for Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups, and less so for Indian and Chinese groups. Much of this economic inequality is affected by BME experiences and outcomes in the labour market, where some groups have lower employment rates and wages and higher unemployment rates, and there is ‘occupational segregation’ in low-paid, poor progression jobs.
Importance of History
Many racial inequalities in the labour market and more widely originate in the history of economic relations between Britain and the rest of the world, especially Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. The fact that people with Asian or African sounding surnames have to send in twice as many CVs to get an interview is not an arbitrary or random inequality but is based on deep-seated, sometimes subconscious, views about their competencies and skills.
Just over half of BME people were born overseas, and there is an important correlation between ethnicity and migration status. In addition, immigration debate and policy remain racialised. This has a significant effect on economic policy, and has implications for more systemic economic changes.
In this report we suggest that there are (at least) two types of response to economic and racial inequalities. The first includes universal approaches that seek to benefit everyone, whether that is in terms of a national health service, primary education or, indeed, a basic income. The second is a type of approach that targets particular need or risk, for example disability benefits, ‘shielding’ older people from a pandemic, or affirmative action. We urge policymakers not to assume that either response will necessarily be superior or always benefit those most in need or at risk. Instead, we must consider both approaches, so that everyone can live the life they deserve, regardless of their age or ethnicity.