Care about poverty? Here are 10 reasons why you also need to think about ethnicity

Ethnicity matters when it comes to tackling poverty. But, says Helen Barnard, it's not about broad generalisations.

For the last three years we have funded research into the links between poverty and ethnicity. It has become very clear that tackling poverty effectively requires policy makers, practitioners and communities themselves to understand more about these links. Here are 10 things we have learned to get them started. 

  1. Poverty is higher among every ethnic minority group than for the white majority population. But there are big differences within ethnic groups, as well as between them.
  2. The majority of people in poverty live in a household where someone works. Low paid, insecure work is a big problem. People from some ethnic groups are disproportionately concentrated in poor quality work. For example; 28% of Bangladeshi and 25% of Chinese people work in the ‘accommodation and food services’ sector. Almost half of Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers earn less than £7 per hour.
  3. Between 1993 and 2008 the gap in pay between people from ‘white’ groups and those from ‘non-white’ ethnic minorities rose from 18p to 43p per hour.
  4. Differences in employment and earnings between groups are not explained by education.
  5. There is a lot that employers can do to help low-paid workers improve their pay and security. Giving managers targets to develop low-paid workers, developing ‘career ladders’ linked to training and development and spending more on training for the next job instead of the current one would all help. These steps would help to tackle the poor work experiences of people across different ethnicities – as long as there is good monitoring of who actually benefits.
  6. Geography matters. African-Caribbean and Indian people were more likely to be employed in Luton than Leicester. Pakistani people did better in Leicester than Luton. Local authorities need to analyse the situation of their own populations to understand what is needed – not rely on broad generalisations.
  7. Racism and the fear of it still restrict many people’s access to jobs, education, social contacts and services.
  8. The poverty rate among ethnic minority families with disabled children is 44 per cent compared to 17 per cent of all disabled children.
  9. At the moment 14 per cent of the Black Caribbean population, 4 per cent of Bangladeshi and Pakistani and 2 per cent of Black African groups are over 65 (compared to 19 per cent of White British people). By 2051, it is estimated that 15 per cent of Black Caribbean, 12 per cent of Pakistani and 12 per cent of Black African people will be over 65.
  10.  A lack of good-quality careers advice is hampering the chances of young people and adults from many ethnic minority groups, as well as low income White British young people.

Next year we will publish the next wave of research on this: five major quantitative projects that will tell us about poverty through the recession, what employment will look like in 2020, how important social networks really are and how far poverty is driven by diversity in people’s jobs and where they live. We will also set out more solutions to the issues raised in the programme so far.