“My whole life is a shambles, everyone’s life is affected.”
In an age of insecure work, this isn’t an uncommon statement to hear. Poverty pay, zero hours contracts and workers who feel powerless are easily found in the UK job market. But an often-ignored reality is that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people have suffered this rise in job insecurity to a disproportionate degree. Alongside exploitation, racial discrimination is ever-present in our society but political parties are barely talking about it.
The latest round of proof showing that race and inequality are such close bedfellows is evidenced in a report by the TUC. They found that although 11% of all employees are BAME, they make up 17% of people who are in temporary jobs and 21% who are in agency work. The skewed nature of this inequality is even more apparent when you consider that between 2011 and 2014 the number of BAME people in temporary work increased by 25.4%, while their white counterparts saw a 10.9% rise in the same period.
The statistics also suggest that this isn’t out of choice — since 2011 there’s been a 20% increase in the proportion of BAME people who say they’re in temporary work because they can’t get a permanent job, and in 2014 40% of BAME workers were doing temporary work for this same reason.
Meanwhile, underemployment has risen among BAME people by 2.4%, yet among white people it’s fallen by 3.4%. The picture is worryingly similar when it comes to low pay: 37.4% of BAME people are in low paid work, compared with 20.9% of the white population – and that’s a 12.9% rise since 2011 for BAME people, contrasted with a 1.8% rise for white people.
The majority of the political world has duly ignored these findings, telling though they are. To their credit, while the Tories have mostly stayed silent on the issue of insecure work, Labour are proposing a clampdown on zero hours contracts and raising the minimum wage to more than £8 by 2020 – both of these measures will go some way to alleviate the extreme unfairness in the job market. More specifically,they’ve outlined in their BAME manifesto how they’d introduce a cross-government race equality strategy to “drive progress across every area of government”, a quota system in the senior civil service and legal requirements over police recruitment to increase the number of BAME people in the force. Labour at least care enough to have a plan.
Yet quotas will only do so much and making jobs more secure won’t stop BAME from bearing the brunt of discrimination. The root cause here is structural racism. As these stats show, it’s much harder for BAME people to get secure work. But even when they do, they face being paid less than a white person with the same qualifications. A mere 6 years ago, a report found that people with “African and Asian names” were more likely to be discriminated against in the hiring process.
None of this is coincidence. But after cursory, at times substantial, recognition of racial discrimination in the media, evidence tends to get swept under the rug without any further probing (and as far as I’ve seen, the TUC report didn’t get any decent media coverage). Political parties are too busy banging the anti-immigration drum to talk about structural racism, let alone devise policies that would begin to change our institutionally racist society. But I’m writing this on International Workers’ Day, and I believe that this is a struggle we will eventually win. Whatever the outcome of May 7th, we have to continue to put pressure on politicians to recognise that institutional racism exists — because half measures won’t cut it.
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Maya Goodfellow is a journalist and political commentator. She primarily writes about British politics and has worked as a researcher for a think tank. She also writes about international affairs, with a particular focus on conflict studies. Find her on Twitter: @Mayagoodfellow
‘The Other Political Series’ curated by journalist Kiri Kankhwende is your go to alternative to the colourless mainstream commentary ahead of the General Election in May 2015. #OtherPolitics highlights issues and perspectives that are being overlooked in the election debate and presents different angles on some well-trodden issues.
Articles published in The Other Political Series:
Maya Goodfellow: Letting migrants drown in the Mediterranean, is this what the Tories mean by ‘British values’?
Bobby Gardiner: The Reality Behind ‘economic recovery’
“Lessons from Scotland: Offer People a Vision”: Interview with Sofi Taylor
Lester Holloway: Political Parties Favour Asian Over Black Candidates
Dr Youssef El-Gingihy: THE NHS ELECTION
Kiri Kankhwende: Introduction: Small Politics
Omayma El Ella: The Suffocation of British Muslim Civil Society Space
Shane Thomas: You can’t move for all the ‘tolerance’ in Britain
Faisa Abdi and Hamdi Issa: Politicians Must Acknowledge the Link Between Negative Media Stereotyping of the Somali Community
Pragna Patel: The Elections 2015: Desperately Seeking Equality and Justice
Maya Goodfellow: Climate change is easier to ignore because right now it’s people of colour who suffer the most
Anouchka Burton: The pink bus is a start but parties need to show women they’re in for the long haul
Colin Joseph: BME communities should get on the bus & vote at this year’s Election
Huma Munshi: From a survivor to the new government: Every woman matters
“It’s an exciting time to be a politician”: Interview with Reema Patel (Labour Councillor)
The Conservative Party is a broad church” Interview with Walaa Idris (Conservative campaigner)
“We can’t allow the scapegoating of migrants in the political arena to go on.”: Interview with Benali Hamdache (Green Party member)