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Let’s close the race and ethnic employment gap: Taking that knowledge and drive into my next role

Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive, ERSA
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Some of you might have picked up that I am finally, after eight years, moving jobs.

I’ve had a fabulous time at ERSA and I’m so very proud of what has been achieved. However, one of the upsides of moving on is that, during the resignation period, the temptation to say what you really think is strong…

That said, I don’t think I have ever knowingly not said what I think. One of the joys of the sector is that it does such great work and there is much consensus across the membership about what needs to happen in both the policy and delivery space.

The launch last month of our Race, Ethnicity and Employment report, subtitled ‘addressing disparities and supporting communities’ is a case in point.

The background to the report was the launch in October 2017 by the Prime Minister of the Race Disparity Audit, a bank of data looking at the outcomes of different ethnic groups across a range of social policy and public service areas.

One of the subjects on which data was released was employment outcomes, with the report highlighting clearly the differences in how ethnic groups fare in the labour market.

Some of the figures are shocking. Overall there is a 11.8 percentage point employment gap between people who identify as white British and other ethnic minority groups living in the UK. Drill down into the detail and you see that one in ten adults from a black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or mixed background were unemployed compared to one in 25 white British people.

How on earth can this be the case today?

The big take away from this for me is that what we’ve been saying for a long while is true. Unemployment may be low down the agenda for the Westminster government currently, with the belief prevailing that the overall flexibility of the UK labour market, combined with the apparent magic properties of Universal Credit, have put paid to long term unemployment for good.

However, there are communities, both geographic and of interest, who are not faring well in this labour market and that there appear to be embedded problems – indeed discrimination – within our society.

Some people talk about this as a matter of wasted talent; this is clearly true. However, it is also a matter of basic fairness – it is simply unethical that such inequalities persist in the UK. Inequality is also bad for countries overall – it makes all of us worse off in the end, whether economically, morally or socially.

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So what is to be done? Well, to its credit, race and ethnicity is now on the agenda – the Race Disparity Audit has given us a treasure trove of information to use. However, the DWP’s preferred route to closing the employment gap still needs some work.

Jobcentre Plus undoubtedly has a role to play in providing greater support to particularly communities. However, there is a limit to what it can do as it is a government agency, particularly given constrained resources.

Rather, we know that it is local expert employment support providers, who are embedded in their communities and who are trusted by ethnic groups, who are able to work most effectively with those who need support.

With Universal Credit rollout bringing the partners of claimants into the conditionality regime, we need to ensure that these community partners are utilised rather than relying on an arm of state.

That all said, there is reason to be hopeful. We have a Minister in Alok Sharma who is clearly committed to this work area. Indeed his speech at our parliamentary reception was impressive and heartfelt. He also made Doctor Who references – a very welcome touch from a Minister!

We are also getting reassurances from Jobcentre Plus that they are increasingly using community partners, albeit we need more data about what is happening and whether any impact is being felt.

However, we need as a country to do more – far more. We need major culture change, by businesses and by the state. This is a long term agenda.

As I prepare to move into a new role, I will take that knowledge and drive to close the race and ethnic employment gap with me. In the meantime my staff team will make sure that we keep the pressure up on the government.

Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive, ERSA

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