Black unemployment in the UK higher than the US

Black unemployment in the UK has been higher in the last three recessions.

It recently emerged that 30.7 per cent of the UK's young black males are unemployed, a significant finding [the overall rate of unemployment is 8.4 per cent]. But how does the problem here compare with the US? The answer is that we fare worse on every count. A paper due to be presented at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference today shows that in the last three recessions, unemployment among black British men was up to 15 per cent higher than among those in the US.

British black male unemployment reached 24 per cent in the early 1980s recession, 28 per cent in the early 1990s and 18 per cent in 2011. By contrast, the figures for the US were 17 per cent, 13 per cent and 15 per cent. Black women in Britain are also more likely to be unemployed than those in the US. Unemployment for black women in Britain in the three recessions peaked at 25 per cent, 26 per cent and 17 per cent, compared with 20 per cent, 12 per cent and 13 per cent in the US.

Professor Yaojun Li, of the University of Manchester, who analysed responses from 4.7 million people, will tell the conference:

Overall, there is greater ethnic inequality in Britain than in the USA for both sexes.

This gives a fairly strong indication that the flexible labour market policies adopted in Britain in the last few decades did not protect the minority ethnic groups against the repercussions of recessions.

He suggests that the US's use of affirmative action and its federal procurement policy, which requires institutions to have staff representative of the population, explains its lower levels of black unemployment. In total, one in 12 black Britons are unemployed, compared with one in 16 in the US.

I recently noted that George Osborne's plans will reduce the public sector workforce to its lowest level since comparable records began in 1999. A total of 730,000 posts will be cut between 2011 and 2017. Li suggests that this could exacerbate the problem:

As a large proportion of the disadvantaged group, particularly black people, tend to find employment in the public sector, if they can find a job at all, the current coalition government’s stringency plan to cut public sector employment is most likely to hit the most vulnerable groups even harder.

It's yet more evidence that the coalition's decision to rely so heavily on spending cuts to reduce the deficit will create levels of inequality unheard of in modern times.

 

One 12 black Britons are unemployed, compared with one in 16 in the US. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.