Government Should Target Ethnic Inequalities

22/08/2016 15:19 | Updated 22 August 2016

Shocking and sustained ethnic inequalities that continue to mark modern day Britain are exposed in a new report, from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Back in April 2015, on the general election campaign trail, David Cameron committed the government to tackling many of these inequalities with a set of '2020' targets. While Cameron may no longer be Prime Minister, his targets still live on as a Conservative campaign commitment. Indeed, Theresa May has made clear that her priorities included tackling racial discrimination.

One of the most important elements of the government's '2020 vision' was its employment target: a commitment to raise the number of ethnic minority people in work by 20% by 2020. One year on, the latest employment stats this week appear to show the government is so far on course to meet the target. Employment among ethnic minority people is up by around 4% since the same April-June period in 2015.

But the headline figure masks a more worrying picture. BME employment has been on the rise regardless of the target over the past decade, reflecting changing demographics.

The problem is that throughout this period, the gap between the white employment rate and ethnic minority employment rate has stayed stubbornly large. Indeed, the gap was roughly the same in Oct-Dec 2010 and Oct-Dec 2015, but in that time BME employment rose by more than 25 per cent. So the government could meet its target in large part through a growing BME population and an overall rising employment rate, instead of addressing the root causes of inequality.

Moreover, the EHRC report highlights further ethnic inequalities in youth unemployment, apprenticeship start-ups, earnings, and living standards.

As David Isaac, Chair of the EHRC, argues today, much more therefore needs to do more to tackle these inequalities head on.

I believe that the government should prioritise three key areas. First, as IPPR argued in our recent report with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the government should develop a localised approach to tackling these inequalities. This is because there are vast local differences in employment gaps between white and ethnic minority people - the Runnymede Trust has found using Census data that the unemployment percentage gap ranges from around 7 percentage points in Hackney and Sheffield to virtually no gap at all in Halton and Harrogate.

This means that government support and funding should be targeted where it is needed most - at local authorities facing the largest inequalities - and that local councils should be given more powers and support to develop their own tailored approaches to inequalities in their areas. More also needs to be done to ensure that different parts of the system -including job centres, Work Programme providers, local authority employment services, training providers, careers advice services and community and voluntary groups - share best practice and learn from each other.

Second, greater support is needed to smooth the transition between education and work for ethnic minorities. Progress for ethnic minorities in the labour market has not kept up with the marked improvements in educational attainment in the past decade. As the Women and Equalities Committee's inquiry into employment opportunities for Muslims argued last week, universities need to do more to provide targeted careers advice for BME groups.

Third, the government should take a more proactive approach to tackling discrimination among employers. Targets alone will not necessarily create progress. It should be made clear that legislative action will be taken if necessary in order to incentivise behaviour change. For instance, the government could indicate that it will enforce name-blind recruitment for employers or ensure diverse recruitment panels for larger companies if targets are not met.

Combined, these steps carve out an ambitious approach to tackling ethnic inequalities. Rather than simply relying on demographic and economic trends to get them over the line, the government should surpass their 2020 targets by getting to the root of the problem - and put ethnic equalities at the heart of its One Nation vision.

Marley Morris is an IPPR research fellow specialising in migration and integration. He tweets at @MarleyAMorris