The Casey Review’s revelations about the lack of social integration in the UK have made the headlines. The report rightly highlights startling levels of ethnic segregation in many of our towns and cities – but that’s hardly surprising. People from similar backgrounds have always clustered together and there is little concern about the lack of diversity in affluent rural areas and suburbs dominated by the white middle class.
In times where traditional community ties are breaking down and too many of us do not really know our neighbours, the relationships that really bind us together are often those we forge at work. But – as the Review points out – the poor labour market outcomes suffered by some ethnic groups are creating deep fault lines across our society. If you are black, Pakistani or Bangladeshi, you are three times as likely to be unemployed as your white counterparts. If you’re lucky enough to find work, chances are it will be in a low-status occupation with few opportunities for progress.
But it doesn’t have to be so. Dame Louise Casey singles out English language proficiency as one of the key barriers to economic and social mobility, particularly in Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. That isn’t news to us at QED Foundation. We have been helping new arrivals to settle in to life in the UK since 1990 and English language classes have been an important part of our programmes. But we have taken things a step further by creating a complete package of support that includes help with confidence building, communication skills, personal finance, accessing health, housing and education services, visits to employers to see the world of work at first hand and opportunities to explore British heritage and culture.
We’ve also shown how recent immigrants can hit the ground running by organising pre-departure training for Pakistani women coming to join their husbands in England. That approach has since been taken up by other EU countries but has still to be adopted in the UK.
And with funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages cut to the bone, the wait is likely to be a long one. There are now an estimated 850,000 people with ESOL needs in the UK, while the number of learners has fallen from 500,000 in 2006/7 to 139,000 in 2013/4. Small charities and voluntary and community organisations that used to provide culturally appropriate services at neighbourhood level are struggling to survive.
Yet it’s not just new arrivals who get a raw deal. While discrimination and prejudice persist, it will always be more difficult for ethnic minorities to fulfil their potential – but the Casey Review devotes little space to considering the factors leading to segregation by career choice.
The report highlights the fact that black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people don’t just earn significantly less than their white peers.Fewer than 10% of professional, technical and scientific and education sector workers are from ethnic minority groups.
We need to do more to raise young people’s aspirations and give them a greater awareness of the full range of career options available to them. QED Foundation has worked with madrassahs (Islamic educational institutions) to provide advice and guidance on further and higher education and employment opportunities. We have made a series of television programmes promoting non-traditional careers. And we have held job ‘melas’ or fairs, where young men and women can meet employers face to face. Now we want to see trade bodies do more to promote a wider range of opportunities in ethnic minority communities.
Finally, the Casey Review has a lot to say about the disparity in employment rates between white and BAME groups. Much less attention is paid to why fewer people from these backgrounds progress to leadership roles, yet there is no reason why organisations cannot draw on the full pool of talent available to them. QED Foundation has worked with 350 SMEs across England and Wales to increase employee diversity and trained 800 senior managers from the private, public and third sectors in equality issues. We know that where there is a will, there’s a way.
Integration and social cohesion begin in the workplace. We will continue to campaign for equality of opportunity in education, training and employment – but there is still much to be done.
Mohammed Ali OBE Founder & Chief executive QED Foundation