Pay gap between ethnicities still a problem

Research released by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) last week has found that black workers in the UK earn significantly less that white workers with comparative qualifications at all levels of education. Their research, based on an analysis of pay data from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey, finds that the pay gap between black and white workers increases with additional qualifications. The TUC reports a pay gap of 11 per cent for GCSE level qualifications, 14 per cent for A-level. Finally, black workers with undergraduate degrees are found to earn a staggering 23 per cent less than their white counterparts, which amounts to £4.30 an hour.

The Runnymede Trust, a London-based think tank that focuses specifically on issues of race equality in the UK, previously reported that pay inequality between white and ethnic minority students persists at similar levels regardless of the types of university attended, including Russell Group institutions. Troublingly, the trust also found last year that though prestigious universities do not confer an advantage in later pay, black and minority ethnic students are less likely to be offered a places to study in highly regarded universities and must gain better A-level results than white students in order to get in at the same rates.

Taken together, the reports from the Runnymede Trust and the TUC highlight the institutional racism embedded in higher education and the workplace across the UK. The problem remains, however, about how to tackle implicit racial bias in the university selection process and among employers. David Cameron has recently announced as part of an anti-discrimination drive that he intends to require that universities publish data on which applicants are offered places, broken down by subject, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background. His intent is clearly to embarrass universities into accepting more ethnic minority students. Writing in the Sunday Times, he said that it is “striking” that in 2014 Oxford University accepted only 17 black students in an intake of 2,500. He added that “the reasons are complex, including poor schooling,” and that discrimination should “shame our country and jolt us to action”. He also highlighted inequalities in the armed forces, police service, and justice system.

That the pay gap between black and white workers is most pronounced between graduates has led the TUC to call for direct action from the government against racial bias in the workplace. Runnymede Trust director Omar Khan has added that the TUC report “suggests that education alone will do little to address racial inequalities, and the need for interventions that direct challenge racial inequalities in the workplace. The TUC itself stresses that a strategy needs to be immediately developed that includes plans to address the rise of ‘casualised’ work, which disproportionately affects black, Asian and minority ethnic workers; requirements for employers to publish pay data by ethnicity, and for public authorities for use procurement to spread good practice. Other suggestions include introducing colour-blind hiring through the use of anonymous CV’s. For now, however, it is up to individual employers to challenge their own implicit bias and remove the obstacles for hiring, pay increases, and advancement for non-white workers.

Although resolutions for analyzing and publishing student and employee statistics could be a good foundation for change, it is fundamentally a reactive policy. David Cameron can well hope that shame will be effective motivator, but when dealing with an institutional problem that has thus far been left largely unaddressed, I see a far firmer, proactive approach to be necessary. The conversation about race will continue, but in order to properly address the issues faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic people in education and at work, we need real accountability.