The following is an abridged version of the Minister for Employment's speech at the launch of ERSA’s Race, Ethnicity and Employment report on the government’s action to support more people from ethnic minorities into work.
We have made huge progress in recent decades to improve the opportunities for ethnic minorities in the UK and ERSA’s Ethnicity and Employment report helps identify current challenges and what the Government can do to tackle them.
We can already see the huge changes in British attitudes towards race. In a recent episode of Dr Who, the New Doctor and her companions travelled back to 1950s Alabama on the eve of Rosa Parks’ historic bus protest that sparked the Civil Rights movement.
What was remarkable was not only Rosa Parks’ personal bravery but the incomprehension of the characters from 2018 when faced with the institutional racism of 1950s America.
This well-loved family programme brought the subject of racial injustice to Sunday night viewing, making it something to be talked about and not ignored. It showed how different the experience of ethnic minorities now is from decades past.
However, discrimination does still exist, and so does racism.
When my father settled in the UK in the 1970s, he did not find a job in line with his experience and qualifications. I expect his experience is not dissimilar from that of others from an ethnic minority background. So he set up his own business and thankfully made a success of it.
Ethnic minority employment is now at a record high and the employment gap between ethnic minorities and white groups is below 10% for the first time ever on record. We are almost three quarters of the way to achieving the Government’s target of increasing ethnic minority employment by 20% by 2020.
Since 2010 we have seen 3.3 million more people in work overall, of those 1.15 million were from ethnic minorities. That means growth in ethnic minority employment of 36% - three times the growth in overall employment – closing the gap faster than ever before.
The ethnic minority employment rate is 65.5%. A record high, but that’s still the same level as the overall UK employment rate was in 1984.
When people from ethnic minorities face the same employment prospects that others enjoyed decades ago, that progress will never be enough.
When the Prime Minister launched the Race Disparity Audit last year it was the first time a UK Government looked overall at the impact of race across many aspects of life, this is a world leading approach.
The RDA has shown we cannot treat ethnic minorities as one single group, with the same challenges. I am glad this is something ERSA’s report highlights.
The British Black employment rate is lower than that of the British Indian community, at 67.6 per cent.
In the British Chinese community it’s 60.6 per cent, while the average rate in the British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi communities is just 54.8 per cent.
British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi workers are far more likely to be in the lowest skilled occupation groups and receive the lowest average hourly pay.
While the British Chinese community has a gender employment gap of just 6.6 percentage points, lower than the white British or UK average, among the British Indian community its 12.3 percentage points.
And that’s why my department has identified 20 ‘challenge areas’ across the country where the employment gap is highest and the ethnic minority population is the greatest.
We are targeting these places with specialist support, trialling new interventions including mentoring programmes and targeted projects building on existing community networks.
Overall youth unemployment is at a record low and our network of mentoring circles is helping open their horizons, bringing young people from ethnic minorities together, voluntarily, in their local jobcentre.
They are being mentored in our jobcentres by major employers like HSBC and Fujitsu, giving them the self-confidence, skills and aspiration they need.
I recently visited a mentoring programme and saw how transformative they can be for young people, particularly when the mentoring is provided by someone from a similar background to them.
So far, 63 mentoring circles have taken place in 21 jobcentres, and more are being prepared for next year.
A further challenge - British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi women have some of the lowest employment rates in the UK. Part of the reason for this may be cultural expectations of caring responsibilities in the home.
Determining what is a choice, and what may be the result of a cultural pressure is not straight forward, we must ensure women know when they choose to work; they can and will be valued. In Birmingham Yardley, an area with low employment rates for women from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, we are reaching out to build a trusted relationship for the first time by building the women’s confidence, and their knowledge about job opportunities.
By working in existing community networks, we can bring them closer to the labour market so they can make a choice about their future.
Creating full employment among ethnic minority communities makes good business sense. Full representation of ethnic minority individuals across the labour market would boost the economy by an estimated £24 billion a year.
The whole of Government is acting on this; my colleagues in the Department for Education are working with thousands of employers and the National Apprenticeship Service to get more young people from ethnic minorities into apprenticeships, a route into almost any career from nuclear engineering to law.
We have pledged to increase the number of apprentices from an ethnic minority background by 20 per cent by 2020, last year 55,000 apprentices came from such backgrounds.
The more we understand about where inequality exists, the more we can do to tackle it. ERSA’s report joins a huge bank of evidence, including the Race Disparity Audit and the future findings from the consultation on the Ethnic Pay Gap.
Our work to tackle inequality is on-going, and will be for some time yet. But arming ourselves with this evidence means progress will be quicker.
So that when the Dr Who of the future travels back to our own time, and she and her companions find it difficult to comprehend the injustices which still exist today – that will be because we have tackled them and created a future where everyone has the same opportunity to succeed in life.
Alok Sharma MP is Minister for Employment