Britons from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds bore the brunt of the job losses occurring during the peak of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, new research has revealed.
A report published on Wednesday from the Trades Union Congress (TUC), an association representing unions in the UK, has found that in the 12 months between September 2019 and September 2020 the number of BAME workers fell by 5.3%, compared with a 0.2% fall among white workers.
The figures mean BAME staff were made redundant at a rate 26 times higher than white workers during the period, which includes the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdowns in Britain. The analysis is based on labour market data produced by the Office of National Statistics.
The terms BAME or BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) are often used in government statistics to indicate people of colour, but the acronyms do draw some criticism for masking the varying experiences of different communities. For example, journalist Mariam Khan writes that Black people in Britain are stopped and searched by police three times more than Asian people, so the term could be seen to draw attention away from that specific injustice.
However, it can be a helpful tool for revealing when racial discrimination might be a factor in social or economic trends. Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s secretary-general said that this data had “held up a mirror to discrimination” in the UK labour market. She called on the government to take steps that address “systemic racism and inequality” in the workplace.
“BME workers have borne the brunt of the economic impact of this pandemic,” she continued. “In every industry where jobs have gone, BME people have been more likely to be made unemployed."
About 8.5% of BAME workers, or one in 12, are now unemployed according to the TUC’s analysis. By comparison, 4.5% of white workers, or one in 22, are currently out of work.
The analysis tracked the impact of the pandemic across different sectors too. Unsurprisingly, jobs in travel, hospitality, and retail were hardest hit when COVID-19 made it unsafe for businesses to be open. But it shows that within those sectors the impact was far from even, with Black and Asian workers more likely to be made redundant.
Despite government protections in the form of a furlough scheme, which paid out billions to employers to keep their staff on the books without work for them to do, more than 800,000 people in the UK have still lost their jobs.
The losses are concentrated in those sectors shut by lockdown: 297,000 from accommodation and food, 160,000 from wholesale and retail, and 115,000 from manufacturing.
The number of ethnic minority staff employed in the food and accommodation industries fell by 23% compared with a 13% fall among white workers, according to the TUC analysis. In retail, white workers fell by just 1%, compared with a drop in ethnic minority workers of 16%.
Shockingly, given the lack of representation in the arts already apparent, the number of Black women working in arts and entertainment dropped by two-fifths (40%), the report said.
Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think-tank, told Al Jazeera that the racial disparity in employment outcomes was “no surprise” because people from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to be in low-paid, precarious jobs with fewer employment rights, like hospitality and retail.
She also said that the economic recovery from the pandemic would likely be slower for BAME Britons because of these pre-existing inequalities.
“Previously we had families who were just getting by. Their lives have now been capsized by the storm brought on by COVID,” Begum said.
The TUC has called on the government to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting — as companies now must do with gender pay gaps — ban zero-hours contracts which disproportionately affect BAME workers, and publish all equality impact assessments on government responses to COVID-19.
The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said in response to a request for comment that it had protected jobs with “one of the most generous and comprehensive job support schemes in the world.”
“Equality impacts remain a key part of the policy development process and we keep them under constant review,” a BEIS spokesperson said.