We all lose out as racial inequality squanders talent
THERESA MAY’S Race Equality Audit was published with great fanfare. As a member of the steering group, I was invited to the high-profile launch at 10 Downing Street in the full glow of the media spotlight – and yet the Prime Minister herself has admitted that it tells us nothing new.
Most attention seems to have centred around the finding that ethnic minorities are twice as likely as white people to be unemployed. It’s a shocking statistic, but hardly a revelation.
Last year’s Equality and Human Rights Commission report had already revealed that 12.9 per cent of those from BAME backgrounds are unemployed, compared with just 6.3 per cent of their white peers.
But two things are new about the Race Equality Audit. Firstly, it’s an online resource that the Government has committed to updating. Unlike the plethora of recent reports with much the same findings, anyone and everyone can go online and trawl through the statistics on the Ethnicity Facts and Figures website to see for themselves who are the winners and losers in British society.
And secondly, there’s a wealth of detail so for the first time we are able to see how a person’s ethnicity combines with their age, gender and place of residence to determine their life chances.
That’s not good news if you come from Yorkshire and you’re from a BAME background. The employment rate gap between white people and ethnic minorities is almost half as much again in the North as in the South.
But statistics like this should worry all of us because everyone suffers from race inequality in some aspect of life.
The Government website shows that white people are less likely to participate in further education than anyone else – but if you’re black or Asian, the problem is that your exam qualifications are far less likely to translate into career success.
In 2016, the TUC found that BAME workers with degrees were two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than white graduates. Those with GCSE equivalents and basic level qualifications were more than twice as often found to be out of work.
What this means is that Yorkshire, along with the rest of the North of England, is wasting the skills of a large section of its youthful workforce. If we’re really serious about initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse, we have to make a real effort to ensure that regeneration and enterprise programmes make the most of talent wherever it is found. How do we do that? The Race Equality Audit doesn’t have answers, just facts. But maybe we can find an answer by looking south. Today, half of all Britain’s Bangladeshis live in London, compared to one fifth of Pakistanis.
At first glance, their situation seems grim. Almost one third of Bangladeshis live in social housing and they’re concentrated in some of the most disadvantaged local authority areas in the country. Yet the communities around Brick Lane have prospered.
Look out of your windows in Tower Hamlets and above you are the glittering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Stand in your back yard in the centre of Bradford and you can see no further than the blackened walls of the opposite terraces. Aiming high isn’t easy when your horizon doesn’t extend beyond the back streets you call home.
We need to raise the aspirations of Yorkshire’s young people and that starts with encouraging them to break with tradition and consider careers in all sectors of the economy and at all levels of seniority, including areas such as engineering that have not traditionally been favoured by ethnic minorities.
Our school leavers should also be made aware of the benefits of studying farther afield, perhaps at a Russell Group university, in broadening their experience, bringing them into contact with other students from very different backgrounds and enabling them to take part in extra-curricular activities that could enhance their employment prospects.
It is great news that BAME pupils are moving on to higher education in ever-increasing numbers but if they aren’t able to capitalise on their achievements, we will just continue to provide poorly-paid work for some of the most highly-qualified receptionists and shop assistants in the country.
With talented graduates from black and Asian backgrounds unable to afford to leave the inner cities and house prices soaring in property hotspots like Harrogate and Ilkley, Yorkshire’s society will become ever more fractured.
And we have only to look south again, where the blackened hulk of Grenfell Tower looms over mansions, to appreciate that equality of opportunity makes us all richer.