The persisting ‘ethnic penalty’ encountered by British black and ethnic minority within the employment market has been reported by a plethora of bodies, namely British parliamentary committees (i.e., Department for Work and Pensions), the Equality and Human Rights Commission, leading think thanks (i.e., the Runneymede Trust), trade unions (i.e., Trade Union Council) and so forth. The ‘ethnic penalty’ concerns the barriers to opportunities and discrimination experienced by groups of people due to their race and ethnicity.
Within this context of barriers to black and ethnic minorities and employment opportunities there is the question of the plight of British black and ethnic minority young people. According to a recent report by the UK’s Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee (1), “There are stark differences in youth unemployment by ethnic group. In the year to June 2016, the unemployment rate among 16-24 year olds was 30% for black people, 26% for people from Bangladeshi or Pakistani ethnic background, and 13% for white people. While unemployment rates fall substantially with age for all ethnicities, the relative positions of the groups largely persist (2017, 11).”
Moreover, within this demographic is the ‘silent catastrophe’ or ‘moral panic’ concerning young black men, particularly of African and Caribbean background. Young black men have higher unemployment rates than all other groups of young people. The discrepancy between unemployment rates for young black men and white men has widened in recent decades. Essentially, young black men experience higher rates of unemployment notwithstanding their favourable educational attainment and regardless of their level of qualification. Moreover, black university graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as white graduate (2).
The implications of this lamentable waste of “human capital” for the individual, families, communities and society is cataclysmic. In order to address the situation of Britain’s black youth unemployment urgent transformative measures are required which include:
- Robust data and knowledge gathering on how the intersecting aspects of ‘race’, social class, affects young black people access to employment opportunities.
- Government intervention which requires all employers and occupational training providers to set targets for the recruitment of vulnerable groups. Notwithstanding that all minority groups are affected by the ‘ethnic penalty’ in some form but for black young people starting out in life it is a major impediment. Thus, it is crucial that the government set the conditions for the necessary change.
- The need for effective penalties for employers found to be discriminating against black applicants.
- The need to give greater incentives to employers to recruit, retain and progress young black people’s careers.
- Monitoring youth programmes and apprenticeship schemes for their achievement and success in obtaining black young people’s participation and permanent job offered on completion.
- Promoting vocational educational pathways for young people – particularly careers advice and pursuing parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications.
- Setting priorities for youth training and employment: vocational qualifications and developing a diverse workforce.
There is a key role for employers to play in reducing the ‘ethnic penalty’ and they could begin this process by examining their recruitment procedures.
- House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Employment opportunities for young people 2017, Ninth Report of Session 2016-7. Published on 29th March 2017.
- Wright, C; Standen, P; Patel, T. (2010), Black Youth Matters: Transitions from School to Success, London and New York: Routledge.
Professor Cecile Wright, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham UK, Highfield House, University, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD. UK