“No Irish, no Blacks, no dogs”. Many in the UK would like to think racism of the kind displayed in this common sixties housing advertisement was long gone, yet the UK government’s recent Race Disparity Audit reveals that gross levels of racial wealth inequality persist. This is a growing problem in the ‘West’, where a recent report conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies (IFS) found shocking trends in the US racial wealth divide.
The sixty-page report delivers a damning indictment on the idea of the UK as a racially blind and meritocratic state. The main findings of the report are that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) individuals face disparities in housing, unemployment rates, education and health.
Firstly, the report found that BME persons are more likely to live in overcrowded and fuel-poor housing than white counterparts. On top of this, the homeless rate in BME communities has grown to a staggering rate of 36% over the course of two decades. Perhaps most disturbingly BME households are most likely to lack basic safety features such as fire alarms. Like the United States, home ownership for the BME community is also lower than the white community, with only two in five BME household owners compared to two in three for white peers.
The government commissioned review shows that the United Kingdom, much like the United States, is becoming much more diverse, albeit to a much lesser extent. As of 2011 80.5% of the British population identified as white British, down from 87.4% in 2001.
The UK unemployment rate presents a disparity between race, with an average of 5% for white British persons and 8% for BME. In terms of employment rates 76% of white British persons are in employment compared to only 64% for BME. Interestingly, in terms of education some UK ethnic minorities were actually performing better than white counterparts in school, however the high unemployment rate for BME persons would suggest this is not necessarily helping economic progress. This is a common trend in racial wealth inequality, with the IFS report finding white American high school drop outs earning as much as degree holding black peers. Clearly education cannot be relied upon as a singular policy tool to rectify the racial wealth divide within states.
The report also highlighted a worrying trend in how different races experience the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) as well as their own personal health. In the adult population, black women were the most common to experience a mental disorder such as anxiety or depression. With a recent report from the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group finding BME women hardest hit by austerity politics, it is of perhaps little surprise that economic precarity is leading to mental trauma in its victims. Black persons were also the least likely to seek help from the NHS for mental illnesses and the most likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
The Race Disparity Audit presents many troubling findings for the UK government. It is clear that in the 21st Century UK, race continues to be a factor in one’s ability to have a job, home and decent health. This is at odds with a long standing economic narrative that has depicted such material successes as based upon individual merit. Once we start to admit to ourselves that certain privileges, be they race, gender or class have “stacked the cards” in our favour, we may want to start considering how tax and investment reform is needed to ensure a more equitable economic playing field for everyone.