How racism contributes to poverty in the UK

With almost a third of people in Britain admitting they are racist, prejudice is compounding poverty, says Helen Barnard.

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 30% of people in Britain admit, in a face-to-face interview, that they are a little or very prejudiced against people of other races. This has gone up from 25% in 2000, although it is lower than at many times between 2000 and 2013.

There are many reasons to be concerned about high levels of racism. JRF’s research has highlighted one that is often overlooked – it leads to higher poverty.

Poverty isn’t just bad for those experiencing it, it costs the whole country. Child poverty alone costs the UK around £29 billion per year. Lost taxes and more need for services and benefits mean that poverty loses the country money that we can ill afford to do without.

Over the last two years we have funded seven projects that have explored how poverty and ethnicity are linked. The research covered all four countries of the UK, cities and rural areas, and involved people from a wide range of ethnic groups, including white minorities and the white majority population. Informal workplace cultures, social networks, caring and local labour markets were all examined.

Racism was not something we asked the researchers to focus on. But it emerged as a key theme from every single study. We found that:

  • Racism, and the fear of it, restricts access to social networks, preventing people from making links which could lead to jobs, support for small businesses, training and other opportunities. 
  • It can prevent people from being promoted at work, wasting their skills and potential. 
  • In some parts of the UK it leads to people from ethnic minority backgrounds being directed into work for which they are greatly overqualified. 
  • It intimidates people from leaving their own area to look for work or access services. 
  • It underlies some concerns that people from certain ethnic minority backgrounds have about using childcare or formal care for older people. 
  • Children’s education is affected by low expectations among teachers and by racist bullying. 
  • Access to vital services, such as primary healthcare, is affected by experiences of racism, particularly from frontline staff such as receptionists. 

In 2009, the Department for Work and Pensions published a study showing that people with names associated with ethnic minority groups were 29% less likely to be called for an interview than someone with a ‘White British’ name. As well as being socially damaging, this is bad economics – employers need to hire the best people for the job, not the people who look and sound like them.