Why economic recovery must include everyone

Sandra Kerr OBE, Race Equality Director, Business in the Community

Last week the Office for National Statistics published its latest round of labour market data, and those for BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) employees make for frustrating reading. Although UK unemployment is continuing to fall, rates for BAME groups are decreasing at a much slower rate – for most groups, the unemployment rate has dropped by less than 1%. For Indian and Bangladeshi employees, the unemployment rate has actually risen since last year – by 1% and 2.6% respectively. Meanwhile, all BAME groups (except Chinese) continue to have higher unemployment rates than the white unemployment rate.

If we look at self-employment rates for BAME people, these have all increased considerably more than for white people. This suggests that BAME people, feeling excluded from traditional employment routes, have to strike out on their own. Whilst one can applaud their entrepreneurial spirit, there is a concern that people may feel like they do not have a choice if they want to find work, have a decent standard of living and to have a chance of progressing in their careers.

Finally, there are some significant differences in terms of gender. There were dramatic year-on-year increases in unemployment for Indian (49.1%), Bangladeshi (96.6%) and Chinese men (41.9%). Meanwhile, unemployment declined for BAME women in all groups except Black/African/Caribbean women, where it rose 12.4%. However, this may not necessarily mean they have moved into stable jobs. We know that women are more likely to work part-time, and that both female and - from recent TUC reports - BAME employees are more likely to be on zero-hours contracts and in low-paid work.

All this suggests the wider economic recovery is not fully inclusive of the UK’s ethnic minority populations, and that change is happening far too slowly. If employers do not take action now, they risk excluding a huge pool of potential talent. That’s bad not only for individuals who are struggling to find work, but also for employers whose bottom line could benefit from their skills.

We need more employers to show they are serious about developing a workforce that reflects the clients, customers and communities they serve. Our Benchmark shows that employers with similar rates of conversion from application to hiring for BAME and white candidates are more likely to use a range of recruitment channels, provide mandatory unconscious bias training for staff involved in recruitment, and monitor the diversity of candidates at each stage of the recruitment process. I would encourage all employers to use these methods to ensure that they are casting their nets widely and helping themselves to find the best people for the job, regardless of ethnicity.

Earlier this year we published our Race at Work report, which surveyed 24,457 people on their experiences of race in the workplace. As part of the report we also made recommendations to government, including drawing up a policy framework on race that includes a strong agenda to close the stubborn and persistent BAME recruitment gap. This will create the step change needed to see the necessary progress that is long overdue. I am writing to government ministers about this in the New Year and will keep you updated with any news we receive.