We all lose out as racial in­equal­ity squan­ders tal­ent

Yorkshire Post - - OPINION -

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.

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