27 Apr

Improving employment opportunities for ethnic minorities in Wales

Non-white groups in Wales have persistently higher unemployment rates than the White Welsh group, in a context where unemployment in Wales is relatively high compared to other parts of the UK. Why is this the case? What changes could bring about a more level playing field in the labour market?

These were some of the questions debated in a series of roundtables organised by Egino, working with the People & Work Unit, and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, to discuss the JRF Viewpoint Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales.

Higher risk groups

Some groups are at particular risk, e.g. Bangladeshi men are over 7 times more likely to be in low-paid jobs than otherwise comparable White men.

Being female is a major risk factor: In Wales, more than 50% of women from ethnic minorities are projected to remain unemployed up to 2020.

Christine O’Byrne, Policy and Research Lead at Chwarae Teg, the Welsh charity which promotes women’s progress in the workplace, stressed that gender is central to tackling poverty: “Women are more likely to be in poverty than men and we know that women face multiple disadvantage, so as a woman you would be disadvantaged in the economy, and as a woman from an ethnic minority group you’d be even more so. A lot of work needs to be done.”

She identified public procurement as a tool for influencing employers and their recruitment practices: “There’s a lot of discrimination that goes on in recruitment and much more positive action could be taken that will help women in general and particularly women from minority ethnic groups to do well in the workplace.”

Low-paid sectors

Dr Rachel Bowen, Policy Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, drew attention to the tendency for certain ethnic groups to cluster in traditional, often low-paid sectors and occupations. This explains some differences in earnings as well as income for people starting their own businesses: “We need to be sure that people are choosing to start businesses that best suit their skills, their ambitions, rather than going into something that seems appropriate to their particular ethnic background or their gender. We know that, from the research people tend to concentrate in occupations that are traditional to their particular background. We need to challenge that so that everybody can achieve their true potential.”

Practical proposals

Practical solutions were the main focus of discussion throughout the roundtable series. Ideas flowed – ideas like:

  • Working with major employers to open up opportunities, as the Ethnic Youth Support Team is doing in Swansea.
  • Ring-fencing opportunities in publicly funded contracts so that people with the skills can get a better look-in locally.
  • Supporting small businesses willing to offer work placements.
  • Persuading City Regions to incorporate good practice at an early stage of development.

Ali Abdi, Community Partnerships manager for Grangetown Community Gateway, was particularly keen on proposals for working directly with individuals to overcome barriers and to address inequalities in recruitment: “… looking at name-blind and address-blind applications to make employment processes more equal … putting pressure on big employers to have more positive recruitment processes, so they address their BME issues and can have a more diverse workforce.”

Over-arching issues

Big, over-arching issues also generated debate including, of course, racism and discrimination, which continue to be negative factors; there was also concern that racism has become islamophobia.

There was wide agreement that legislation and strategies are not making a sufficient discernible difference. Do policies just need more “teeth”? Or is the answer a Welsh Government action plan to tackle employment barriers?

Action and action planning – this theme emerged again and again whatever topic was under consideration in the roundtables which discussed the analysis and proposals in the JRF Viewpoint Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales.

For more about the issues debated in the roundtables see this and our other  podcasts and blogs.

JRF Viewpoint: Breaking the links between poverty and ethnicity in Wales Viewpoint authors: Anna Nicholl, Chris Johnes and Duncan Holtom

Print copies are also available, in English and Welsh, from [email protected]

Blog author: Lila Haines, Egino

Note: This blog represents the author’s views and interpretation, and not the position of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation or any other organisation or individual cited.