BME statistics on poverty and deprivation

BME statistics on poverty and deprivation

Last updated: September 2023.

These pages include information on social security, free school meals, housing, employment, unemployment and debt.

Reliable statistics on poverty (not having enough money to get by) and deprivation (a general lack of resources and opportunities) broken down by ethnicity are often hard to come by. That’s partly because when researchers set out to document, a social issue like poverty, socioeconomic status or class (often related to job type) rather than ethnicity, will be at the forefront of their minds. More enlightened researchers, though, will want to probe further, to examine the interconnected nature of categories such as race, class, gender, health, religion, migration background and location. They will seek to avoid presenting their data in ways that distort understandings of class. This could be by presenting data based largely on the white working class, thus disappearing non-white British ethnicity altogether, or, to turn it the other way round, using BME race/ethnicity as the primary marker of disadvantage or social exclusion, thereby disappearing class differences within BME communities. In other words, it is wrong to say that all white people are not in poverty as it is to say that all people from a BME background are poor. However, it needs also to be noted that the data provided below does display a pattern where poverty is higher among all black and minority ethnic groups than among the white majority population. But here again, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation points out, unless this data is broken down and interrogated further, variations and nuances, for instance in relation to migration histories, or to socioeconomic status, are ignored. On the other hand, Citizens Advice reminds us, that the top 5 cost of living issues facing People of Colour today are the same as those affecting White people: emergency support (food banks and charitable support), Personal Independence Payments (PIP), fuel, debt assessment and council tax reduction.

All these difficulties have to be borne in mind when approaching the statistics below. Whereas the statistics we present can reveal obvious discrimination based in enduring institutionally racist (class-based and sexist) systems which reproduce inequality and disadvantage, sometimes, researchers paint a more generalised picture, and you will have to read between the lines so as to make the connections. To find complete breakdowns of data by all ethnic categories you should consult the sources that we cite.

These statistics have been collated from a variety of different sources, which have differing ways of categorising and describing ‘race’ and ethnicity. (For example, some sources differentiate between particular ‘black groups’ whilst others do not. Some sources may just use the term Asian; others may differentiate between different Asian groups or different religious groups.) Another problem is that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) experiences of inequality are under-researched, with the the Women and Equalities Committee (2019) calling for improved data collection.

Where we have used other organisations’ statistics, we have followed the categorisation/names used by them – which means that there may be inconsistencies in terminology within and between pages.


Across the UK, more people from Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic backgrounds, are likely to be in poverty (i.e., have an income less than 60% of the average household income) than white British people. According to a study on Health Equity in England , in 2018, 50% of all Bangladeshis and 46% of all Pakistanis were in the most deprived fifth of the population after meeting housing costs, compared with 20% of all white British people. In 2020, the Social Metrics Commission found that nearly half (46%, 900,000 people) of all people living in families where the household head was Black/African/Caribbean/Black British were in poverty, compared to just under one in five (19%) of those living in families where the head of household was White. In 2022, an analysis by the  Runnymede Trust found that BME people are 2.5 times more likely to be in relative poverty (individuals who have income below 60% of median) and 2.2 times more likely to live in deep poverty (an income more than 50% below the relative poverty line). Black households were five times more likely to struggle paying energy bills. Furthermore, people in Black and Minority Ethnic families are between two and three times as likely to be in persistent poverty (the number of individuals living in relative poverty for three or more of the last four years) than people in White families. Trust for London finds that Black Londoners are more than twice as likely to be in poverty than white Londoners, with the poverty rate for Black Londoners standing at 38%. Asian Londoners also have a significantly higher poverty rate than White Londeners, at 33%.

But if these are the facts, interpretations of what the data signifies differ, with disputes between those who emphasise the social determinants of poverty (including social conditions, inequalities in power, money and health), and those who believe that cultural factors (such as poor diet, welfare dependency and victim mentalities) should be emphasised. The dispute came to a head with the publication of a report by the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities in March 2021 which argued that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion all impact on life chances more than racism, and the Commission chair concluding he had found no evidence of institutional racism in all the areas examined.

In recent years, successive governments – and indeed all the mainstream political parties to varying degrees – have tended to replicate, in anti-social behaviour policies, the arguments of the Victorian era, where a ‘social residuum’ of ‘unemployable’ people was targeted for social reform. The policy focus has been on ‘troubled families’ programme which defines poverty (and child poverty) in ways that downplay the role of income, while emphasising factors such as poor parenting, family breakdown, educational attainment and alcohol abuse.

It’s important, when looking at the data below, to also familiarise oneself with the economic context, which today means understanding the political-economic policy goals of neoliberalism, an approach to governance that favours free-market capitalism, deregulation, cuts to the welfare state and reductions in government social spending. These political-economic policy goals can be linked to the widening gap between rich and poor, with the UK now having one of the highest levels of income inequality in Europe, although it is less unequal than the US. According to a 2020 Health Foundation report, since 2010 life expectancy in England has stalled, with inequalities in life expectancy also becoming steeper; this has not happened since at least 1900. Due to the cost-of-living crisis (the fall in ‘real’ disposable income) that has set in since 2021, the situation is getting worse.

Photo Credit: Tim Dennell, Flickr


Changes to the tax system, the introduction of universal credit, changes to disability allowance, the introduction of the Personal Independence Payments, the removal of the EducationMaintenance Allowance, reductions in housing benefit, and now, since 2021, the rapid increase in energy and food costs, have all been linked to growing poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns that Britain is entering a dangerous new phase in the cost of living crisis with 2.3 million low-income families borrowing to pay basic bills and nearly 6 million low-income families living with unsecured debt. (See data on debt below)

Changes to Tax benefits

According to Citizens Advice, even before the current cost of living crisis, racially minoritised groups were already more likely to be living in deep poverty than white populations. Bangladeshi and Pakistani households experience the highest rates of deep poverty.

As a result of changes to tax-benefits in the last decade:

  • Black families are £1,635 less well off
  • Asian families are £728 less well off
  • White families are £454 less well off

In 2017, the Women’s Budget Group and Runnymede Trust found central government cuts to local authority budgets translated into the following fall in living standards for different groups:

  • Black families experienced a 7.5% reduction
  • Asian families experienced a 6.8% reduction
  • White families experienced a 5% reduction

Universal Credit and changes to child benefit

Universal Credit (UC), which combines six forms of benefit into a single payment, was introduced by the Conservative-Lib Dem government through the Welfare Reform Act 2012, claiming the new system would ‘make work pay’ by encouraging people on low incomes, to start paid work or increase their hours. Further changes to UC were introduced in 2015 and 2016 and 2017, including the two-child limit for UC-related child benefit. The Women’s Budget Group/Runnymede Trust 2017 report cited above, found that  UC failed the ‘just about managing’ with women and BME households hardest hit. As a result of the combined impact of all changes to benefits, tax credits, UC, income tax, National Insurance contributions and the National Living Wage introduced since June 2010:

  • Black women, whether employed or not, stood to lose £5,030 a year. In relative terms this amounts to 28% of the net individual income of those not in employment and 20% for those in employment.
  • Asian women not in employment stood to lose 32% of their net individual income (20% for those in employment).

According to the first study of the impact of the two-child benefit limit, thousands of larger families have been pushed into poverty by a policy that is ‘ineffective at best and discriminatory and harmful at worst’. A study by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion estimates that around 1.5 million children have been affected, with more than a million of them growing up in poverty. Adults within larger families with low predicted earnings are more likely to be women or non-white, and are also more likely to experience mental and physical health conditions, or to report a health condition that affects the type or amount of paid work they can do.

Food insecurity and emergency support

Food insecurity is defined as the condition of not having access to sufficient food, or food of an adequate quality, to meet one’s basic needs. In 2019, the Trussell Trust found that their foodbanks in areas where UC had been rolled out had seen an average 52% rise in demand compared to the previous year, linking this to the five-week delay for a first payment. A House of Commons research briefing showed that in 2021/22 4.7 million people, or 7% of the UK population, were experiencing food poverty, including 12% of all children. The Food Foundation’s Food Insecurity Tracker found that the number of households where children are experiencing food insecurity doubled between 2022-23. Friends Families and Travellers are concerned about rising food poverty amongst GRT communities. Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans and mobile homes pay disproportionately higher energy prices, lack choice on energy use and provider and are reliant on prepayment meters. The current energy cost crisis not only compounds existing food poverty but leaves those living on caravan sites at risk of being cut off from energy supplies.

Now with the cost-of-living crisis, even more people are accessing emergency support by visiting food banks. According to Citizens Advice, Black, African or Caribbean people are disproportionately more likely to use food banks than the wider population. This means they are persistently unable to afford the basic necessities like food. 24% of Black households experience ‘low’ or ‘very low’ food security, as compared with 10% of White households.

Free school meals

While an important measure of deprivation and child poverty is eligibility for Free School Meals (FSMs), organisations like the Food Foundation suggest that the statistics do not give the full picture. This is because not all children whose families receive Universal Credit, receive FSMs. Around 800,000 children in England whose family receive UC do not benefit from a hot, nutritious meal at school because children in England are subjected to the strictest eligibility criteria for FSMs out of all the UK’s nations. For instance, Northern Ireland’s income threshold for eligibility for FSMs is almost twice as high as in England (£14,000 annual earnings compared with £7,400 in England).


Courtesy of Food Foundation. The graphic summarises the situation in March 2023. Since then, the Mayor of London has introduced a one year emergency measure expanding free school meals to all primary school children and the Scottish government has committed to having universal free school meals in place for every primary school child, though the roll out for years six and seven has been delayed to allow capital and revenue funding issues to be addressed

In 2019, a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Education revealed that while 15% of White British children were eligible for free school meals, a number of BME groups had far higher proportions on free school meals, including most notably GRT communities.

Percentage Eligible for Free School Meals by Ethnic Group
Ethnic Group % Eligible for Free School Meals
Travellers of Irish heritage 57%
Gypsy/Roma 31%
Mixed white and black Caribbean 28%
Mixed white and black African 22%
Any other black background 24%
Bangladeshi 21%
White British 15%


Material deprivation

Material deprivation is an additional way of measuring living standards and tells us whether families can afford basic goods and services, including items such as a warm coat for children and keeping accommodation warm in winter. According to the ONS, in 2019, 29% of Bangladeshi, 24% of Pakistani, 22% of Black children were living on low incomes and suffered material deprivation (i.e. a family income less than 60% of the average income before housing costs). The organisation Debt Justice points out that the increase in household debt is intensifying material deprivation, as debtors are unable to pay for essentials (such as food, heating, housing) due to the cost of paying off a debt.

Weekly average income and wealth

Between 2016 and 2019, while white British households had an average income of £518 per week; Black African, British and Caribbean had an average of £408; Bangladeshi households had an average of £365 and Pakistani households had an average of £334.[1] Over a two-year period between 2016 and 2018, ONS reported that while White British people had an average household wealth (including property, savings and pension) of £590,400 and Indians had £493,800, Black Caribbean people had only £379,200; Pakistani people had £302,100; Black African people had £147,300 and Bangladeshi people had £141,100.Trust for London’s analysis of Department for Work and Pensions Households Below Average Income data finds that children are more affected by poverty than any other age group. 32%  of children in London were in poverty in 2021/22. For children aged 10-14, the figure is 38%.

Photo credit: Catholic Church of England, Flickr


Another way to understand poverty is in relation to debt. A period of neoliberal economic policies has also led to an increase in household debt, as more and more people cannot pay off the mortgage (to help buy the place where they live) or rents and cannot afford the basic necessities to sustain life. According to an overview compiled by Debt Justice nearly 10 million people in the UK are now ‘over-indebted’, 15 million people in the UK are struggling to afford rising energy bills and other costs. Its data shows that people living in the poorest areas of England are twice as likely as people in the wealthiest areas to have borrowed more or used more credit than usual. For instance, an estimated 15% of lower income households are behind on a debt repayment or a household bill — more than four times the national average. And over a third of people on lower incomes are heavily in debt and spending at least 40% of their monthly incomes on repayments.

The racialised impact of debt

Debt Justice shows that people of Black and minority ethnic backgrounds are almost twice as likely to be in serious debt as White people. Debt has a racialised impact, with BME communities disproportionately hit. (See also section on Housing) A 2023 Office for National Statistics survey into the cost of living crisis finds that about half of Asian or British Asian adults, and 47% of Black, African, Caribbean or Black British adults were finding it difficult to afford their rent or mortgage payments, compared with 33% of White adults. The New Economics Foundation finds that Black, Asian and other minority ethnic households will experience an increase in the cost of living, 1.6 times higher than their White counterparts, as people on low or insecure incomes are often forced into pricier arrangements such as prepayment meters, higher-cost credit or being unable to buy everyday goods such as food in bulk.

Indeed, today’s cost of living crisis and rising interest rates are exacerbating the problem of debt, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which estimates that 2.3 million low- income families have to borrow to pay basic bills, with nearly 6 million low-income families living with unsecured debt. Citizens Advice created a ‘cost of living dashboard’ in order to explore how the effects of the cost-of-living crisis are felt more sharply by some groups than others. It found that pre-existing inequalities (related to changes to tax-benefits and public spending since 2008 and the legacies of the pandemic) have left racially minoritised groups particularly vulnerable to the effects of rising energy bills and inflation.  ‘People of Colour’ are more likely to access emergency support than White people; both Black and Asian groups are more likely to seek debt support; there is a lack of data on the experiences of GRT communities. Friends Families and Travellers points out that GRT communities who live in caravans are often refused banking facilities, with access to other financial institutions and services, such as credit, loans, and insurance all compounding their financial exclusion.

The Citizens Advice dashboard showed that a higher number of People of Colour were coming to the organisation for emergency support and had difficulties accessing Personal Independence Payments (PIP, a form of disability allowance) and debt assessments. 56% of Black or Black British people helped by Citizens Advice with debt advice have negative budgets — meaning their essential spending exceeds their income. This rises to 58% for Asian or Asian British as compared to 49% for White people. There is a huge backlog for PIP health assessments, with more than 430,000 people awaiting a review, some facing delays of more than two years, which means that existing payments do not cover growing costs.


While homeownership is often seen as an indicator of prosperity, housing deprivation is measured by poor living conditions. Severe housing deprivation is defined by overcrowding in addition to poor living conditions.

Homeownership/social housing

Homeownership is often seen as an indicator of prosperity. The government’s Race Disparity Audit in 2020 found that between 2016 and 2018, 63% of 23 million households in England owned their homes. In every socio-economic group and age group, White British households were more likely to own their own homes than all ethnic minority households combined. While 68% of White British households owned their homes, figures for other groups were 58% for Pakistani households, 46% for Bangladeshi, 40% for black Caribbean, 20% for Black African households and 17% for Arab households.

Analysis of the 2021 census  finds that Black people in England and Wales are almost three times more likely to live in social housing (i.e. rental properties provided by local government or not for profit organisations) than their White counterparts (44% of Black people living in social housing compared to 16% of White people), with the figure for people of mixed-race backgrounds standing at 27%. About 34% of British Bangladeshi people, 13% of British Pakistanis and 8% of British Chinese, and 44% of people from Gypsy or Irish Traveller backgrounds said they lived in social housing, according to the census.

Living conditions

Non-decent homes

A home is declared non-decent if it does not meet basic legal health and safety standards, is not in a reasonable state of repair, does not have reasonably modern facilities and services, insulation or heating that is not effective.  Government figures 2017-19 have revealed that between April 2017 to March 2019, 18% of white British households lived in non-decent homes. In comparison, 24% of Bangladeshi households and 20% of Black Caribbean households lived in non-decent homes.


Homes which are damp (through water penetration or poor ventilation) may have severe condensation and/or mould which are a health risk. The figures show that while only 3 % of White British households live in properties with at least one damp room, it is estimated that 13% of ‘Mixed’ or Black Caribbean households, 10% of Bangladeshis, 9% of Black Africans and 8% of Pakistani households do. In 2023, Citizens Advice reported that up to 2.7m households in England struggle with damp, mould or excessive cold, with 1.6 million children living in privately rented homes in such conditions. The report suggested that private housing landlords should be held to the new standards for social housing set after the death of Awaab Ishak, the 2-year-old son of migrants from Sudan living in Rochdale who died in December 2020 as a result of a severe respiratory condition that was caused by prolonged exposure to black mould in his home.


Households that are considered to be overcrowded have fewer bedrooms than needed to avoid undesirable sharing. Government figures 2018-21 revealed that while 1.7% of White British households were officially overcrowded, the households with the highest rates of overcrowding were Bangladeshi (22.5%), Black African (16.3 %), and Arab (17.1%). Analysis of the 2021 census again identified Bangladeshi Britons in England and Wales as the specific ethnic group most likely to live in overcrowded households, with nearly two-fifths (39%) living in this situation. However, the less-specific category of ‘Black Britons’ reported the highest rates of living in overcrowding households, with 27% of the respondents, almost six times the rate of the white population, saying they did so. The most recent research (2023) by the National Housing Federation finds that two million children from 746,000 households – or one in every six children – are living in overcrowded homes with no personal space and that households from ethnic minority backgrounds are three times more likely to be affected. As mentioned previously, there is poor data collection as regards GRT communities, though some local authorities, such as Bristol, have drawn attention to the Roma (and Irish Traveller) experience of multi-generational overcrowding, compounded by exploitation by poor quality or negligent landlords and managing agents within the private rented sector.


Between January and March 2023, according to government figures, 79,840 households in England faced the threat of homelessness, the highest number of homeless households on record, with a loss of a private tenancy the leading cause of homelessness. The current situation is made worst for private tenants by the system of ‘no fault eviction’. An investigation by Open Democracy found that Insurance firms are secretly urging landlords to evict lower-income tenants ‘as a precaution’. Housing rights activists refer to this practice as ‘income discrimination’ that disproportionately impacts, according to a 2020 survey by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, on tenants from racialised communities, renters with children, and those who lost income during the pandemic.

There is also an escalation of the number of families living in temporary accommodation. In July 2023, government statistics showed that the number of households in temporary accommodation in England had hit a 25-year high: nearly 105,000 households, including more than 131,000 children. The situation is particularly acute in London. In March 2023, 16.5 out of every 1,000 households in London were living in temporary accommodation, compared with 2.2 per 1,000 in the rest of England. London boroughs are responding to a chronic housing shortage, soaring rents and the ongoing freeze on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates by sending families outside London. Inside Housing FOI requests reveal that 29 London councils sent 1,693 homeless households to accommodation outside London between March 2022 and February 2023 (7.8% of all temporary accommodation placements), uprooting them from their hometowns, schools, GPs and social networks.

The government’s Race Disparity Audit in 2017 found that the local authority with the highest number of homeless households per 1,000 households was Newham in London (9.4 per 1,000), where Asian households made up the highest percentage of homeless households (at 36%). Shelter analysed government statistics on homelessness between April 2019 and March 2020, and found that a quarter (24%) of people making homelessness applications to local councils were from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, even though they made up just over a tenth (11%) of all households in England. Black people are disproportionately affected by homelessness with 1 in 23 black households becoming homeless or threatened with homelessness, versus 1 in 83 households from all other ethnicities combined. 11% of homeless people applying for help are Black even though Black people make up 3% of households in England. A person who is Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) becomes homeless or threatened with homelessness every eight minutes.

Researchers at  Heriot-Watt University, which found overwhelming evidence that people from Black and minoritised ethnic communities experience disproportionate levels of homelessness, draw a link between racial discrimination and homelessness particularly significant for Black people.

  • For a typical, black-led household reporting discrimination, the risk of homelessness is nearly 50% above that of a typical, white-led household, with two-thirds of that effect being indirect via poverty and housing conditions.
  • Black people are more than three times more likely than White people to experience statutory homelessness in England.
  • Almost one-third of Black people with experience of homelessness said they have faced discrimination from a social or private landlord.
  • While Asian households were found to experience lower rates of both statutory homelessness and core forms of homelessness than Black households, they were more likely to experience more hidden problems, such as overcrowding or ‘doubling up’ with other households. Pakistani and Bangladeshi households face greater risks of homelessness than Indian and other Asian groups.
  • The risk of homelessness was found to vary by geography and by racial group, with Black and minoritised ethnic communities living in London facing substantially higher risk. For example, a household headed by a young, poor, Black, single person, who is renting in London, and has experience of discrimination, has an increased risk of homelessness that is five times that of an average white household, its modelling suggests.


Historically, another way of examining poverty had been simply in relation to unemployment. But, in recent years, researchers have documented the growth of poverty for those in work, in occupational segregation (BME workers, for instance, are over-represented in the three lowest paid occupational categories in the labour market), in insecure or precarious work, and the impact of regulation on self-employment. Trust for London  finds that in-work poverty is a major issue in London, with almost 1 in 8 households (13%) in which all adults were employed also experiencing poverty. These factors are linked to changes in the tax and benefit systems, as well as to low pay. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has called on the Office for National Statistics to record ethnicity in flagship pay statistics such as Average Weekly Earnings (AWE) and the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) and for employers to be mandated to record and publish their ethnicity pay gaps.


The TUC has found that BME workers are more than twice (2.2 times) as likely as White workers to face unemployment with the BME unemployment rate in 2023 standing at 7% compared to 3.2% for White workers. And the rate for BME women was even higher, with an unemployment rate almost three times higher than white women’s, standing at 7.8% compared to 2.8% for White women. The local authorities with the highest unemployment rates were in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Newham in east London. 53% of people between the ages of 16 and 63 who identified as ‘White: Gypsy or Irish Traveller’, were ‘economically inactive’, according to the 2021 census. Friends Families and Travellers warn that opportunities for Gypsies and Travellers to continue in traditional forms of employment and self-employment have been made harder due to increasingly restrictive regulations on traditional forms of work, such as the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, with this reflected in the drop in self-employment rates between the 2011 and the 2021 Census, from 26% to 15%.

The Office for National Statistics published figures from an annual population survey in 2019 on unemployment in the UK. The survey concluded that in every region in the UK, unemployment rates were lower for White people (at 4%) than for all other ethnic groups combined. Moreover, Bangladeshi and Pakistani (11%), mixed (10%) and Black (9%) ethnic groups had the highest unemployment rate out of all ethnic groups. White women (4%) were less likely to be unemployed than women from all other ethnic groups combined (9%) .

Impact of COVID-19 on unemployment

The Runnymede Trust’s Covid-19 survey, Over-Exposed and Under-Protected (June 2020) indicated that these statistics remained consistent during the pandemic. The survey revealed that 37% of Bangladeshis and 31% of Pakistanis were unemployed, with Black Caribbeans and Black Africans faring a little better at unemployment rates of 29% and 13%, respectively. A House of Commons Briefing Paper published in March 2021 concurred, stating that workers from minority ethnicities had been one of the groups most negatively impacted economically by the coronavirus outbreak. Between October and December 2020, the unemployment rate for people from a BME background was 9.5%, while it was 3.1% for White people. This follows the trend across the previous year as between September 2019 to 2020, the unemployment rate was highest for people from a Pakistani or Black background at 9%. The unemployment rate was lowest for people from a White or Indian background at 4%.

Youth unemployment and poverty amongst further education students

These patterns of unemployment especially during COVID-19 are mirrored in youth unemployment. A 2023 TUC briefing paper, cites Office for National Statistics data to show that the unemployment rate for young BME people who are economically active (i.e. not in education) stands at 19.2%, compared to 8.8% for young white workers.

Graphic courtesy of TUC

The background to these statistics lies in the uptick in BME youth unemployment since the 2008 financial crisis and then during the pandemic. In April 2021, the Resolution Foundation found that youth unemployment rose faster between spring and autumn 2020 than at any point since the 2008 financial crisis. Before Covid-19, the unemployment rate among Black young people, at 25%, was higher than among their Asian counterparts, at 21%, and 2.5 times the rate of their White counterparts, at 10%. By May 2020, the unemployment rate among Black young people rose to 35% as compared with 13% for their White counterparts. Employment also fell by 6.6 % among Black young people compared to 3.5 % among White young people. Although they had higher levels of education participation, Black and Asian young people who were economically active (and therefore not in full-time study) continued to face a more difficult time in the labour market.

The rates of BME youth unemployment does not, as the TUC points out, tell the full story. Unemployment rates are calculated by finding the number of people unemployed as a percentage of those who are economically active (which is the number of people employed plus the number of people actively seeking and available to work). This exclude students who are outside the labour market.

Statistics provided by the TUC show that BME young people, aged 16-24, are much more likely to be studying while inactive in the labour market (43% of BME young people are studying, compared to 23% of all young people). Back in 2010, social mobility experts were horrified when the Conservative-Lib-Dem coalition government announced the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance, which allowed teenagers from poorer families in England to claim up to £30 a week to stay in education. It was replaced by an underbudgeted and discretionary 16-19 age bursary scheme. This has had major repercussions. In 2023, a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Students found that 72% of further education students in England face ‘financial difficulties’, with a massive increase in applications for bursary support. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to study in Further Education colleges, with many facing extreme poverty, working excessive hours in insecure jobs, and facing increased criminal and sexual exploitation and suicide attempts. This will have had a knock-on effect on the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying for university places.

Precarious/insecure work

BME workers are over-represented in insecure jobs, with the term covering people on low pay, on variable hours, such as zero-hours contracts, or doing seasonal or agency work. In August 2023, the TUC concluded that ‘the massive and disproportionate concentration of BME workers in insecure work – like in the gig economy – is structural racism in action.’ According to its data:

  • Between 2011 and 2022, the number of BME workers in insecure work more than doubled from 360,200 to 836,340, whilst the proportion of BME workers in low-paid and insecure work increased from 12.2% to 17.8% in the last decade. The proportion of white workers in insecure work only rose marginally from 10.5% to 10.8%.
  • BME men are almost twice as likely to be in insecure work as their white counterparts (19.6% compared with 11.7%). BME women were also far more likely than white women to be in insecure work (15.7% compared with 9.9%).

According to a report from the Trade Union Congress and ROTA in 2021, Women of Colour are almost twice as likely than White men to be on zero-hours contracts i.e., work in jobs that provide no fixed wage (you work as and when). Such contracts trap women in low pay and insecure work, unable to plan their lives and futures. While 2.5% of White men were on zero-hour contracts, 4.1% of BME men were and 4.5% of BME women. 40% of BME workers on such contracts feared being penalised by losing shifts if they ever turned down work, as compared with 25% of White workers.

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[1] House of Commons Library (2020)