Income and Poverty

Click to view 'Addressing racial inequity in Covid recovery - Employment briefing paper' as a PDF

Addressing racial inequity in Covid recovery - Employment briefing paper

Commissioned by: Race Equality Foundation

  • Published 16th Apr 2021
  • Authors: Carla Ayrton, , Josh Holden,
  • Category: Income and Poverty

This briefing paper examines the employment and labour market inequalities that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities experienced before the Covid-19 pandemic, in order to help identify challenges to be addressed during the recovery phase. It was commissioned as part of a series of collaborations, led by the Race Equality Foundation, that will develop an evidence-led narrative and make practical recommendations to ensure that the recovery phase from Covid-19 in the UK addresses racial inequality.

The full briefing paper is available on the Race Equality Foundation's website.

The briefing paper has four main sections:

  1. Indicators of inequality: this looks at the employment rate by ethnic group and gender as well as over time.
  2. Factors behind inequality: a summary of the main points from recent research about what lies behind the inequalities described in the first section. This is further divided into two sub-sections, one looking at unequal participation in labour markets and the other looking at barriers to progression within the labour market.
  3. Possible impact of Covid-19: this section looks at research into groups that have been most affected by the pandemic to date.
  4. Concluding remarks and some (among the many) possible questions for discussion.

What stands out from both sections 1 and 2 is that there are questions about the ʻqualityʼ of employment that BAME people may find themselves in and the potential difficulty of moving into better employment – that is, employment which is more secure, better paid and with the possibility of progression. All BAME groups are more likely to be in an insecure form of work than the White British majority, and for the Black group the proportion is more than double.

All BAME groups apart from the Indian group are also over-represented in customer service, skilled trades and elementary occupations, which are more likely to be low-paid, compared with the White British group. Evidence around educational attainment does not really explain these disparities. Any simple answer about more BAME young people needing to get degrees misses the point that there are already more BAME 18-year-olds going on to higher education than White 18-year-olds.

This raises questions about the possible way forward, which are heightened by the way the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on some sectors but not others. Lower earners, those in insecure forms of work and those in certain sectors, where BAME workers are concentrated, have been more likely to lose their job or see a fall in their earnings. At the same time, BAME workers are over-represented in key worker roles where they have been more exposed to the virus and there are questions about whether the right policies have been put in place to protect them.

While there are a number of reviews and reports such as the Taylor review and the McGregor-Smith review which try to deal with some of these issues and offer a wide selection of policies, from companies having diverse interview panels to publishing publicly available data about employee ethnicity and pay band, these were written before the pandemic when employment level across the UK were high. Given what we know about BAME employment rates during a recession (especially for young people) and the very specific effects of certain sectors being shut-down, there could be an argument for much more targeted policies than those suggested to date.

Click to view 'Addressing racial inequity in Covid recovery - Employment briefing paper' as a PDF

About this report
This report was funded by The Race Equality Foundation and written by Carla Ayrton and Josh Holden of the New Policy Institute. The facts presented and views expressed in this report are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the REF.