One year after the murder of George Floyd in the US, which sparked the BLM protests in Britain, the US and across the world, a TUC report reveals alarming statistics on disproportionate adverse impacts of the loss of employment on workers from minority-ethnic backgrounds during the Covid pandemic.
Even before the Covid pandemic hit, 8.3 million people in working households lived in poverty, one million workers were on zero-hours contracts, 3.6 million workers were in insecure work and average wages had not increased in real terms for 12 years.
Disproportionate unemployment during the Covid pandemic – the TUC’s analysis
Comparing ONS (Office of National Statistics) employment statistics for the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, the TUC has found:
- The unemployment rate for Black and minority ethnic (BME) workers has risen at three times the speed of the unemployment rate for white workers
- The BME unemployment rate shot up from 6.3% to 8.9% between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, an increase of 41%.
- Over the same period the unemployment rate for white workers rose from 3.6% to 4.1%, an increase of 14%.
- Around 1 in 11 (8.9%) BME workers are now unemployed, compared to 1 in 25 (4.1%) of white workers.
This TUC analysis also reveals that women have been disproportionately adversely impacted more than men in both ‘white’ and ‘BME’ categories.
|Unemployment rate Jan-March 2020||Unemployment rate Jan-March 2021||Percentage change in unemployment rate (%)||Employment rate Jan-March 2021 (%)|
The TUC analysis has also found that ‘the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has forecast that the unemployment rate for all workers will peak at 6.5% in Quarter 4, 2021’ but alarmingly, ‘the number of BME people out of work is now far exceeding this worst-case scenario prediction. The BME unemployment rate now stands at 8.9%, compared to 4.1% for white people.’
Effects of inequality
Research by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) has shown that:
- The UK has the second highest level of inequality in the developed world (after the USA).
- Professors Wilkinson and Pickett have shown that inequality in income and wealth degrades every aspect of life, damaging for everyone, even the rich.
- Inequality leads to instability, stress, crime, dissatisfaction and disorder.
- Professor Sir Michael Marmot has demonstrated that financial inequality affects health and life expectancy on a sliding scale: the poorer you are the more likely you are to suffer bad health and to die younger.
Tackling structural discrimination in employment – the TUC calls on ministers to act now
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Everyone deserves a decent and secure job. But Covid-19 has shone a light on the discrimination in our labour market.
BME workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic. They’ve been more likely to work in industries like hospitality and retail that have been hit hard by unemployment.
And when BME workers have held on to their jobs, we know that they are more likely to be in low-paid, insecure work that has put them at greater risk from the virus. This structural discrimination has led to a disproportionate BME death rate from coronavirus.
Now we are emerging from the pandemic, we can’t allow these inequalities. Ministers must hold down unemployment, create good new jobs and challenge the systematic discrimination that holds BME workers back.”
The TUC is calling on government to:
- Create good new jobs. We could create 1.2 million new jobs in the next two years in clean green infrastructure, and by unlocking public sector vacancies.
- Introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting and make employers publish action plans to ensure fair wages for BME workers in the workplace.
- Ban zero-hours contracts and strengthen the rights of insecure workers – which will have a disproportionate impact on BME workers.
- Publish all the equality impact assessments related to its response to Covid-19 and be transparent about how it considers BME communities in policy decisions.
- Give more financial support for people who have lost their jobs. Without a boost to universal credit, many will be pushed into poverty.
Aratrust supports the TUC call and says: reverse the decision to end the £20 per week Universal Credit increase at the end of September and make the increase permanent.
Aratrust calls on the government to stall further adverse racial disparities and start to reverse systemic discrimination in employment.
Opportunities for the government to start redressing the balance
Many opportunities exist for the government to start reversing systemic discrimination in employment, including in resolving the critical understaffing in the NHS (1) and in implementing the government’s own Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (2).
1. The Institute of Employment Rights’ NHS New Deal proposal
Health experts, who comprise 33 leading research, policy, management, and clinical experts from across the UK have warned:
“Staff morale is at rock bottom because of real term pay cuts and the relentless workload, and the pandemic will leave a challenging legacy of additional mental health needs, a growing backlog of people waiting for elective care, and extra support needed for those living with the after-effects of COVID-19. The pandemic has also laid bare stark socioeconomic and racial inequalities in the UK, and the catastrophic consequences for health.
Underfunding and poor pay has led to massive shortfalls in staffing levels, with around 200,000 vacancies across the NHS. The weaknesses that have emerged due to under resourcing have been exposed by the pandemic.”
These health experts have proposed:
- major reorganisations of the NHS should be avoided and the focus should instead be on investment, the integration of services, disease prevention, and reducing health inequalities.
- ten years of funding increases amounting to £102 billion over the decade so that the NHS can provide an effective service.
- given the major role of social circumstances in health inequalities, such as housing, employment, education and environment, it is crucial that this extra funding for the NHS and social care doesn’t come from cuts to other public services and welfare budgets.
2. The Government’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution (updated 18 November 2020)
This Ten Point Plan ‘will mobilise £12 billion of government investment, and potentially 3 times as much from the private sector, to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs. There will be electric vehicle technicians in the Midlands, construction and installation workers in the North East and Wales, specialists in advanced fuels in the North West, agroforestry practitioners in Scotland, and grid system installers everywhere. And we will help people train for these new green jobs through our Lifetime Skills Guarantee.’
Aratrust will be monitoring to what extent government reverses systemic discrimination in employment and we will support the TUC’s new anti-racism task force which has been launched to tackle the structural racism in employment – and wider society.