Mistrust of national employment services, and structural barriers, fuelling BAME employment gap

Research participants reported feeling pressured into taking on unsuitable work.

Date: 14 June 2022

A new research project from London Metropolitan University and Islington Council has found that mistrust of national employment services is a key barrier to people of ethnic minority backgrounds finding employment. 

Analysis of data highlighted that across Islington, there are higher levels of unemployment among African, Caribbean, Black/Black British, Turkish and Bangladeshi residents - 48% of Bangladeshi and Pakistani residents in Islington are unemployed and 41% of Black/Black British residents are unemployed – compared to 18% of the White population. 

The research found that residents were more able to access support that they trusted, including many community-based organisations and the council’s iWork service.  However, many were unaware of the relevant services, and some expressed mistrust of national employment services, such as the Job Centre. 

As a result, the council is keen to improve its outreach into local communities, by using more locations that residents use, and in which they feel comfortable.  

Working with representatives on the council’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic employment forum, the council will also explore how it can ensure that council premises are ‘safe places’, where residents can get the support they need.

Dr Jane Lewis, lecturer in sociology and social policy at London Met said, “Many of the people we interviewed had experienced threats of sanctions from the Job Centre, and some had their benefits cut. Many with chronic health conditions felt anxious and threatened by pressures imposed on them by the Job Centre to take unsuitable work.

“This was a factor in widespread suspicion, anxiety and fear about approaching council services, especially among Bangladeshi and Algerian participants. 

“While this study has only explored barriers to employment among BAME residents in one London borough, we know that there is an ethnic employment gap nationally. We would be interested to see if these feelings of mistrust and fear are replicated among unemployed BAME people in other parts of London and the country.”

“In one of the focus groups, one participant in the study, a woman of Afro-Caribbean background said: “When I was initially made redundant and then sick, I thought [the Job Centre] would help you to find a job. I didn’t find it so helpful. I think my finding work was through friends [applying for jobs] was more about ticking boxes, it’s all about that, even if you are not well.”

Cllr Santiago Bell-Bradford, Islington Council’s Executive Member for Inclusive Economy and Jobs, said: “We’re working to create a more equal Islington, where everyone who lives here has an equal chance to thrive.

“With the cost of living crisis, there is an urgent need to get local people into well-paid, secure jobs.  This research reveals some of the systemic barriers faced by our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic residents.

“Working with trusted partners in the community is vital and our Islington Working Partnership plays an important role in helping people into good work, and helping families out of poverty. 

“This research will help us track our progress in supporting those who face the most challenges in getting back into work.  I look forward to working together with local employers and organisations to achieve our ambition of 5,000 people into work by 2026.”

Other barriers to unemployed ethnic minorities finding employment included lack of educational qualifications, lack of digital literacy, experience of poor and worsening working conditions and pay, low confidence, childcare requirements, and digital poverty - not having access to computers or the internet.