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.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.