COVID-19: ethnicity and economic impact

Thu 16 Apr 2020

COVID-19: ethnicity and economic impact


Business in the Community (BITC) have produced a highly insightful factsheet around the economic impact of COVID-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the workplace.

You can download the full factsheet here, and read on for a summary of the key points raised.  

Exploring the COVID-19 Pandemic through a Race Lens

Looking at the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of race, BITC’s factsheet compares the current situation to previous economic downturns and shares guidance that employers can draw on to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on their BAME workforce.

BAME groups fared worse as a result of the 2008 recession than the white majority, resulting in higher unemployment, lower earnings, lower self-employment rates and higher housing costs.

Currently, ethnic minority groups are more likely to be unemployed and in precarious work than their white counterparts, and, based on the outcomes of 2008 recession, this disparity could be further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A key action needed to tackle this is to accelerate progression and to increase balanced representation of BAME people in the workplace at all levels.

The role of Unconscious Bias

Without the voices of BAME employees and stakeholders at every critical level, policy makers risk making decisions that have a devastating impact on BAME communities.  

Employers across the public and private sectors need to ensure that diverse decision makers are at the ‘virtual’ tables they are currently establishing. When roles need to be filled urgently, it is easy for unconscious bias to enter the selection process if diverse voices are not adequately represented.

Key Questions for Employers and Decision Makers:

  • Do we have any BAME people around the table?
  • If not, how are we going to hear and learn from the lived experiences from Britons from diverse backgrounds?
  • How can we include their voices?
  • Do we have employees from BAME backgrounds that can join our team?
  • How can we consult with BAME communities to hear their lived experiences and challenges?

The Case for Action

The McGregor-Smith Review into Race in the workplace found that tackling the racial disparities in the UK labour market could result in an annual economic boost worth £24bn to the UK Economy. Therefore, the contributions of the talent and skills of BAME workers are critical now, through their contributions to the NHS and Social Care sector and to the UK economic recovery.

A Call to Action for Government

It is crucial that government bodies capture and publish ethnicity data, as well as identify any disparities in the implementation of polices introduced in light of the pandemic and subsequent lock-down.

These should include:

  • Ensuring participation in the government Job Retention Scheme is monitored by ethnicity
  • Monitoring who is successfully moved back into full-time or part-time employment following furlough
  • Monitoring the redeployment and progression of BAME employees in central and local government
  • Ensuring COVID-19 deaths are monitored by ethnicity
  • Ensuring the NHS and social care employees who contract COVID-19 are monitored by ethnicity group

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