You’re reading Gen:Blxck, a series exploring Black culture, history, family and identity through the generations.
If you’ve done so much as glimpse at a news broadcast recently, you’ll know that any attempts to avoid talk of the cost of living crisis and its crippling consequences are futile.
The risk of financial insecurity is looming over huge swathes of the nation, with around 46 million people reporting that their outgoings increased between March and June this year. The surging prices of fuel, food and energy mean people are spending less on non-essentials. At the same time, the value of the pound has plummeted. It’s no surprise then, that a recent survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found 77% of adults are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ worried about money.
For Black professionals living and working in the UK, the bleak economic forecast is compounded by income disparities, the race wage gap and what has been dubbed the ‘Black tax’.
This phrase describes the responsibility often assigned to first and second generation Black immigrants, who choose to send money to relatives living ‘back home’. It also applies to those who support older family members generally – including those born, raised and living with their families in the West.
Rusheen Hemley, 29, hadn’t expected that she’d assume primary responsibility for her family’s finances. But after her mum, a former carer, suffered an injury on the job and was unable to work for an extended period, she moved from London back home to Birmingham where she was needed.
Currently she covers about 70% of the household bills and expenses while working as an operations manager at a delivery company. Her mum, who’s now back working part-time, takes care of the remainder.
Though she doesn’t begrudge having to supplement her mother’s income, she admits she’s had to sacrifice her own plans temporarily.
“I feel like moving back to Birmingham means I’ve taken a step back, whereas if I’d carried on in the role that I was doing in London, I would have been a bit further ahead,” she tells HuffPost UK. “It’s also made me take a step back from saving to buy a property.”
But her financial obligations don’t end there. Hemley also has family in Jamaica, where she was born, and along with her mum arranges for monthly payments to be sent to her grandmother, as well as two large barrels of clothing and toiletries, which they ship to relatives twice a year.
“They depend on us to help them out, especially with the fact that some of them aren’t working and are finding it hard to get jobs,” she explains. “A lot of their kids are in education, which they have to pay for.”
You may be thinking that other ethnic groups also send remittance (money to family abroad), which is true. In fact, it’s estimated that India received the most remittances from the UK in 2018 at £3bn, closely followed by Nigeria. But the Black population in the UK occupies some of the country’s most economically disadvantaged positions.
ONS figures show that 45% of households in the UK had a weekly income of below £600 (before tax) on average between April 2018 and March 2022. Out of all ethnic groups, Black households were most likely to fall into this category.
Figures also show that between 2013 and 2021, Black employees had the second lowest hourly pay each year (£12.55) behind the Pakistani/Bangladeshi ethnic group (£12.03).
Black people (along with Bangladeshi and Pakistani people) also had the highest unemployment rate out of all ethnic groups (8%) as of 2019, which was double the rate of white people. Black Africans also have the second lowest rate of homeownership (20%) behind the Arab ethnic group (17%).
Things gets worse when you consider that the Black tax is directly impacted by the cost of living crisis, both for those sending money and those in receipt of it. This is because the rise in inflation is a global issue, meaning the £100 you were sending to your relatives in Africa or the Caribbean this time last year won’t stretch as far for them today.
“It’s like you are paying a tax in the form of inflation here and you are paying it again back home because inflation is also very bad [in other countries],” says Dr Ayobami Ilori, lecturer and staff tutor in economics at the Open University.
“So it’s more of a double whammy if you ask me, because even if you are sending exactly the same amount you were sending before, it will never be able to meet up with the needs that it was meeting previously.
“There will now be a lot of pressure especially on first and second generation migrant workers —those who have immediate families in foreign countries — to send more money home even when they are not earning enough. And I would expect that will likely force a lot of people to start looking for alternative jobs or even picking up more shifts and more work.”
Chidera Peters has experienced first-hand how inflation can eat away at funds budgeted to support family. Originally from Nigeria, the 26-year-old now lives in Hertfordshire and works in the fintec industry. She first moved to the UK in 2019 for her studies.
“Right from when I started studying I worked part-time and I would send a certain amount of my earnings back home to support my family with household expenses and also school fees,” she says.
“After I was done with university I could work full-time, so obviously I increased the allowance that I sent, because I felt like I was earning more so I should do more back home. But the cost of living [problem] is not just in the UK. In Nigeria, for example, it’s increasing. So money I sent in January cannot buy the same quantity of things now.”
She says that her immediate family are aware of Britain’s rising costs, and put no pressure on her to send them money. Outside of her parents and siblings, however, people haven’t always adopted the same attitude.
“From extended family there’s some level of entitlement. It’s like ‘Oh you’re in the UK, you’re better off, you’re supposed to help everybody back home,’” she says. “But from my immediate family I don’t feel that. I can literally tell them I can’t send money this month and everybody’s fine.”
The challenges posed by the current economic climate mean now more than ever, we need to prioritise our own responsibilities. This is something that Selina Flavius, financial coach and founder of Black Girl Finance, stresses.
“You might be forgoing your own goals, dreams, wants and needs to be able to support others. Look around and start having honest conversations about who you can perhaps share the load with,” she says. “Right now it’s about keeping the lines of communication open and being aware of the impact that supporting others is having on you.”
It’s too early to tell just how markedly the cost of living crisis will affect people like Hemley and Peters — the young Black workers doing their best to sustain their loved ones long-term. But it’s not difficult to predict the ripple effect it will have on older and potentially more vulnerable relatives, as well as those in developing countries with fewer resources who rely on the generosity of their younger kin.
Though she’s concerned about affording it all —“A few days ago I was telling my husband that I think I need to ask for a raise” —Peters plans to continue sending money to her family in Nigeria.
“I could end up reducing the amount that I send home, but I don’t see me deciding not to send at all,” she says. “So it’s just trying to manage my expenses and reducing the cost of other things where I can, so I’m able to cope.”