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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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.