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In August 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May announced an audit of public services to reveal racial disparities, partly in response to figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission which showed large inequalities in areas such as education, mental health, employment and poverty. Earlier this week, as part of this Race Disparity Audit, the government launched a new “Ethnicity Facts and Figures” website to allow it to document the “different experiences of people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds”.  The facts and figures, which the government has gathered from census information, official statistics, government surveys and administrative records of government departments, show disparities in areas such as employment, education, treatment by police and courts, and health between ethnicities. It is important to note that much of the data used was not specifically gathered with this type of audit in mind and that it varies in quality and depth.

The employment section shows substantial differences between ethnic groups. In terms of unemployment, the statistics show that 1 in 10 adults from Black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Mixed backgrounds were unemployed, compared to only 1 in 25 White British adults. Pakistani and Bangladeshi employees are also more likely to be in low skilled and low paying occupations than other ethnic groups, with an average hourly pay of £11.42, which was £4.39 per hour less than for Indian employees.

The figures also look at the makeup of the public sector workforce, showing problems with diversity in the police and criminal justice system, the NHS, the education system, and the civil service, with employees from ethnic minority groups concentrated in lower ranked and lower paid jobs.

Damien Green, First Secretary of State, says in the foreword to the Audit that he expects “local and national service providers to look at the data in the Audit and use it to identify where they most need to improve and where they really need to be offering a better service”. However, the government has published no specific proposals or announced any legislation to tackle the issues raised. Critics have also noted that the report fails to acknowledge the links that exist between class and ethnicity (so called “intersectional issues” on one hand and attainment levels on the other, and that many of the issues with equality are particularly focused in poorer parts of the country. By attempting to separate the issue of race based disadvantage from other issues such as class, gender and regional inequalities, it has been suggested that it that the conclusions drawn from the report will inevitably be simplistic and one-dimensional. However, it appears unlikely that any sort of in-depth intersectional analysis of inequalities in employment and other sectors will be forthcoming. 

Last month, the Trade Union Congress published its own report about the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers entitled “Is racism real?”. The report outlined the experiences of BME workers in the UK, and stated that, for example, 37% of BME workers have been bullied, abused or experienced racial discrimination by their employer.

The TUC report makes a series of recommendations, which it believes is key to tackling the existing racial inequalities in the UK. For example, one quarter of BME workers are on zero hours contracts, and are twice as likely to be in temporary work as white people. The TUC suggest a ban on the regular use of zero-hours contracts, with compensation for when shifts are cancelled at short notice. The report also notes that BME women were more likely to be in insecure work which often means that they are not classed as employees and therefore miss out on many of the existing statutory protections. As a result the TUC recommends that the rules on employment status are reformed to ensure that workers benefit from protections against unfair dismissal and other employment rights. Further suggestions include making employers responsible for protecting their workers against racism by third parties such as clients, and introducing an obligation on companies to publish a breakdown of employees by race and pay band, similar to the new statutory gender pay reporting requirements.

No such initiatives have yet been put forward by the government, and it is perhaps unlikely that they will be, given that the government, mired in Brexit negotiations, appears to have little bandwidth to deal with any other issue, notwithstanding that the equalities identified were among the “burning injustices” which Theresa May stated she wanted to tackle on being elevated to Prime Minister. Instead, the government appears to be attempting to encourage businesses and service providers, especially in the public sector, to self-police and improve on the inequalities shown by the audit. How successfully employers and service providers will be able to improve the experiences of BME individuals in the UK without any sort of legislative based monitoring or enforcement remains to be seen but having identified the burning injustice many will be disappointed that the Government does not propose to do anything about it.

Annika Neukirch, Solicitor

 

 

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