One version of the national story we tell ourselves is that postwar migrants, particularly people of colour from the “new commonwealth”, helped support our public services, notably the National Health Service and London transport. There is something poetic in the fact that the first NHS hospital was opened within months of the arrival of Empire Windrush; yet something almost tragic that, seven decades later, their grandchildren are experiencing racial inequality at work.
A new study has found that ethnic minority workers in the capital’s public sector face a pay gap of up to 37%.The finding is not exactly surprising, but it is particularly depressing in this year, the 70th anniversary of Windrush and half a century since the 1968 Race Relations Act finally outlawed the infamous “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs” signs.
Across the UK, and particularly in London, racial diversity is nothing new. Yet a report last year from the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that “broadly speaking, in the period 1993-2014, there has been very little narrowing of ethnic pay gaps and for some groups they have actually increased, particularly among men”.
There is clearly discrimination in employment, with people with equivalent qualification but with African and Asian surnames having to send in twice as many CVs just to get an interview. Black and minority-ethnic people are also more likely to face disciplinary action and other decisions that most affect progression and pay.
There’s no shortage of ideas on how to respond to these inequalities – from diverse recruitment panels to name-blind CVs to positive action training schemes. Many private sector companies have set targets for change. No private companies have yet published ethnic pay gap figures, but it’s now clear that public bodies have to do more. In particular, the Metropolitan police stood out with a 17% pay gap – the result of a severe lack of minority staff at senior levels.
Race equality needs to be prioritised. In 21st Britain, if an organisation can’t enable its own minority staff to progress, then it’s being badly managed.
Tackling poverty and class disadvantage would also do a lot to tackle racial inequalities, with nearly half of ethnic-minority children living in poverty. London has some of the highest deprivation in the country, with the borough of Tower Hamlets having the highest child poverty and highest pensioner poverty in all of England. Government needs to respond better to these inequalities.
Until employers directly tackle not only unconscious bias but institutional and interpersonal discrimination, people of colour in London and across the UK won’t have fair job opportunities.
Tackling ethnic pay gaps is a national challenge. Amid much fanfare, all large organisations are being forced, by the end of this month, to reveal how much they are paying women compared to men. The gender gap will be embarrassing for many of them. These London figures show the urgent need for a national race equivalent, to name and shame the businesses and public sector organisations that are underpaying Britain’s ethnic minorities. Then we can really start redressing the imbalance.